Biotechnology Entrepreneurship || Career Opportunities in the Life Sciences Industry

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  • Career Opportunities in the Life Sciences IndustryToby Freedman, PhDPresident, Synapsis Search Recruiting, Portola Valley, California

    Chapter 31Biotechnology Entrepreneurship. 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

    There are many career opportunities in industry, nonprofit organizations, and in government for individuals with science backgrounds. Whether you have an interest in laboratory work, business, sales, marketing, or clini-cal studies, there are hundreds of different careers in the life sciences industryand as a consequence, there are numerous opportunities to find that ideal job that matches your unique personality attributes, skills, interests, and long-term goals. A science or medical background is a valuable asset to have. Whether you are writing a patent, marketing a product, conducting a clinical trial, or doing a business deal, having a science background will greatly enhance your career. The chart shown in Figure 31.1 delin-eates over 100 distinct careers in the life sciences industry where you can apply your scientific or medical educa-tional background.

    For those wishing to escape from bench work, the good news is that scientists can transition from bench research to other vocational areas. Most researchers eventually do tran-sition into other careers at some point in time. These addi-tional career areas can provide an opportunity to explore other areas such as general management, team-building, project management, creative writing, and more.


    This chapter provides a high-level summary of 24 signifi-cant careers in the life sciences industry, as shown in Figure 31.1. If you find a career that interests you, I recommend additional reading in the specific area that piques your interest. At the conclusion of this overview there are two sections to help you move into a particular vocational area, one on steps for making a career transition and the other on job-finding strategies.435

    1 Entrepreneurship

    Do you have a fantastic idea that has the potential of being developed into a successful business? There are few things as exciting as starting a new company and attempting some-thing that no one else has ever done before.

    Entrepreneurship can be a stimulating and rewarding career, but it is not for everyone. It helps to be financially secure and to have done it before. However, I have seen postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, professors, and even undergraduates start and manage highly successful ventures without prior business training. If you are consid-ering entrepreneurship, I highly recommend considering a job at one of the growing number of incubators or accel-erators that are cropping up worldwide. An incubator is a supportive place where a cluster of start-up companies thrive. At an incubator, start-ups can share lab equipment, office space, and gain support from fellow entrepreneurs who are working down the hall.

    One highly successful example of an incubator is Univer-sity of Californias QB3 (QB3 stands for California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, which includes three institu-tions, University of California at San Francisco, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz). QB3s goal is to benefit society by commer-cializing university research to benefit society. QB3 provides a supportive environment where new companies are being founded on campus in the same buildings where professors, graduate students, and postdocs are conducting research. Venture capital, biopharmaceutical, management consult-ing, and accounting firms are also actively partnering and assisting these start-up companies. This type of collaborative environment fosters communication, sharing of knowledge, and innovation. To learn more, visit

    Similar incubators are being created across the United States at top universities such as Harvard University, Uni-versity of Florida, University of Washington, and SUNY in Brooklyn, for examples. Also consider off-campus

  • SECTION | VIII The Later-Stage Biotechnology Company436Law

    Venture Capital &Banking










    Non ProfitsEntrepreneurship

    Sales Marketing

    Medical Affairs

    Regulatory Affairs


    Bio/PharmaceuticalProcess Sciences


    Human Resources+Recruiting



    Bio IT

    Services R&DR&D



    FIGURE 31.1 Career chart. incubators, such as Phoenixs TGen (Translational Genom-ics Research Institute), Kendall Squares incubator in Bos-ton, and many others. Working at an incubator will provide you with first-hand experience in a start-up environment where you will be exposed to the challenges of raising capital, building teams, and developing products. Also con-sider attending boot camp programs which can help you develop your business plan, raise venture capital, and be mentored by experienced executives who have built com-panies before. One to consider is Astia, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering women-led companies: visit

    2 Venture Capital

    A venture capital career is among the most coveted and exciting areas of all the careers in the life sciences industry. This career has real appeal to socially minded and team-oriented scientists because venture capitalists have oppor-tunities to meet and work with successful entrepreneurs that are developing and commercializing ground-breaking technologies.

    Most people think of venture capitalists as the people you go to when raising capital to fund their start-ups, but these individuals must first raise money for their own fund which they then use to invest in start-ups. Venture capital-ists provide considerably more than just a source of money. After venture capitalists invest in a start-up company, they may assume positions on the company board of directors to monitor their investment and also to assist the company with the many challenges that are encountered in emerg-ing businesses. Therefore, an operational background and experience in several successful start-ups is considered an optimal background for a venture capitalist.

    Corporate venture capitalists work in large pharmaceu-tical or biotechnology companies and, similar to venture capitalists, they also fund private companies using money from the biopharmaceutical company that they represent. There are institutional investors (also called equity research analysts), who invest in public companies.

    If you are interested in seeking a career in venture capital, consider applying for a fellowship with the Kauff-man Foundationa nonprofit organization committed to fostering entrepreneurism. Visit for more information. Many venture capital firms also hire associates and advisors (academic scientists or indus-try experts), consultants, and entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIRs). EIRs are experienced senior-level executives capable of running venture capital portfolio companies and managing their investments.

    There are other venture-type careers that involve work-ing with biotech companies. These include angel investors, who are people of high net worth that financially support private companies, usually before venture capitalists invest.


  • Chapter | 31 Career Opportunities in the Life Sciences Indus

    3 Investment Banking

    There are three major career areas in investment banking: advisory services, sell-side equity research, and sales trad-ing. Advisory service providers are involved in large finan-cial transactions such as helping their clients raise capital, complete initial public offerings (IPO), or mergers and acqui-sitions (M&A). This is a highly competitive career and can involve extensive travel, but the payoffs are quite large, as investment bankers are amply compensated for their hard work. If you enjoy transactional work or have an interest in finance, this is a promising career to consider.

    Sell-side equity research analysts conduct and publish background research on the particular public companies that they follow. These analysts provide ratings of pub-lic companies stock, such as buy, sell, or hold and they publish informative reports for clients. It is becoming more common for investment banks to hire MDs, Ph.D.s, and MBAs who can analyze and ascertain the chances of success for clinical trials, and by extension, they predict changes in stock value. Sales traders conduct stock sales transactions and promote stock sales.

    4 Discovery Research

    Discovery research is very similar to academic research and it probably is the most commonly followed path for science graduates wanting to enter into industry. If you enjoy work-ing at the scientific frontier, have an interest in benefiting human health, are an idea generator with a creative mind that can make unique connections; or if you simply enjoy lab work and would like to apply your laboratory skills to industry, this is the career to consider. There are many career levels within discovery research such as a research associate for undergraduates and Masters students as well as a scientist track for Ph.D. graduates.

    For creative scientists who do not wish to advance up the administrative path to director and vice president (VP) levels, there are the prestigious fellow or staff scien-tist positions which allow scientists to remain close to the research and at the same time minimize their administrative load. There are also nonbench-related positions in discovery research, including project management (see number 10), program management, portfolio management, and more. If your interests evolve over time, discovery research can pro-vide you with an excellent launching pad to other careers in the life sciences industry.

    5 Preclinical Research

    Preclinical research bridges the gap between discovery research and clinical development and encompasses the areas of pharmacology, toxicology, pharmacokinetics, pathology, and chemical optimization. This is where prospective drug 437try

    candidates are tested in animals and optimized before entering into human clinical studies. Because research projects are frequently terminated in discovery research, preclinical sci-entists have an opportunity to work on the winnersthe most promising drug candidates.

    6 Process Sciences

    Like discovery research, process sciences offer many great entry-level industry positions for academic scientists, partic-ularly for chemists and biochemists. This is where the steps for chemical synthesis, production of drugs, or products and scale-up processes are developed. A candidate drug might be easy to synthesize in the test tube, but during clinical trials, methods must be developed to scale-up production of the drug for clinical studies and eventually for large-scale manufacturing. This vocational area is a great way to apply your scientific knowledge and laboratory skills to create products and develop synthesis steps that will eventually be used for large-scale manufacturing. Scientists enjoy this field because they can be creatively involved in designing scaled-up reactions and they have the chance to see the end result of their work-products.

    If you have a background in process chemistry, for-mulation, analytical chemistry, or on the biologics side, a background in cell culture, fermentation, purification or biologics scale-up, there are many jobs available in this area.

    7 Clinical Development

    There are many vocational areas and niches within clinical developmentthe process of testing drugs in human clini-cal trials. Clinical development includes areas such as medi-cal monitoring, clinical project management, or working as a clinical research associate (CRA). There are also posi-tions in biometrics (statistics and statistical programming), medical writing, data management, drug safety, and more. People enjoy working in clinical development because of the rapid pace of the work environment and because there is the opportunity to work with the drug candidate winners developed in discovery research. Generally, clinical devel-opment departments employ people with medical, pharma-cological, nursing, or scientific backgrounds.

    8 Regulatory Affairs

    Regulatory affairs liaisons manage the process of work-ing with project teams and interacting with the regulatory health agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the International Conference on Harmonization of Technical Requirements for Registration of Pharmaceuti-cals for Human Use (ICH). In addition to regulatory affairs liaisons positions, there are a vast array of other career

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    opportunities, such as managing and submitting regulatory information, document management, and publishing.

    Positions within regulatory affairs offer excellent job security. The reason is simply supply and demand: not enough people today have experience in regulatory affairs and at the same time, the FDA has increased its standards, requiring more supporting studies and paperwork before products can be approved for human use. To be success-ful in this position, it helps to be very detail- and process-oriented, and to possess excellent writing, communication, and interpersonal skills.

    9 Medical Affairs

    After a drug has been approved, medical affairs profes-sionals run additional clinical studies: to test the drug in off-label trials for other disease indications, to study drug-drug interactions, or to test the drug in different patient populations. They are also involved in disseminating this newly discovered information to relevant parties.

    There are several departments within medical affairs. Clinical development professionals conduct Phase 4 clinical trials, medical communications executives run medical educa-tional events for practicing physicians, and medical science liaisons (MSLs) provide recently published clinical data to clinicians and doctors of various specialties. Another area of medical affairs is pharmacovigilance and drug safety. This involves monitoring the drugs performance and han-dling adverse drug events as individual cases after the drug has been approved. If adverse events are associated with the drug, these must be reported to the regulatory authorities. The backgrounds for these positions include medical doc-tors, nurses, and pharmacists.

    10 Project Management

    If you are interested in learning about the many nuances of the different steps of drug discovery and development and wish to avoid bench research, consider project management. Project managers dont actually make the critical decisions but facilitate the decision-making process and manage mul-tidisciplinary teams. They spend their time providing vision and leadership, communicating with team members and man-agement, running meetings, allocating...


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