Clinical, regulatory jobs top biotech's "must-hire" list

Victor Kleinman, Executive VP, Managing Director, Global Life Sciences Practice, DHR International

Which jobs are the most sought-after in the biotech world? Clinical development and regulatory affairs jobs, according to two biotech staffing experts: Victor Kleinman, executive vice president and managing director of the Life Sciences practice at DHR International, and Tom Murphy, senior vice president of life science recruitment at Solomon Page Group. Kleinman and Murphy each have 20-plus years of experience helping biotech and pharma companies meet their staffing needs. And both have an insider knowledge on how trends in the industry are affecting the hiring demands in biopharma.

Kleinman says that many smaller companies looking for talent are young biotechs led by a CSO or founder. These companies and their investors have often completed basic research and have arrived at a point in their drug's development that calls for rounding out the management team. Developers may find themselves in need of skills from different functional areas, or for an executive with strong leadership skills.

"Clinical development and regulatory affairs are the hardest positions to fill because they are the highest in demand," explains Kleinman. "Even if you're not setting the world on fire, you're getting calls from recruiters several times a week." Murphy agrees with Kleinman's assessment. "We're getting the most calls for experts in clinical development, medical affairs and regulatory affairs. That's the pathway where companies make and break their firms," he explained in an interview with FierceBiotech.

Demand for clinical trial experts

Tom Murphy, Senior VP, Global Biotech Practice Leader, Solomon Page Group

The need to fill these positions has grown over the last five years or so. Companies of all sizes are facing generic competition, patent expiration and dry pipelines. Combined with more scrutiny from the FDA and the changing face of healthcare in the U.S., these factors have driven up the demand for clinical jobs, particularly in the oncology, CNS, cardiovascular and vaccine areas. There's enormous demand for medical experts who are qualified to design and run trials. Expertise in trial design is particularly important--developers are desperate for leaders who can design better, more efficient and less expensive trials that will still survive the FDA's rigorous review process.

Prior to the industry's rapid consolidation, many MDs were reluctant to leave their safe positions at a Big Pharma company. But over the last several years, the biggest players have been laying off thousands of jobs and even entire therapeutic groups. "Everyone who's in a big company realized the consolidations are huge, and Big Pharma isn't the safe haven it once was," notes Kleinman. Small companies are in hot pursuit of physicians and regulatory affairs experts with industry experience. But Murphy stresses that having the right background doesn't necessarily ensure that an ex-pharma employee will be a good fit for small biotech. 

"If you have the leadership and management skills, and risk profile, you can really have some fun at a small biotech. You're one of just a couple of people leading the clinical studies," as compared to Big Pharma, which has whole teams involved in that process. "You get a much greater exposure to a management team as well," Murphy says. But he stresses that the small biotech job isn't for everyone. Murphy explains that many physicians who end up in Big Pharma are risk-adverse, making it a shocking culture change to move to a small company. Physicians who move into start-ups "have to be much more hands-on, and willing to roll up their sleeves." Next page >>