Scientists leave biotech for clean tech

Clean tech looks like it could be the next big thing--for biotech workers. The two industries don't seem to have much in common, but BusinessWeek reports that a growing number of seasoned biotech veterans are leaving the biopharma industry to enter the growing clean tech field. Clean tech explores a variety of environmental solutions, including alternative energy, recycling and pollution reduction. In recent years it's attracted greater venture capital investment--along with biopharma scientists and managers looking for a fresh start.

Venture capitalists are the driving force behind the booming clean tech industry. They invested $2.5 billion in clean tech last year. Funding has skyrocketed since 2002, when the industry raised just $216 million. In the first half of 2008 VCs pumped $1.6 billion into clean tech companies, almost as much as they invested in biotech. Growing energy concerns and an increased focus on the environment will only further venture capitalists' desire to fund the next big breakthrough in alternative energy.

That kind of opportunity is what attracted Nigel Beeley, an experienced biopharma vet who has worked for Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Arena Pharmaceuticals and Senomyx. Beeley realized that many discoveries made in the labs had environmental applications as well. And a more favorable funding environment for clean tech start-ups made the switch even more attractive.

On the surface, it would seem like traditional energy companies would be more likely to pursue clean tech. But biopharma managers have experience with an R&D process that's similar to that of clean tech: many years of development, big rounds of funding and the high risk that a product may not succeed. And there are many scientists and managers available. Over the past several years the biopharma industry has cut thousands of workers, some of whom can't find other jobs in their industry. Many of the skills they possess can be put to use in the clean tech field, which is on the hunt for seasoned veterans. "We are seeing top-notch bioscientists-in chemistry, bioinformatics, identification and other areas-being faced with reestablishing themselves in a completely unique forum, and we have watched as they have chosen to move toward alternative energy and biofuel," Mark O'Connor, CEO of Monadnock Research, told BusinessWeek.

- read the BusinessWeek article