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April 19, 2008
Volume 86, Number 20
pp. 48-49

Finding Jobs In Biopharma

Book is a guide to myriad pathways in the biotech industry for all players

Reviewed by Kenneth J. Barr

In the preface to "Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug DevelopmentCareer Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development," author Toby Freedman states that her intention is to "assist talented people in their search for satisfying employment in the life sciences industry" and suggests that the book is designed to serve as a resource for the transition from academics into industry. She is president of Synapsis Search in Portola Valley, Calif., and an executive search recruiter.

Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development, by Toby Freedman, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press,
2008, 409 pages,
$59 hardcover (ISBN: 978–087969725–9)

Without question, the newly published career guidebook accomplishes this goal. However, to dismiss the book as a resource specifically for so limited a target audience would be a disservice not only to novice professionals already at work within the biopharmaceutical industry but also to established professionals in the field.

Even curious individuals not contemplating a career transition will find Freedman's text an interesting exploration of the biopharmaceutical industry and will, in fact, come away with a surprisingly rich understanding of "where drugs come from."

From page one, it is clear that Freedman understands how little time most readers can afford to dedicate to even well-constructed books of this type. The book is consistently and meticulously organized in such a way as to facilitate the maximum transfer of key information. Each section and subsection is bullet-point driven, yet Freedman's "just the facts" approach is sincere and engaging.

The book is divided into two unequal parts. Part one consists of six brief chapters that cover the advantages and disadvantages of an industrial career and reasonable expectations from the perspectives of both employer and employee. This section also includes a concise tutorial on effective job search techniques, important résumé tips specific to the biopharmaceutical industry, and informational interview "do's and don'ts" when contemplating a career transition.

Finally, Freedman gives a detailed breakdown of the many types of career opportunities available within the industry reaching far beyond laboratory scientist, the path of entry most common among young academicians seeking to launch their careers.

In the second part, Freedman presents the true body of the work. Each of the 20 chapters covers in well-measured detail a different segment of a multitude of career paths. For each path described, the author's painstaking research provides a balanced approach that informs the reader and enables a thoughtful consideration of the relevance of specific positions therein.

The career pathways Freedman elaborates upon include discovery and preclinical research, project management, clinical development, medical affairs, regulatory affairs, quality assurance, operations, product development, life-science-based information management, business and corporate development, marketing and sales, technical applications and support, corporate communications, executive leadership, law, finance, management consulting, and human resources and recruiting.

Importantly, there is no attempt to sell the reader on a given career option, and every section contains a "pros and cons" discussion, including portions detailing specific personal attributes that might lead either to success or dissatisfaction on the part of the professional who chooses said path.

For example, in Chapter 7, "Discovery Research," Freedman elaborates on qualities that scientists who perform well in this area tend to have: a strong research background, a collegial attitude and ability to work within teams, tenacity and perseverance, the ability to tolerate frustration and disappointment, a broad knowledge of the field, the ability to work well in goal-oriented and time-constrained research environments, receptivity toward feedback, and excellent problem-solving and analytical skills, leadership skills, and communication skills.

As is true for all career paths under discussion, Freedman then follows with a text box that leads off, "You should probably consider a career outside of [discovery] research if you are ..." In this case, some of the bullet points listed include a micromanager, unable to delegate (for managerial positions); an academic prima donna, unwilling to share your knowledge or give credit to others; only interested in publishing high-quality, cutting-edge papers; unable to work well in teams; one who takes criticism personally; only superficially interested in discovery research; a scientist who lacks passion or common sense.

Freedman is very frank and honest here, but these are not simply her opinions. She indicates having interviewed a minimum of 10 biotechnology and pharmaceutical executives for each section, most of whom were at least at the level of vice president. If the reader is self-aware and equally honest, there may be great utility here for designing personal career objectives.

For each career option within a given pathway, Freedman also provides a summary description. For example, in Chapter 8, "Preclinical Research," an outline covers the four primary disciplines of the field: pharmacokinetics, toxicology, pharmacology, and chemistry.

Freedman also provides a "Roles and Responsibilities" subsection to expound in greater detail upon the summary job descriptions. To her credit, as well as the reader's benefit, she also elaborates on several of the key day-to-day functions of a given position and comments on the metrics for success likely to be applied.

Where necessary, Freedman also provides a suitably detailed explanation of the technical aspects of the discovery and development process most relevant to the career pathway under consideration, including key acronyms standard to the biopharmaceutical industry. For example, while discussing discovery research in Chapter 7, she outlines the steps of target identification and validation, assay development, lead discovery and optimization, and preclinical research.

In doing so, Freedman introduces terms familiar to those experienced in the field. Among these are high-throughput screening, new chemical entities, and the five key pharmacokinetic concerns: absorption, distribution, metabolism, elimination, and toxicity.

A key aspect to each chapter of the book unfolds as subsections progress: Freedman consistently moves from higher levels of abstraction to greater and greater detail. Therefore, the reader may select for herself any level of summary knowledge before choosing to move to the next topic. And because each chapter is formatted similarly in terms of the nature and order of knowledge presented, the author provides a straightforward way to determine precisely where to look for the appropriate level of discourse.

Each section also contains a note on salary and compensation, and this is perhaps the only place where Freedman falls short of the book's otherwise high standards. Here she merely provides brief comments and often discusses the issue only in relative terms. For example, while describing compensation for business development professionals in Chapter 17, she writes: "Business development positions tend to be more lucrative than comparable scientific positions. For similar levels of experience, a business development professional will earn 10???20% more than a scientist."

Given the amount of research that has gone into her book, Freedman should have followed through and provided general salary ranges. Most readers are sophisticated enough to understand the potential for great variation in salaries, especially when explained with as much facility as Freedman is capable of.

Finally, it's worth reemphasizing that this guidebook will also serve biotechnology and pharmaceutical professionals already in midcareer. The current trend is for workers to change jobs more frequently and to change careers entirely at least once. The best options for an individual hoping to leverage strengths and experience to full advantage are laid open for examination.

In addition, the most successful leaders and managers benefit from a more complete knowledge of their industry. A thorough understanding of not only the process of discovering, developing, and bringing to market a biopharmaceutical product, but also of who the key players are and when and how they must become involved, will prove very empowering.

Biopharmaceutical professionals at nearly any level will benefit from a more complete understanding of how to plan and manage their careers for having read this informative book.

Kenneth J. Barr is director of medicinal chemistry at Amplyx Pharmaceuticals Inc. and a career consultant for the American Chemical Society.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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