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SANDRA OWENS, CEO, ScienceToLife & AccessOncology

The life sciences industry is growing, and it’s not just because of the pandemic. As I explained in my last blog, we are still trying to conquer diseases for patients with unmet medical needs like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Crohn’s disease and rheumatology that affect millions of people every day. Cancer, Haematology and Neurology dominate in the arena of new treatments being made available to patients. We expect vaccines and treatment for the pandemic to appear in this list soon.

The incredible amount of ongoing research being carried out, at an approximate cost of $150 billion per year, is producing innovative medicines to treat these diseases. But, we need people to help with drug discovery, development, registration and commercialisation across the globe.

What to consider when deciding which type of life sciences organisation to work for

Regardless of your background or specific expertise, the life sciences industry covers a huge range of jobs and roles, so you will have your choice of working environments and can decide which area to work in based on your location, preferences, skills and capabilities. With constant room for career development and individual growth – there’s never a dull day when working in life sciences.

If you’re keen to break into the industry, you need to consider the following, as well as your career preferences, when applying for roles. I would also strongly urge you to do your research and check out company websites before applying for your desired role:

  • The size of the life sciences organisation: Do you want to work for a large global business (e.g. Pfizer or Novartis) or prefer small biotechs or start-ups (e.g. Cerelevel Therapeutics or Vertex)?
    • The big pharma model is transitioning to a leaner, more focused enterprise, with smarter investment choices. Competition is fierce.
    • Start-ups will typically want you to work across several departments and so your skill levels will increase more rapidly. But you will be expected to produce more in a shorter space of time, especially if the company’s growth phase is truncated.
  • The type of life sciences organisation:
    • Research and development driven organisations (e.g. Roche) do still operate out of R&D facilities in major hubs but some are being localised into global innovation bio clusters and you need to be cognisant of their location and also consider your mobility. Bioclusters are networks with common bioscience commercialisation interest, usually located in a similar geographical area. There are usually several elements in a cluster and job opportunities can range from basic R&D, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, agricultural biotechnology and service providers.
    • Generic (e.g. Teva or Sandoz) and biosimilar manufacturers (e.g. Amgen or Apotex) can be interesting organisations to work within because they require scientific and quality assurance expertise as well as business savvy professionals who can work with regulators to ensure product delivery. Biosimilars are biologic medical products that are highly similar to another already approved biological medicine. e.g. Amjevita is the first biosimilar approved for the blockbuster Humira, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Biosimilar availability is relatively new and evolving, whilst providing many countries with access to once high cost biologics, so having an interest in equal access to medicine is important.
  • The head office position is a cultural consideration as well as location-based one.
    • If you like working close to the science, it’s a good idea to explore where the organisation’s research hubs are located
    • Similarly, if you’re more interested in a commercial role or working in a business-led team, where do they base their global marketing and commercialisation teams?
    • Are you mobile and would you consider moving to these particular cities?
    • European head-quartered organisations tend to prefer partnering with long-term known entities, are more structured and less risk averse.
    • US head-quartered organisations can be entrepreneurial, quick to adopt new technology and can advertise direct to patient, although consumers tend to be more conservative.
    • It should be noted that revenue growth is primarily coming from China in the future, rather than the large traditional markets, such as the US.
  • Business performance:
    • What is the year on year (YOY) revenue growth of the organisation? This will give an indication of the company life cycle and what it’s like to currently work there
    • Organisations in revenue decline are often restructuring and expected to perform with less resources. However, opportunities can be great in terms of learning about this difficult business cycle and how to demonstrate leadership skills whilst under pressure.
    • Organisations in growth mode can be fast-paced with high expectations for performance
    • Decide which you prefer because there are plenty of advantages to working in each of these categories.
  • Therapeutic areas of focus:
    • Do you like working in or have a particular interest in specialty areas such as oncology and neurology?
    • Or do you prefer community medicines such as vaccines or asthma treatments?
    • What about working in gene therapy? This is positioned to revolutionise the treatment of many deadly diseases over the next decade, so could be an interesting area to explore
    • Some companies work in all of areas and others specialise, so it’s important to do your research.
  • Pipeline development: Many organisations experience differing cycles of pipeline development and delivery. Some are reaching commercialisation stage whilst others have most of their pipeline in early phase research.
    • Consider the organisation’s research and development program and its capacity to deliver sustained, long term growth
    • Do you want to work in an organisation with early Phase data such as Phase 1, where exploratory trials are still underway and a focus on product safety is paramount, or do you prefer the commercial end of a Phase 3 delivery?
    • Investigate the various organisations within pharmaceutical medicines to see how their pipeline is performing now and expectations for the future.

Eight important steps to help you secure a job in life sciences

  1. Complete your business, science or science-related degree or PhD.
  2. Build your online profile and professional brand. Start by optimising your LinkedIn profile for relevant keywords and share content that demonstrates your expertise. Connect with influencers online and share content that people in your field will be interested in reading. Use hashtags!
  3. Understand your capabilities and preferences – use a decision tool like this one to help you understand which roles best suit your skill set.
  4. Link your current capabilities with the skills for the role you seek – having experience without experience is possible. For example, your PhD will have taught you about prioritisation and communicating well. Both of these skills are required for most medical roles in life sciences and you need to make this clear on your CV.
  5. Build a succinct and bespoke CV written specifically to match the role you seek – this CV Guide will help you.
  6. Complete a real-world course in life sciences and learn about the industry, language and roles so that you become an expert for your interview.
  7. Improve your digital skill set – including virtual interviewing techniques – you’ll find these remote interviewing blogs helpful.
  8. Get networking – join a networking community for life sciences and speak to everyone you know connected to the industry. net is a great community for scientists, while following #medicalaffairs on LinkedIn has many interesting posts and opportunities to connect and educate.

The life sciences industry continues to grow throughout the pandemic and positively contribute to the health of populations around the world. As a result, organisations are recruiting and filling talent gaps every day. So, if you’re interested in building your career in the industry, I hope this advice has provided you with an understanding of the key points to consider before starting your search, as well as some practical steps to help ensure that search is as successful as possible.


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Sandra has worked in Senior Executive roles for Sanofi, AstraZeneca, Merck and Johnson & Johnson across the Asia Pacific Region, developing immunotherapies, biologics & targeted agents to early and successful in-market launch in the Asia Pacific Region.

She has a reputation as an effective and innovative leader with proven ability to build high performing teams and deliver strong P&L performance by developing collaborative partnerships between medical, patients, market access and commercial groups.

Sandra is also a mentor and educator, with a passion for inspiring people to reach beyond what they ever thought possible and then helping them get there.

“Life Sciences is an exciting and dynamic industry. The opportunity to educate people and encourage more talent to join us and create more life for patients, is my purpose.”



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