Biotech Hiring on the Rise – A sign of Growth or Zero Sum Game?


As noted here recently
, biologics, especially high-cost innovative treatments such as Humira and Sovaldi, have lived up to their commercial promise, playing a large role in turning around the fortunes of the drug industry.This shows that the decade-long trend of investment in the sector may be have been the smart choice.

Employment figures seem to indicate hiring trends are following the money. A report by The Philadelphia Inquirer that made the rounds of industry news websites shows an overall gain in biotech jobs of just more than 5% in biotech from 2007 to 2013. Over the same period time, pharma shed nearly 5.5% of its employees.

Compared to the US as a whole, which saw a 2.1% drop in employment in those six years, biotech would seem to be faring better than most while pharma lags behind.

Recruiters have noticed as well. A quick search for biotech employment turns up volumes of advice on where to look, how to apply, resume advice, etc., including the FiercePhama article “Want a raise, pharma reps? Get into biotech sales instead,” which states that moving from one sector to the other can result in a 50% pay increase.

However, anyone (again) declaring the demise of Big Pharma might want to avoid relying excessively on these employment numbers. First, the figures above were taken from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which relies on categories in the rigid and somewhat arcane North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Using these definitions, the pharma jobs numbers are in manufacturing, marketing, distribution, and other post-approval functions. The biotech figures are limited to research and development. Not exactly comparing apples to apples.

Even if taken at face value, the numbers only count in-house employees and do not reflect the industry’s increasing emphasis on outsourcing.

It is also important to note that traditional drugmakers have invested heavily (through acquisitions and underwriting R&D) in biotech. They saw change coming and adjusted accordingly. The companies with distribution systems in place and the facilities for high-volume manufacturing are buying (or leasing) innovation. The job numbers, therefore, do not show one sector losing and another gaining so much as they reflect the natural shift of resources toward newer, more promising product lines.


Donald Clark
Donald Clark

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