Thursday, July 12, 2012

What are the chances to make it to Big Pharma from a small company?

I'm heading straight for Big Pharma after
I bust this guy's head open and break
out of this developmental league.
Credit: Ryan Wolf/Phoenix New Times
There are a lot of talented new graduates and postdocs who are finding their ways to smaller pharma companies and startups these days; there are also the various new academic drug discovery centers. The same assumption is that some percentage of these people would have been part of the traditional campus recruiting hires for Big Pharma.

Will they ultimately transition to the large pharmaceutical companies, as older entry-level employees or lower-to-mid-level management? I've covered this once before, when I said:
If smaller companies are like the minor leagues in baseball (where future talent is grown and developed over time) and assuming that there is a more-than-likely chance (unlike the minor leagues) that your experience will translate into a better-paying job in the future, then it's worth it. 
If taking a job at a smaller startup or a CRO is more like joining an independent league American football team* (where the chances of joining the NFL are vanishingly small), then no, it's not worth it and we're just keeping our jobs because we want to keep doing chemistry.
To which beloved commenter bbooooooya said:
...there is little transition from biotech to the big boys, though it does happen. The opposite transition seems more favored. A few years as a director or group leader at a big pharm makes it easier to slide into a VP role at a small biotech with, I assume, a jump in salary (at least while the company is around). I'm assuming non-executive salaries in big pharms tap out near $200K for group leaders, maybe a bit more for directors(but really don't know)?
I assume that bbooooooya would probably stick to his now year-old statement. 

Lower in the hierarchy, if Pfizer (and other big pharma companies) are going to stick to their designer/synthesizer motif, then I don't see why designers at small organizations can't become designers at large organizations. (Apart from the typical nepotism networking reasons, of course.) At the same time, I don't see the Big Pharmas deciding to hire lots of synthesizers (entry-level or otherwise) any time soon. 

I'm sure there's a pony in here somewhere. Readers, your thoughts? 

*Or an independent wrestling league (as pictured?)

20 comments:

  1. They might recruit you, but only to a lonely outpost on the other side of the world where they otherwise struggle to recruit for. That's my experience with GSK anyway.

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  2. I am in a different field, but similar to Anon 9:46, my company can't find enough candidates they like in China. So they're putting up postings looking for people fluent in Mandarin that will spend ~1 year in the US at corporate R&D and then effectively export them.

    Probably useful for Chinese grad students doing their education in the US but want to eventually move back. So it's a win for the company and the new hire, but at the expense of US taxpayers, right?

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    1. Yes, the American with a chemistry PhD who happens to be fluent in Mandarin can go to China to work for a Chinese company (or go teach), because there won't be opportunity one to work for an American company period, much less work for an American company in China - unless you want to make local wages for a while until the American company wants to dispose of you. They sure as f*ck won't want to bring you back to the US. You really are better off working for the Chinese if you happen to be one of the few in this situation.

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  3. This is an interesting question. I may be wrong but I would argue that because you are typically the only person in your field in a small company (I know I am), you get more diverse experience compared to a big outfit and have your fingers in many pies. You also have opportunities to get exposed to higher-level problems and discussions (for instance regarding target selections) which you would not get exposed to in a big company because of the layers of hierarchy. I would think that all this should make you more attractive to a bigger outfit in a few years. Ultimately of course it's the quality of your work and your references that should matter most, although it probably doesn't always work that way in the real world.

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  4. My experience should offer some hope to new recruits to small shops - with a few conditions of course. I moved from grad school (MSc synthetic organic) into a tiny (13 people) CRO doing med chem in a relative backwater of pharma. After two years (and a quarter without revenues), I got laid off, and made the move to Boston (part for work, part for wife). It took some time before my next job, at a similarly tiny CRO/CMO. This took a switch to development, doing formulating and analytical, but it was interesting. I worked my butt off there to get my skills up quickly, at which point I made the jump to the company I've wanted to be with for years - a well-known mid-cap research heavy small molecule company. I'm in the development side still, and am really enjoying the perks (better pay, better benefits, brilliant co-workers) of medium/big pharma.

    From my experience in recruiting discussions here, it isn't necessary to be coming from big pharma to get noticed and invited for an interview. Although we're looking for quality, and one sign of quality is to be at a quality place, being recognized as quality, through awards, promotions, publications/presentations/patents counts for as much or more. My department isn't just one big Ivy-League reunion, for example.

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  5. I'm constantly baffled by the love-hate relationship Big Pharma has with Medium/Small Pharma. At the same time BP is dismissive of the talent of employees at smaller companies, they want to license in a decent percentage of their drug candidates from them. Am I wrong to think that doesn't make much sense?

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  6. Lot of stuff at big pharma makes no sense... Each place is different so generalizations of the kind "first start at big pharma and then move to startup for promotion and stock options etc" can be misleading; I can give you counterexamples from my job history to any general statement like that which you care to make.

    Look for an employer and research group where the primary decisions about research, hiring and promotions/bonuses are done primarily by scientists rather than finance people, managers and admins - place driven by research goals where the bureaucracy is kept at minimum. Another important thing to look for is lack of internal rivalries, considerate and competent coworkers and a boss who looks after his people

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  7. Wow milkshake! Does such a magical place exist? I want to work there!

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  8. "Wow milkshake! Does such a magical place exist?"

    It does, it's right between the Unicorn stable and the Pegasus saddlery.

    A lot of stuff at big pharma does make no sense, but a lot of stuff in tiny biotech land is just loopy. Recent examples I've come across are a company that wants to cook people's livers to prevent liver cancer (CLSN), a company (DSCI) that is selling honey (from New Zealand, yet!) to improve wound treatment, and a company (ZIOP) running a pahse 3 clinical program on a mustard from 1968. At least the big phamrs are real businesses, not castles built on clouds.

    "I assume that bbooooooya would probably stick to his now year-old statement."

    Yes, though in hindsight I can think of two examples of people moving from C level roles at biotechs to VP roles in big pharma: CE(S?) from MBRX went to MRK (I think as a VP) and ex-CEO of INFI went to BIIB as a VP.

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    1. Ex-CEO of EXEL went to CEO of BIIB, too

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  9. dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good — things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.

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  10. anon @ 6:30 well it is pretty rare but it exists. I got lucky in the end, after nearly losing all my hope. Have you seen the Chicken Run, its happy end? Something like that.

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  11. @ Anon 7:18,

    I was surprised to learn that there are fruit fly strains with phenotypes that are analogous to human disease states. Although there are some major differences in anatomy, given the relative indifference towards experimentation on fruit flies (as opposed to humans) and short time-scale of fruit fly generations (again, relative to humans) this seems like a reasonable approach to investigate some aspects of human disease in a uncontroversial and accelerated fashion. Such studies have been performed on effects of temperature and caloric restriction on the lifespan of these model organisms. It's much faster to measure, for example, a longevity increase from 40 days to 60 days in fruit flies compared to 80 years to 120 years in humans.

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  12. @Anon 8:48

    I assumed he meant the waste was in sending money to Paris.

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  13. OK I can't take it anymore--7:18 is a sarah palin line. It(/she) is a joke, people.

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  14. Wow, Sarah Palin jokes in 2012. What's the matter, guys? People stopped indulging your dated Dan Quayle references?

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  15. Wavefunction although you are correct small shop spawns diversification that is exactly what makes you unattractive to Big Pharma. First recruiting is heavily controlled by HR how screens CVs based on job description which typically are narrowly defined so unless happen to be directly on target won't make it past them. Then most middle and even Sr. Managers who spent their time at a company are themselves narrowly functional and likely silo-ed so would be threatened by anyone who actually knows more than them. Pretty much clones is what is wanted and if can't have that then want fresh meat to train to follow (or run off if they question stuff that makes no sense). It always comes back to Big Name Schools/Groups as what gets any attention and unless you have that on CV or maybe some personal contact who can work behind the scenes to aid there is little hope. CMCguy

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  16. Speaking as a naive undergrad, why would I WANT to move from a startup to Big Pharma? Judging from the previous comments about Big Pharma and word-of-mouth about the inefficiencies and BS at GE Healthcare, I would rather work for small companies my entire career. I'd rather be a key player in a small, risky biotech firm than mid-level cog no. 46994 at a Multinational Inc. any day.

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    Replies
    1. Because in a startup you get about as much abuse for half the money.

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    2. Dear Frinds,

      I have 4.5 years experince and i got opportunity to work in small chemical firm (start up) with high pay say 10 lacs. Currently i got offer from MNC( 1000 crores) company with package of 4 lacs.

      I will be part of core tem and will work close to management if i join small firm with good pay pack. What you all suggest.

      I just new in cooperate world and exploring. Some of my frinds say you can sharpen ur skill by staying in small firm too. You can implemet ur ideas. Money wise i will bypass my 3-4 years and earn same which i am going to earn after 10 years of experince.

      Experience and work wise and culture wise its challenge as i have to handle 4-5 people team and have to report to directer and have to equally contribute in growth of company.

      please please give me second opinion in all aspect.

      Mahesh


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