...Historically, transitioning from a large company to a startup might have been much more challenging for biotech R&D talent than for tech talent, given the geographical separation between pharma R&D (Pennsylvania/New Jersey) and startup/small company life science R&D (Cambridge or San Francisco). But with the increasing co-localization of large pharma R&D and life science startups/small companies in Cambridge and the Bay area, the transition from big pharma to startup becomes much easier, at least for the talent fortunate enough to live in one of these hotspots.
Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, many but not all of the pharma R&D layoffs are occurring in places like North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where the life science startup landscape is extant (Durham-based Pharmasset, acquired by Gilead for about $11B, comes to mind) but comparatively limited.
Two final thoughts:
First, while many wonder if there’s a life science bubble, my sense is that while there’s clearly some frothiness (especially in areas like immuno-oncology), big pharmas continue to need promising products, and their shift to S&D means that they are unlikely to generate these internally. Hence, there will remain a durable market for promising life science startups, so long as there’s an attractive commercial market for pharmaceutical innovation (still true in the U.S., arguably not so much in many other places).
Second, biopharma R&D talent need to adjust career expectations, and see themselves not as permanently affixed to a large pharma, but rather likely to work for a series of companies, offering a trajectory perhaps characterized by greater promise and interest, but less stability.Here's my extremely uncharitable interpretation of Dr. Shaywitz's post and predictions:
- Biopharma R&D talent needs to get used to lower salaries and benefits (because that's what happens with smaller firms, as opposed to larger ones) in exchange for potential large buyout-related sums.
- Biopharma R&D talent should not expect the luxury of a long, stable, single company career.
- If you're not living or ending up in either the Bay Area or Cambridge, you are screwed.