Wanted: Applicants with Problem Solving Skills

Posted in Career Advice

There was a very interesting article in today’s NY Times Business Section  entitled “Want to Work for Jaguar Land Rover: Start Playing Phone Games that caught my eye. The article stated that the carmaker would be recruiting 5,000 people people this year. To be considered for employment, prospective employees must download an app with a series of puzzles that they must solve.  Those who score well on the app will be able to progress to the interview stage.  While this may be somewhat unique to companies that are looking for engineers and computer personnel, I think the point here is that the ability to solve problems or puzzles is the single most important attribute that any employee must possess if they want to be hire.  To that point, companies like Marriott Hotels, Axa Group, Deloitte, Xerox, The BBC and Daimler Trucks all use playing games and virtual reality to identify potentially-qualified job applicants.

Companies once relied on job fairs and advertising to court prospective applicants but they have been forced to become much more creative in order to identify the technical skills and business savvy they need.  I will use my son, who graduated from college last month as a case in point.

He applied for a job with a non-profit venture firm. The first thing they asked him to supply was a picture of himself that encapsulated him as a person. After submitting a picture of him and his Cross Country college team after a big meet (and making it to the next round) he was sent a hypothetical and given several days to respond.  He spent an entire day on the hypothetical, submitted it and was subsequently told he would not be considered for a face-to-face interview.

What does this all mean?  Based on my years as a career development consultant, these exercises suggest that while college graduates and advanced degree professionals may have met their academic requirements, there is no guarantee that those degrees qualified  them for jobs in “real life”. Although unemployment is at historic lows in the US, it does not mean that employers are not being selective about who they hire. That said, starting an app company that uses artificial intelligence and virtual reality to assess a candidate’s problem solving ability may be a great idea!

Until next time… 

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!

New Report: High Job Anxiety Amongst Pharmaceutical Employees

Posted in BioEducation

A post today on the fabulous Pharmalot Blog revealed that a recent poll conducted by Pharma IQ showed that about 44 percent of all pharmaceutical employee respondents worry that they may become redundant (corporate speak for dispensable) over the next year or so. Further, 50 percent believe that staffing levels will remain the same for 2012 whereas 32 percent expect more layoffs to occur. Only 19 percent of the 535 pharma employees surveyed believe that hiring will increase this year.

Roughly 48 percent of respondents indicated that their groups/departments had not been downsized. However, 61% of respondents—who indicated that downsizing had taken place in their department— reported that their job functions were being performed by fewer numbers of employees. Twenty-five percent report that the job functions performed by layed off employees were outsourced. Of those, 10 percent said that the jobs were outsourced to emerging markets like China, India, and Brazil etc.

Interestingly, a whopping 71 percent believe that the massive layoffs that have taken place in pharma are a result of the recession. While this is what big pharma wants its layed off employees to believe, the bottom line is that the pharma industry began shedding jobs in 2001 mainly because of anticipated lost of patent expiry for many of its blockbusters and the lack of new molecular entities discovered by internal R&D programs not because of cash flow problems. To wit, a quick perusal of cash reserves indicates that most major pharmaceutical companies have roughly $5 to 35 billion in short term cash reserves. Simply put, the recession conveniently provided pharma execs with a legitimate excuse to downsize.

To be fair, big pharma companies will be losing substantial revenue streams because of loss of patent protection for blockbusters like Lipitor, Zyprexa, and Plavix etc. And, that some belt tightening may be in order to remain competitive. However, most pharma execs realized way back in the mid 2000s that they could no longer justify such large workforces in the wake of thinning pipelines and a much lower than expect ROI from internal R&D activities. Consequently, they had to layoff large numbers of R&D and sales employees to keep their stock prices stable and in some cases to retain their jobs. The fact that a majority of the current pharma employees surveyed believe that the massive pharma layoffs that have taken place over the last decade are a result of the recession suggests that these employees are still drinking the Kool-Aid freely offered by their employers.

There are a lot of other interesting statistics and tidbits in the report that may be worth a look. However, it is important to note, that it is highly unlikely that pharma will ever replace many of the US and European employees who lost their jobs. Recent moves made by most major pharmaceutical companies clearly indicate that they are betting on their growth in both R&D and sales to take place in emerging markets. Sadly, the future of the US life sciences workforce is no longer bright. In fact, it is quite dim!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!


Trouble in Big Pharma Land: Lilly Freezes Employee Salaries

Posted in BioEducation

The Pharmalot blog reported today that Eli Lilly & Co one of the more progressive big pharma companies to experiment with crowdsourcing and social media to generate new R&D opportunities today announced that it most company employees and executives will not receive base pay increases this year. The company did not announce a freeze in bonuses, however.

In a sign of solidarity with the 99 %, John Lechleiter, PhD Lilly’s outspoken and sometimes controversial CEO, requested that he not receive an increase to his $1.5 million annual salary and incentives. Interesting, as Ed Silverman cogently points out in the Pharmalot post, Lechleiter’s bonus target is 140% of his base salary which put his total compensation for the upcoming year at around $16.4 million!

Last week, the company disclosed that it missed analyst’s stock price estimates and its leading product Zyprexa (antipsychotic) yielded lower than expected sales revenues because of generic competition. Zyprexa sales dropped 44 percent in the fourth-quarter to $749.6 million.

Don’t be surprised if layoffs are next. It may be time for Lilly employees to dust off those CVs and resumes.

Until next time…


Monthly Pharma Layoff Report

Posted in BioEducation

Thing have been quiet in the pharma layoff space during 2012. I guess that is not so surprising since we are only one month into 2012. However, there was a post on yesterday’s Pharmalot blog which indicates pharma layoffs may resume in earnest over the next few weeks. 

According to the post, AstraZeneca (AZ) is poised to shed thousands of more jobs after the company announces it earnings later this week. As you may recall, AZ recently announced that it would lay off 400 employees at its US headquarters and eliminate another 1,150 jobs from its US sales force. Like other pharmaceutical companies, things have been tough for AZ as three of its blockbuster products Crestor (cholesterol lowering), Nexium (acid reflux) and Seroquel (antipsychotic) lose patent protection and face stiff generic competition.

The Pharmalot post also reported that:

“Between 2007 and 2009, AstraZeneca eliminated 12,600 positions, a move that saved $1.6 billion annually, although that figure rose to $2.4 billion by 2010. The cuts announced that year were designed to save $1.9 billion annually by 2014 It is not clear how much the drug maker hopes to save with still more cuts, but some $3 billion may be spent on a stock buyback to bolster shareholder confidence.”

It is important to note that the massive downsizing that has taken place in the pharma industry over the past decade has little to do with the recession and everything to do with the loss of blockbuster revenues due to generic encroachment. Put simply, most pharma companies grew too large too quickly and subsequently realized that could not sustain their vast infrastructures if the loss of blockbuster sales revenues could not be replaced by new products. To wit, if you look at the P&L statements of many pharmaceutical companies, most have $5 billon to $30 billion of readily-available cash reserves on hand to “play” with. Sadly, the downsizing that has taken place had little to do with the present and everything to do about the future profitability of big pharma companies.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!


Some Good and Bad Investment News for Biotech Companies

Posted in BioEducation

Let’s start with the good news first. A report issued by the National Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers found that venture capital investment in biotechnology grew 22 percent in 2011. And, now the bad news; initial funding for biotechnology startups seeking investment hit a 16 year low last year. The consensus among financial analysts is that life science investors are increasingly focusing on later stage companies because they carry less clinical and regulatory risks as compared with early stage ones. Put simply, VCs, like everyone else, have become much more risk adverse and do not want to invest in companies that don’t have a minimum history of success.

According to the report, venture firms spent $4.73 billion on 446 biotechnology companies in 2011, the highest dollar amount since 2007. Approximately, 153 biotechnology and medical devices companies received their first round of funding last year.

Finally, the US Food and Drug Administration approved 30 drugs in 2011; 13 of which were developed in part by venture funding.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!!!


Healthcare Informatics: Who’s Hiring?

Posted in BioEducation

The past several years I have been touting healthcare informatics technology (HIT) as an alternate career option for life scientists. For those of you who may not know, healthcare informatics is a field tasked with organizing, mining and distributing electronic health records (EHRs) to physicians and other healthcare providers. Persons with a background in medicine/biology and familiarity with computer software and managing and manipulating large digital data sites are ideal candidates for HIT jobs

The US federal government is mainly responsible for the growth of the US HIT field because it is offering financial incentives (mandated in the 2009 federal stimulus package) to healthcare providers who switch from paper to EHRs. The government began to disburse the money last May to those institutions and providers who applied for the funds. To date, hospitals and healthcare providers have received $2.5 billion of a potential $27 billion in stimulus funds.

At present, nearly 40 percent of American primary care physicians and approximately 25 percent of hospitals use EHRs. Thousands more are likely to adopt EHRs this year to qualify for federal stimulus monies. 

So, which major companies are hiring health informatics employees? They include:

  1. Epic Systems
  2. Allscripts
  3. Meditech
  4. Cerner
  5. IBM
  6. McKesson
  7. Siemens
  8. GE Healthcare

Of course, there are smaller companies and start-ups that are also looking for health informatics employees. To that end, persons with a strong background in biology who are comfortable writing code or working with software packages that handle large datasets ought to consider careers in HIT.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting (check out Epic in Madison, WI)


Debunking the Myth That There is a Shortage of Qualified American Life Sciences Employees

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Despite the fact the US unemployment rate has hovered around 9.0 percent for the past several years and over 200,000 pharmaceutical employees have lost their jobs since 2001, many life sciences executives contend that they cannot find qualified employees to fill job openings at their companies. Most executives blame the US education system for not providing prospective employees with necessary training and immigration laws that prevent companies from hiring highly-skilled foreign workers. According to a recent survey conducted by the staffing company ManpowerGroup, over 52% of US employers that they have difficulty filling open positions because of talent shortages.  Some other revealing statistics about employer’s attitudes include:

  • 47% of employers blame job candidates’ lack of hard job or technical skills for their inability to hire
  • 35% of companies cite job candidates’ lack of experience as a reason not to hire
  • 25% blame lack of business knowledge or formal educational qualification as a deterrent to hiring

While a majority of US corporate executives may believe this, the reality is that employers simply cannot find employees to accept jobs at the wages that they are willing to offer! In other words, there is a plethora of skilled American workers out there; but many US employers are willing to outsource or hire skilled foreign nationals who frequently work for lower wages than most Americans. Further, American employers are unwilling to spend money to train college graduates or re-train existing employees who may be able to step into these so-called difficult-to-fill positions. This may help to explain why an increasing number of students are willing to accept unpaid internships or, in some cases pay to work at companies for free to garner valuable industrial experience which may ultimately lead to a job.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Peter Cappelli, the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, offered three possible solutions to the current American unemployment conundrum

Work with education providers

If job candidates lack the skills or qualifications to do certain jobs, companies ought to make them go to school to acquire them. To that end, a growing number of community colleges in North Carolina and New Jersey have partnered with prospective employers to develop courses or degree programs tailored to meet their employment needs. For example, about 10 years ago my local community college (Mercer County College) developed a program (in a partnership with the clinical research company Covance) to train students interested in becoming clinical research assistants and managers. Not surprisingly, many of the students enrolled in the program ultimately where hired by Covance. 

In another variation of this model, extant employees, who may be interested in advancing their cares, would be able take classes at local community colleges (in off hours) and have their tuition subsidized via company tuition reimbursement programs. This would help to obviate the high costs and inordinate amount of time typically required to hire external candidates for newly created positions.

Reintroduce on-the-job training programs

Back in the day, companies tended to hire persons who were the brightest, most talented and most likely to benefit an organization.  New hires were required to participate in internal training programs so that they would better understand their positions and allow management to best evaluate new talent. Generally speaking, this allowed most companies to operate more efficiently; mainly because this allowed managers to determine the best fit of new hires into the existing corporate structure. Sadly this is no longer the case at most companies. These days, companies tend to hire worker who possess the technical skills and qualifications to do a certain job and are expected to “hit the ground running” Put simply, short term needs are placed before the long term needs and future success of an organization.

Promote from within

According to data from the talent management company Taleo Corp., in recent years a surprising two-thirds of job vacancies, even in larger companies, have been filled by outside hires. While it may be cheaper to hiring from the outside, the loss of experienced workers and historical corporate knowledge may affect a company’s performance and ultimately its bottom line.

While the US economy is beginning to show signs that it is beginning to recover, I believe that surest way to prosperity is to put Americans back to work. Although this may require a substantial financial investment by US corporations, we simply can no longer rely on outsourcing or a cheaper immigrant workforce to allow American to continue to compete on the world stage.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!


Ten Female Biotech Executives to Watch in 2012

Posted in BioBusiness

Fierce Biotech conducted its annual survey to identify top female executives in the biotechnology industry. After receiving 130 nominations, they compiled a Top 10 List for 2011.  While some notable women executives may not have made it onto the 2011list, there is always next year.

Their list is as follows:

  1. Katrine Bosley—CEO, Avila Therapeutics
  2. Susan Desmond-Hellman, MD—Chancellor of USCF (formerly @ Genentech)
  3. Deborah Dunsire,MD—President and CEO, Millennium, the Takeda Oncology Company
  4. Carol Gallagher—CEO, Calistoga Pharmaceuticals
  5. Melinda Gates—Co-Founder and Co-Chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  6. Maxine Gowen, PhD, MBA—President and CEO, Trevna
  7. Rachel King—CEO, GlycoMimetics
  8. Tina Nova, PhD—CEO Genoptix Medical Laboratory
  9. Gail Schulze—CEO& Executive Chair of the Board, Zosano
  10. Daphne Zohar—Pure Tech Ventures

If you think that someone who is not on the list deserves to be there, add a comment to this post.

Congrats to the women who made the list!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!


Social Media and Pharma Update: "No Need to Fear Adverse Event Reporting!"

Posted in Social Media

About two years, I posted an opinion piece on BioJobBlog which argued that pharma’s reluctance to engage in social media because of fears of being swamped with adverse events (AEs) reports was little more than a red herring.

In that piece I opined “what is really at stake, is the systemic changes that would be required to transform a historically, opaque and unresponsive industry into a transparent, accountable and responsive one that would be required if it embraces social media as an integral part of its business model.” Nevertheless, two years later, there is still no FDA guidance on the use of social media in the pharmaceutical industry and while some companies have warmed up to the concept, it has not been wholly embraced by most companies.

However, there is new data that may put the “fear of being swamped by AEs reporting” argument to rest. The Pharmalot Blog reported today that a new study conducted by Visible Technologies, a social media monitoring and software firm, showed that only 0.3 percent of more than 257,000 posts about 224 different products —33 antacid over-the-counter meds, 38 over-the-counter decongestants, 10 prescription statins and 143 prescription drugs used to treat high blood pressure—mentioned an AE. For a more detailed analysis of the study please click here.

According to the Pharmalot post the study was conducted over a recent 30-day period and posts were collected from millions of social media sources including “blogs; forums; message boards; message groups; social networks, notably Facebook and LinkedIn; Twitter; regular news sites; specialized health sites, such a WebMD; and video and photo sites, such as YouTube and Flickr.” The study’s focus on statins, blood pressure medications, over-the-counter decongestants and antacids was intentional because tens of millions of persons use these products and therefore, would be more likely to comment on them at social media sites. The bottom line: the use of social media by pharma companies will not overwhelm their existing AE reporting networks nor will it require that more persons be hired. In fact, as I argued in my previous post, using social media for AE report may actually help companies better managed approved and marketed drugs as part of their FDA-required post marketing drug surveillance programs. 

At this point, I am at a loss as to why pharma has not yet embraced social media and leveraged it to their advantage like other industries. I suspect that most companies will not act until FDA issues the social media guidance it has been promising for the past two years. Sadly, it is anyone’s guess when the agency will finally issue the guidance—it has already been delayed several times over the past two years!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!


In Case You Were Wondering: FDA Approved 35 New Prescription Medicines This Year

Posted in BioBusiness

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a press release lauding its approval of 35 new prescription medications in FY2001. According to the release 2011 was a banner year for drug approvals; being only surpassed in FY2009 when 37 new medicines garnered regulatory approval.

FDA detailed its accomplishments in a report entitled “FY2011, Innovative Drug Approvals” which touted faster approval times in the United States as compared with the FDA’s counterparts around the globe. Twenty-four of the 35 approvals occurred in the United States before any other country in the world and also before the European Union, continuing a trend of the United States leading the world in first approval of new medicines. 

Among this year’s highlights:

  1. Two of the drugs – one for melanoma and one for lung cancer – are breakthroughs in personalized medicine. Each was approved with a diagnostic test that helps identify patients for whom the drug is most likely to bring benefits;
  2. Seven of the new medicines provide major advances in cancer treatment;
  3. Almost half of the drugs were judged to be significant therapeutic advances over existing therapies for heart attack, stroke and kidney transplant rejection;
  4. Ten are for rare or “orphan” diseases, which frequently lack any therapy because of the small number of patients with the condition, such as a treatment for hereditary angioedema;
  5. Almost half (16) were approved under “priority review,” in which the FDA has a six month goal to complete its review for safety and effectiveness;
  6. Two-thirds of the new approvals were completed in a single review cycle, meaning sufficient evidence was provided by the manufacturer so that the FDA could move the application through the review process without requesting major new information;
  7. Three were approved using “accelerated approval,” a program under which the FDA approves safe and effective medically important new drugs quickly, and relies on subsequent post-market studies to confirm clinical benefit. For example, Corifact, the first treatment approved for a rare blood clotting disorder, was approved under this program
  8. Thirty-four of 35 were approved on or before the review time targets agreed to with industry under The Prescription Drug User Fee Act  (PDUFA), including three cancer drugs that FDA approved in less than six months.

PDUFA was established by Congress in 1992 to ensure that the FDA had the necessary resources for the safe and timely review of new drugs and for increased drug safety efforts. The current legislative authority for PDUFA expires on Sept. 30, 2012. 

Maybe the agency can keep its streak alive before  PDUFA expires next year!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!