Earn a Biotechnology PhD?

Biotechnology PhD

Once upon a time for PhDs in technical fields if someone wanted to know about your career aspirations, they would ask if you were interested in academia or industry, and “industry” usually meant bench work at a pharmaceutical or biotechnology company. If you do wish to continue bench work but wish to leave the world of academia, then of course there are positions available in research, however you may be surprised about the number of other opportunities available to PhDs within these companies away from the bench. These alternate opportunities include positions in the areas of:
  • Business Development
  • Regulatory Affairs
  • Medical Science Liaison
  • Field Application Scientist

Entry Points

Since the options in pharma/biotech are quite varied, it makes sense to break down the entry points by job type and describe a few of the job responsibilities for each: There are actually a few different areas within research and development to consider that include drug discovery and preclinical research, clinical research, and process development.

Drug discovery and preclinical research jobs are the typical “scientist” jobs for PhDs as they pertain to the initial screening of potential therapeutic compounds and testing the efficacy and safety of the compounds on non-human animals. The specific job titles will vary from one company to another, but they will likely contain the word scientist in one form or another (e.g., principal scientist, senior scientist, or just plain old scientist.)

Clinical research jobs pertain to the research done after the investigational new drug application (IND) and involve human trials. Although the focus on human testing lends itself to an environment heavily populated by medical doctors, there are opportunities for PhDs. As a clinical research scientist, graduate school training will come in very handy for responsibilities that include experimental design, data analysis, and composing final reports.

Process development scientists work in later stages of research and development and their efforts are mostly focused on optimizing the manufacturing process. This optimization can involve developing new machinery that may be necessary for scale-up or streamlining protocols, so an engineering background may be helpful for some positions.

The most likely title in the field of business development is business development manager, but there are other possibilities that include corporate development management, and strategic alliance manager. Regardless of the specific title, the job’s focus will be in the areas of licensing, acquisition, partnerships, and joint ventures. This focus on growing the business through outside relationships will require keen networking skills and quite a bit of knowledge in opportunity identification, valuation, and transaction.
It’s no secret that the world of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology are heavily regulated. One benefit of these hurdles to drug development is the need for regulatory affairs experts. One of the most common titles is regulatory affairs specialist, but other titles to look for include regulatory scientist and manager of regulatory operations. Responsibilities involve managing interactions with government agencies, which can include submissions of investigational new drug (IND) applications, drug labeling, and marketing applications.
Although there are a few different job titles, which include medical science liaisons, scientific affairs managers, medical liaisons, medical scientists, and medical science managers, the main focus remains to build and maintain peer-peer relationships with outside experts called “key opinion leaders” (KOLs.) This basically allows for companies to maintain ties to the medical community and their needs. Internally, medical science liaisons serve as scientific experts, and externally, they serve as scientific peers and resources to make sure that the company’s products are being used effectively. A good resource for information on how to break into this field was written by Dr. Samuel Dyer and can be found at www.themslbook.com.
  • Field Application Scientist
Working as a field application scientist can serve as a great stepping-stone for those looking to transition from the bench to the business end of things. These positions require you to demo new products and equipment, as well as provide on-site support to customers. In other words, when tech support can’t solve a problem, they bring in the field application scientists. The frequent client interaction is the reason for the thought that the field application scientist position is the perfect transitional phase between lab and business work. Those who wish to move even further from the bench tend to go from field application scientist to positions in sales, product management, or marketing.
Interesting facts
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