Author: Claire Jarvis
Are you a recent graduate entering the STEM job market for the first time? Or are you a mid-career professional considering a transition into biotech? The ‘life sciences industry’ is an area of rewarding career opportunities, offering many different avenues for career progression.
What is the Life Sciences Industry?
When most people think of the life sciences industry the first thing that comes to mind are the large pharmaceutical companies. These companies specialize in discovering and developing small molecule drugs.
The second most recognizable type of company within life sciences are the biotech companies. These companies focus on developing large molecule drugs partially derived from living organisms. While life science professionals often talk about pharma and biotech companies as distinct entities, there is often overlap between the two: many large pharmaceutical companies own a mixture of biotech and small molecule therapies.
In addition, there are research companies that focus on the development of medical devices – devices for consumers and healthcare professionals to address unmet medical needs (e.g. insulin pumps, baby incubators).
The last major chunk of life science companies are contract research organizations (CROs) and contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs). These companies act as vendors to large companies looking to outsource parts of their drug development and manufacturing to save on in-house resources, or respond to surges in demand. Since pharma and biotech companies are frequently looking to save and remain flexible, there is always a demand for CRO/CMO support.
Top Pharma Companies in 2022
In terms of annual revenue, size and profit, some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in 2022 include:
- Johnson & Johnson
Thanks to successful new drug launches, these companies grew over the past few years, and are predicted to continue their expansion in the foreseeable future.
For many large pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic led to further profit because these companies were able to invest in resources to develop new COVID-19 vaccines and scale to meet demand. A strength of large pharmaceutical companies is that they already have the financial backing in place to pivot their research program towards immediate healthcare demands, while small biotechs rely on success in a single therapeutic area. Although several medium-sized specialist biotech companies were also buoyed by the success of their COVID-19 vaccines, including Moderna with its RNA vaccine.
Many biotech startups are concentrated around the Boston and San Francisco areas, though startups can be found across the country.
Currently, a profitable area for startups are rare diseases. Larger pharma companies are less likely to shoulder the risk of developing a rare disease treatment, but the biotechs often end up in partnership with or sold to a larger pharma company once their treatment reaches important clinical milestones.
A lot of medical device companies are innovating with smart technology and artificial intelligence/machine learning.
Deciding on Your Next Career Step
While the choices available in the life sciences industry might seem overwhelming, considering several key aspects will help you narrow down your job search options. For instance, large pharmaceutical companies might offer more security, but more rigid job roles. While new hires at a start-up will need to be flexible and willing to assume more risk. However when they succeed there are greater equity opportunities available for employees at small companies.
The salary at a CRO might be less competitive than at a large pharmaceutical company, but the CRO is likely to offer more variety and a faster pace of work, as well as a less conservative company culture than at Big Pharma. Whatever your career priorities and goals, there will be a perfect position in the life sciences industry for you!
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