Are there careers in Biotech for a non-science person?

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Are there careers in Biotech for a non-science person?

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Oct 29, 2004 6:22 pm

I was recently asked this question, and I'd like to see what some of the responses are. Perhaps frequent posters like Andrew, Chris, Don and any others can comment . . .

"I'm an MBA coming into the biotechnology field with no biotech experience and no guidance from others. Will my MBA help me to succeed doing business development? Once I get my job in a biotech firm, will anyone speak to me at trade shows or even return my phone calls? Or will the field be completely closed to me because I have no science background or biotech business experience?"

Let me cast this one out there and ask for responses. I have a "gut feeling" that all biotechnology jobs, big and small, require some science training, and that -- in fact -- most Business Development people are PhD's. BUT I'D SURE LIKE TO HEAR WHAT PEOPLE SAY.


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Are there careers in Biotech for a non-science person?

Postby Shawn Baker » Fri Oct 29, 2004 6:46 pm

I think it's pretty obvious that the more biotech/science experience you have, the better off you?ll be in your new position. Having said that, I wouldn?t think the experience would be a hard and fast requirement and I certainly can?t imagine people not talking to you at trade shows. I think there are lots of ways to gain the industry-specific knowledge that would help you. Here in San Diego UCSD offers a whole series of ?Extension? courses that can be used to get up to speed in a variety of areas (molecular biology, microarray technology, clinical studies, etc.). The hardest part might be getting the job in the first place, but once you?re there I think you can get the knowledge you need.
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Are there careers in Biotech for a non-science person?

Postby John Fleming » Fri Oct 29, 2004 11:23 pm

My feeling is that someone without a formal science degree does not belong in the biotechnology industry. There are just too many people who are "snobs" about this (I'm not one of them -- I'm just telling it like it is). I can't imagine some MBA trying to sell me on some technology, when the guy pronounces E. Coli like a breed of dog.

I don't have a PhD either, but at least my six years of schooling put me in the position of being able to learn/expand upon my base of technology so that I could, if asked to, represent technology to potential partners. I can't imagine someone coming up to speed on this in anything shorter than 2-3 years of study.

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Are there careers in Biotech for a non-science person?

Postby Alex » Sat Oct 30, 2004 9:33 am

BD is one of "Crown Jewls" of any Biotech company. Partnering is the lifeline of most companies, and this will not be handed to someone without a science background. You don't necessarily need a scientific education per se, but definitely experience.

Sales reps selling reagents are trained to deal with the students, techs and postdocs in the lab with regard to the products they sell. Many sales reps have some science background and definitely training for their products. Think of BD as a sales rep squared. Your "product" will pretty much be the company itself, and you won't be dealing with postdocs and students, but with Big Pharma scientists, usually VPs and Directors with decades of experience in their fields.

My suggestion would be to use the MBA to try to get a job within Biotech, period (finance, public/investor relations, sales, marketing, etc), and then, once you are in, keep your eyes and ears open, learn and try to gradually move over to BD, maybe by helping "structure" the deals once they are struck (milestones, royalties,etc).

Then again, with an MBA and no scientific background, unless you have a special interest in Biotech, there are probably better industries to go into that are not teeming with PhDs.

Are there careers in Biotech for a non-science person?

Postby Don » Sat Oct 30, 2004 12:11 pm

Tough question. First off, there are some places where an MBA w/o science could be fine: for example in HR, or Corp. Fin. or some parts of operations. However this would be in big biotech/pharma (read: AMGN, PFE, ABT, MLNM). A science background might help some there - but an MD/PhD would not be required. If the subject job is in BD and you are talking about a traditional biotech/pharma Co. where you are working with a technology or drug, I think the science background is probably a necessity. One could make the argument that at some level, you are making a purely financial/business decision: you look at the numbers, think about the impact, structure a deal, negotiate and close. However, the bottom line is almost always determined by how the drug/technology works or will be used in the clinic. For that, a science background (MD or PhD, not MS, or BS) is, in my opinion, critical.

Again, at higher levels you would probably not be making the models, or doing lots of the background work that is very tech-heavy. However, w/o the science background you will probably not be able to ask the right questions and make certain that all of the background work you have had some hapless associate complete for you is right or even meaningfull.

Again, if you are talking about BD for some marketed product, say a product acquisition for drug that is old and off patent, you probably dont need a great science background as the decision can be (but is not always) pretty straightforward.

Most BD roles in biotech are not like that though.

Now, I have seen people w/o a science background succeed in BD. These people are rare as hen's teeth though. Generally very bright (which you may be), agressive and inquisitive (which you also may be) and damn lucky. Just know it is much harder.

To one of the other poster's points, there is a lot of snobbishness in the industry and it will likely be quite hard to get beyond that.

Finally, as I said before, there are a number of places where you could do fine w/o a science background.

Hope this helps.


Are there careers in Biotech for a non-science person?

Postby Chris Buntel » Mon Nov 01, 2004 9:21 pm

Science training is a plus, but not required for all biotech jobs.

Especially at larger companies, jobs such as BD and project management are more about looking at market opportunities and systems operations than actual science. There's a lot of market analysis, resource allocation, and such that are very much "operations research" type MBA work.

The extreme is the "six sigma" type roles that analyze systems to optimize the way that things are done from a process view.

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