Going from big biotech to small biotech

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Going from big biotech to small biotech

Postby John » Fri Jan 14, 2005 2:40 am

Hi All,
My dilemma is a little opposite of most of these postings. I want to go from doing research for a big biotech company (one of the big three) to research for a small biotech company. I do currently enjoy my position, however for personal reasons I need to move to the midwest and find a biotech job there. Considering there is only a few biotech companies in this area, I want to take all the right steps to help me get noticed with these companies.

Please, any advise to get noticed by these companies would be greatly appreciated!


Going from big biotech to small biotech

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Jan 14, 2005 10:24 am

Hello John -- Welcome to the AAAS Science Careers Forum!

Your situation won't be much like many of our other posters. Instead of having a difficult job search, your search will go smoothly and you are likely to have a number of offers. It seems, in my experience, that all small biotech companies want to have people from the big biotech firms on board. As long as you are a fit in the "personal chemistry" department, your experience will seem to them a very worthwhile thing to have on the team.

However, don't think that you have already "had the biotech experience." Sure, some of the things about the atmosphere at work and the interdisciplinary nature of the lab are going to be found in the new company. But you've never had the fear of running out of money. You've never come in one morning and found everyone huddled around, trying to figure out what to do if the big deal with Pfizer falls through, or if that angel investor decides to go the other way, etc. It is something else entirely to be working in THAT environment.

So, you may indeed find that your job search is a lot easier than you thought. But, you'll be in a different world, and I hope that you are ready for this. You've been sheltered from so much of the "real life" in a biotechnology company,

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Going from big biotech to small biotech

Postby Kevin Foley » Fri Jan 14, 2005 2:32 pm

Hi John,

I agree completely with everything Dave posted. The biggest failing of most small companies in this industry is a lack of experience developing drugs. This is a complex and risky business, which no one person can be an expert in from start to finish. And it takes more that a handful of senior managers with prior experience to avoid making the mistakes that are so often the downfall of a small company. So we are always looking to hire people at all levels that have worked for "real companies" (translation: they know how to develop drugs because they?ve actually done it before). For the same reason, we are less eager to hire academics. Training in basic research doesn?t teach one how to make a drug--it just gives you the delusion that you could, if only you wanted to!

However, one thing I want to emphasize is that we are also looking for employees who are a good cultural fit. The culture at a large company like Amgen is very different from that of a start-up or even a several hundred-person company. There?s no point in hiring someone who has all the experience in the world, if he/she is not going to fit into the entrepreneurial ?anything goes? culture typical of most small companies in this industry. The more senior you are, the more important a good cultural fit is to your prospective employer. A start-up would be crazy to hire the CEO of Pfizer (and visa versa, probably)!

So, in your job search, in addition to playing up your experience in a company that ?knows what it is doing?, you should also emphasize that you are attracted by the culture of smaller companies.

To some extent, how you are perceived will also depend on which of the ?big three? you are coming from. Genentech is thought of as being much more ?biotechy? than Amgen. [Frankly, ?biotech? is a meaningless term these days; Amgen is clearly a ?big pharma? in everyway except in the terminology of Wall Street.]

One last thing: I?m sure you have already considered this, but the lifespan of a small company unfortunately tends to be on the short side. So moving to a city/area that doesn?t have a strong biotech cluster brings with it the danger of not being able to find a new position locally if anything goes wrong with your employer. You might have to move again to find a new job of similar quality (although your CV will probably look pretty good with experience working for both big and small companies). That?s why I?m staying put in Boston?it?s a great city, and pretty much the ?center of the universe? for this industry.

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Going from big biotech to small biotech

Postby AL » Sat Jan 15, 2005 12:58 am

Center of the universe! Well, you're probably right. What do you think about the SF Bay Area and San Diego? How do they measure up in terms of biotech opportunities?

Going from big biotech to small biotech

Postby Kevin Foley » Sat Jan 15, 2005 8:30 am

Well, we can argue till we are blue in the face and not answer that one. There are lots of studies that try to rank biotech clusters, and I've noticed they tend to come to different conclusions about who is #1. My only point was that it is a lot easier to find your next job if you happen to work in one of these top areas.

Here's a study from last year that puts San Diego first and Boston second. But it also ranks Seattle ahead of San Francisco. Having worked in Seattle for 8 years, that seems laughable to me (of course, they separated SF and Oakland).

The Top Ten Biotech Clusters

Metro Area (Score)
1) San Diego (100)
2) Boston (95.1)
3) Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (92.5)
4) San Jose (87.8)
5) Seattle-Bellevue-Everett (83.8)
6) Washington, D.C. (79.4)
7) Philadelphia (76.5)
8) San Francisco (75.8)
9) Oakland (74.3)
10) Los Angeles-Long Beach (66.5)

Source: Milken Institute 2004 Biotech Index
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Going from big biotech to small biotech

Postby Kevin Foley » Sat Jan 15, 2005 8:34 am

My link doesn't seem to work, so here it is again (article in Forbes):
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