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Career path in research vs development in pharma

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Career path in research vs development in pharma

Postby Jacqueline M. » Sun Nov 08, 2009 12:47 pm

Dear all,

I am currently a scientist in the Drug Safety Division at a big pharmaceutical company, where my job is specifically to develop assays to monitor biologicals for pre-clinical and clinical studies. I took on this position two years ago directly after my post-doc, and wanted to learn more about developing drugs. And as I have learned since (wish I could have earlier), the process of drug development is quite complex and intriguing, having to consider many very different variables, scientific and non-scientific, during development. However, I am starting to feel a little pigeonholed in our company, and I wish to be more involved in the basic research in our company, which would also take advantage of all my research skills from my past (ie. Immunology). Yet at the same time, there seems to be a huge disconnect between the R and the D groups here, as they don't really communicate with each other, even on joint program teams. I have proposed to my management for the possibility of doing some discovery-type experiments, but the answer has either been non-responsive, or "this should be left to the research Discovery folks". I would like to be more involved (in addition to being on R&D project teams) in research, and at the same time, help bridge it with the development part of the process.

My questions therefore, are:
1) Is what I am seeking only possible in start-ups, as I have read from the other posters?
2)I know big companies are "less fluid" than academia, so I can understand the resistance to this. Is there a better way to broach this? I would appreciate any advice.
3) How "interchangeable" is being a scientist in development versus that in research (R vs D)? Is it difficult to go to "R" now that I am in "D"? Due to what I have seen so far, I am starting to worry that I will be typecasted, and may be limited to being a "D" scientist for my career. If I wanted to go back to research, will I be limited because of my experience in development?
4) I have noticed that several job listings mention specifically that they require "drug discovery experience". Does my "two-year industry experience" don't count for this? Is the value of "Research" and "development" experience viewed differently?

Sorry for the long post, but I have followed this forum for quite some time, and appreciate the candid experiences people have shared.
Thanks,
Jacqueline
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Career path in research vs development in pharma

Postby RGM » Sun Nov 08, 2009 7:06 pm

Oh this is a good one..I can't wait to read the response..Good questions! Especially number 3, I have long wondered that one.

If her experience doesn't count as Drug Discovery, what general category in job listings does it count as?
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Career path in research vs development in pharma

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Nov 08, 2009 8:00 pm

Jacqueline,

In smaller companies, R & D groups blend effectively, and while there are still occasional issues (an R & D scientist sometimes thinks he/she can simply "toss a concept over the wall to development"), there is much less outright separation as there is in a major company.

As a rule, right now "D" people rule, and it is a great place for a career. Kevin might argue that point. Let me put it this way -- it's a lot easier to find a job for a Development person than a basic research or discovery person.

Yes, your years of experience will count. Sounds to me like you've got to do some internal networking and NOT talk to your supervisor or any others until you've found a way to break in to the department at your company that you are interested in. You could be a great person in project management because you straddle both R & D, and they NEED people who can work in both fields. On the other hand, perhaps your goals are indeed better met in a smaller employer.

Being labeled as on one side or the other of this fence is difficult, but a real phenomenon. The further you go down the development rabbit hole, the more difficult it is to see you as a pure research scientist. Fact of life for an employer of any size.

Dave
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Career path in research vs development in pharma

Postby Kevin Foley » Sun Nov 08, 2009 9:21 pm

I don't disagree with Dave. It is generally true that the further "downstream" you work (Discovery being "upstream" of everything else), the more in demand your skill set tends to be. Discovery scientists are a dime a dozen (because academia trains so many of them). But if you don't like what you are doing, you should definitely look for other opportunities. You can't be a productive employee if you don't enjoy your job.

I've never worked for a big pharma, but even in a relatively small 2000 employee company like my former employer, people like your boss are hired to do a specific job. He was not hired to do discovery research, and having one of his staff doing discovery research is not going to help him reach his goals. As you can imagine, keeping your boss happy is closely linked to your own career success!

I think you are still thinking like an academic. You need to focus on accomplishing your currently assigned goals (thereby helping the company meet its goals), not goals that have been assigned to someone else. If you can't do that, you should find a job where you can. I can't imagine you don't have more than enough to do as it is, so worrying about discovery will only distract you from being productive and creative in your current job.

In a very small company there is usually a lot more flexibility and the boundaries between groups are less set in stone. But once a company gets to be 50, 100, 250 employees...people have more defined roles. Sure, you can advise other groups, but who has the time to do someone else's job?

Finally, yes, the longer you stay in a particular job, two things are bound to happen: first, you become more qualified in that job; and second, you become less qualified for other jobs, even ones that you have done in the past. People are hired for what they did in their last job. Eventually you won't be able to move back to discovery research. If that's where you want to be, you should move there now.

Cheers,
Kevin
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Postby RGM » Mon Nov 09, 2009 6:07 am

I'm curious now, Kevin said, and I agree, academia cranks out researchers geared for discovery. I'm assuming then the majority of people fresh from the bench end up in Research, as opposed to Development.

If that's the case, how does one move to Discovery/Applications then be it in the same organization or another one? For conversation, let's say the person has been in the Research job for 3-5 years.

Second, what types of scientists fresh from school or their postdocs are hired into Discovery, if any? Assuming their training wasn't in discovery. I would think very, very few?? I just wouldn't know.

Thanks in advance.
"Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream things that never were and say why not"
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Career Path

Postby Jacqueline M. » Wed Nov 11, 2009 2:27 am

Thanks Dave, Kevin for providing some perspective to my questions. At this junction, I am still not sure whether I want to head over completely into Discovery, because after seeing and talking with some of my colleagues there, it seems to me like it is similar to what I have done in the past (ie. screening, characterizing, etc.) Maybe I am still thinking like an academic (point well taken, Kevin!)...

Regards,
Jacqueline
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Career Path

Postby PG » Fri Nov 13, 2009 5:32 am

there are for sure major differences between discovery research and later stage development when it comes to how you work on the project, amount of documentation required, amount of involvement of Quality, regulatory affairs etc. I dont think that it is realy possible to do good discovery research with the restraints that all these requirements put on a late stage devlopment project. I have seen companies that try to do it and it has always failed. Discovery research needs more freedom to think and try things without getting shut down by to much documentation or to many meetings with quality or regulatory affairs.

In my experience it is easier to go from discovery research to development than the other way around (as others have said it is harder to find people with development skills so why would the company want you going "backwards"?)

As for a career track in pharma/biotech I think development is probably a better option. If I take our company as an example we dont do discovery research in house. Instead we do discovery research in collaboration with academic scientists, clinics or by licensing from other small biotech companies. From my perspective discovery research in many or the larger pharma companies and also in some of the big biotech/medical device companies often seem to be very inefficient and produces very little results compared to allocated resources. This might mean that more companies will follow our example and decrease in house discovery research while instead increasing collaborations with small biotech and academia.


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Postby JJ » Sat Nov 14, 2009 5:30 am

PG, I would like to know how to contact companies like the one you are in to set up the kind of collaborations youre talking about in your post. I have some projects with some industrial involvement already with (in academic terms) significant investment and we need more collaborators with equal investment to make it work (involves a lot of method development etc). I have been trying to contact a few people but im trying to think of the most effective way of doing this.
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Postby Jacqueline M. » Sat Nov 14, 2009 12:27 pm

Thank you PG for your comments, and this is indeed some more food for thought for me. Although I find assay development OK to work with, I don't really get the "thrill" I used to experience when doing deeper scientific questions. But I am not saying that I miss it that much either, because I enjoy the different types of thought processes you have to consider for drug development. I now fully appreciate the effort it takes to develop a drug. You are probably right that this can be stifling, which I still feel, but then again, if all experiments adopted something like this in academia, we would not have had many problems reproducing some of the experiments from top-notch journals (in my previous life). So also, why is there such a dearth of development scientists?
Thanks again,
Jacqueline
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Career Path

Postby Dave Jensen » Sat Nov 14, 2009 12:59 pm

JM asked, Why is there such a dearth of development scientists?"

Jacqueline,

They don't train them in academia. Most development scientists have to be trained in industry (except engineers, which in the case of bioprocessing for example, get plenty of relevant in-academia experience).

It's a really great career choice. Lots has been written here about it,

Dave
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