Virtual biotechs

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Virtual biotechs

Postby A.I.C. » Tue Jan 26, 2016 11:29 am

I tried searching virtual biotech on here but didn't find any posts. Please point me to the links if they exist. Otherwise, my questions are: What are the advantages and opportunities at the personal career level of working as a CRO manager or in a virtual biotech? What type of personality or characteristics are needed to enjoy or succeed in this type of work environment?
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Re: Virtual biotechs

Postby Dave Walker » Tue Jan 26, 2016 2:15 pm


Good question -- not sure if I've ever read about virtual biotechs on this site. If you've done some other reading, you may know that they are relatively rare (probably fewer than 5% of all biotech and pharma companies by number, and less than 0.5% by overall spending.)

For those not in the know, a "virtual" biotech company is one that oursources all wetlab work (and often data analysis) to other companies, labs and partners. Virtual biotechs are known for their efficiency and very, very small footprint; often just a rented office in a complex and 1-10 employees total.

I can share only my limited experience with the R&D staff at virtual biotech companies.

For career advantages: there is direct "project management" experience, which gives opportunities for leadership and management. These skills can easily be applied elsewhere.

For finding opportunities: due to the low headcount of these companies, I think it's probably quite challenging to work for them if that was your goal. There are relatively few research-focused employees, typically a founder, perhaps a co-founder, and just one (!) position for R&D.

For personality: the most striking to me is the need to think completely differently than any other kind of research job. It's much close to a capital-C Corporate job with managing and project planning that other biotech and pharma R&D. If you are research-minded (through a PhD and postdoc, say) you have to erase a large part of your thinking, because experiments require 10-20x more planning and can have little room for do-overs.
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Re: Virtual biotechs

Postby Ana » Tue Jan 26, 2016 3:20 pm


I have direct experience working at and hiring for virtual organizations so I will give you feedback from a different angle.

The hardest I’ve found is the social isolation (I love going to grab a coffee with colleagues and hearing about their weekend!) and the lack of physical mobility. Since virtual means working from home your commute is reduced to bedroom-to-living room, with the kitchen right by. I owe 10 pounds of extra weight to working from home…

What I like is that I don’t need to waste time in commuting (down from about 2 hours a day before) and that my apartment is a lot nicer than most offices.

Personality wise what helps and what I look for when hiring for a virtual organization is people that is self-motivated and well organized. They will spend most time on a computer, either working by themselves or attending the many teleconferences that you are likely to have with the internal team and external people. You will have few chats with colleagues so you will need to be self-motivated. You might also have find that in virtual organizations the team and the external partners or customers are often in different time zones so you might need to be flexible and have early or late teleconferences to accommodate for the whole team. And you might need to travel. I went for travelling maybe to 4-6 meetings and conferences a year as an industry scientist to about twice a month when I joined a virtual organization.


- do you work well by yourself or you need to work close to other people?

- do you have a place at home to work from where you can concentrate full day?

- are you a very organized person to keep track of your CROs and be on top of them to make sure work is done? since you are not physically there you need many follow ups and that means at time bothering some people so you need to understand why that is important.

- are you also well-organized enough to work from home without getting distracted with just one extra washer and other things around the house? you need to mentally separate time for work and personal time and that’s hard when the environment is the same.

- are you flexible with your time? both in terms of having some teleconferences very early (if you are in the US) or after dinner (if you a re in Europe) and flying much more often than you used to. That’s usually a given when the different players are far away.

And that’s what I can think of now. Let me know if that helps,

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Re: Virtual biotechs

Postby PG » Wed Jan 27, 2016 3:35 am

I am in Europe and around here virtual or at least something close to virtual isnt uncommon. Actually the majority of biotech companies in Europe have significantly fewer employees as compared to the US which often means that larger parts of the activities are being outsourced.

As an example when I joined one of the companies I used to work for it consisted of the founders (not fully payed by the company) and me as the first employee. Once the first produt had been developed the company grew to have a research team of maybe in total around 5 employees in R&D, A CEO and two marketing/sales people. During this time the company developed and registered one product for CE IVD and we also received a US 510k registration. This product was manufactured and sold in EU and US. The company also had active product development of additional products.

Administration/finance/regulatory/quality/manufacturing/clinical study administration / IP / our US office etc was peformed on contract basis with different people within the company taking responsibility for multiple roles. The majority of our research was performed in collaboration with various hospital laboratories and especially at Johns Hopkins in the US. As responsible for R&D I was also responsible for QC, IP, working with the regulatory and quality consultant, performing clinical studies, setting up manufacturing, a lot of travels to do sales and many other things. Maybe not really a completely virtual company which I think is difficult to do once you have products on the market but at least something very close.
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Re: Virtual biotechs

Postby Kevin Foley » Thu Jan 28, 2016 4:47 pm

One additional point worth making is that virtual companies tend to only hire experienced people. You can't manage the outsourcing of work if you haven't done that sort of work before yourself.
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Re: Virtual biotechs

Postby A.I.C. » Fri Mar 25, 2016 3:07 pm

Thank you Ana for your detailed response, it helped me in understanding what to expect. And thanks everyone for your comments. I just accepted a position at a virtual biotech. From the interview, it seems like this particular company has a set office space and they conduct their meetings just like in regular companies. They put a lot of emphasis on being a good communicator and being able to work well with people from different countries and levels of experience. They said there will be a lot of international travel associated with the job. Since the company is small, there's a lot of emphasis on the person being the right fit with the rest of the group. It seemed like the main source of stress in this case is also when experiments don't work and there is the added awkwardness of not being the person doing the experiments. That's it for now, I will come back and update this post with my experiences.
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Re: Virtual biotechs

Postby Andrew » Mon Mar 28, 2016 2:17 pm

I've worked for CROs with pharma clients as well as a virtual company.

As a manager in a CRO, you serve clients in both pharma and biotech, both full and virtual. You are responsible for revenue in your company, but have no skin in the game, ie you do not live and die by the success of the project.

As a manager in a traditional pharma/biotech, you are managing the work in other departments, and you may lose your job if a major drug program fails. So you keep on the folks doing the work, go talk to their bosses all the time, and generally stress over it, because its your career. You do however have some degree of control over the process as you can see all the people involved every day.

As a manager in a virtual, you have just as much skin in the game as in a traditional biotech, but much less control. The work is all done in CROs, you will not have direct access to the people doing the work and will have to communicate through Project Managers and Study Directors, who will not appreciate speaking to you every day. The advantage is that the company is small and if it is successful, you may end up doing very well for yourself. So is the stress worth it? That's for you to decide.
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