Breaking into Drug Development

Posted: Jun 06  |  By: Ann Marie MacEachern

Over the years, our industry has continued to grow as fast or faster than most with few downturns. The quest for innovation coupled with an intrigued and curious investment community, continues to spawn opportunities particularly in the emerging market biotechnology segment. The real and present possibility of confronting any disease or condition stares at us all, as we contemplate the “what is next” factor. Frankly, in visiting a theme or amusement park, the fascination to imagine real, is left to the observer. Those of us who serve the industry, feel very much like that. Essentially, our only limitation being our imagination as we witness new drug development technologies.

In many conversations with clinical development scientists, they too marvel at the advancement of the technology involved. Their passion seems obvious as they endeavor to bring unproven concepts to life. Personalized medicine is an example. Frequent breakthrough technologies draw a constant flow of burgeoning scientists to the space we serve.

With that, and in our business, we are constantly tasked with providing advice we can around “breaking in”.

Like so many segments in science, art, athletics and human endeavor in general, a road map of the many circuitous routes to drug development can be confusing and sometimes disheartening. Our advice is generally to engineer one’s path to the point of entry. That can be especially poignant to someone who has already reached a certain platform of a career path.

Many people are coming in through the drug discovery (pre-clinical) door and seem completely surprised as to the difficult point of entry with the staff who work one wall away. Though we are tasked with working with somewhat seasoned and proven professionals, we feel a certain responsibility to help in guiding the future pipeline of clinical development professionals. Frankly, the demand for such scientists clearly outweighs the supply and as of this writing, more so than ever. We point to having to make certain professional and personal sacrifices, including financial to find that side door. Title and stature may likely be diminished as well.

Things to consider:

  1. Educational focus as part of a professional makeover, is an abstract choice and one that would seem on face value to make sense as a first and obvious step. It may in fact be one of the menu options, but only accounts for a sliver of the pie. The great news here is that clinical research was almost unknown from a formal educational standpoint. Now, one can identify choices of degree programs in multiple functional and therapeutic areas and indications. A danger of thinking the wrong way about education being the “track”.
  2. Another avenue, is to break in at a point of entry that accommodates formal training programs and “experience by absorption”. Though this is often is a “right place/right time” scenario, you must increase the odds by looking at Contract Research Organizations (CRO), Contract Manufacturing Organizations (CMO) and other firms that service biotech, medical device and pharmaceutical companies.
  3. Networking is all it is cracked up to be. I just had a conversation with someone to whom I introduced a key industry professional to 7 years ago. This person helped my friend by investing time in developing a totally new professional path opened doors that would otherwise be unavailable. Be everywhere all the time with professional, educational and social events that may be a “one thing leads to another” story. Face to face contact is still critical no matter what generation or walk of life from which you hail. The human condition is still alive and well!
  4. Social media is another vehicle on which a career path is dependent. Thoughtful messaging and targeting are vital as if you were starting a business, had no customers but you had a clear understanding of your objectives. Start using the word objective instead of goal. Goal is a bit too soft a term for something as important as your career.
  5. Have a “brand plan”- The secret here is to avoid over exposure. Showing up in too many non-targeted discussions will do nothing but render your persona as “common”. Celebrities hire publicists to manage public appearances, both in quantity and quality.
  6. Plan B should be Plan A. Give yourself no alternative than to succeed. Burn the ships. Others have done it, why can’t you? I like what the Red Sox theme was in 2004, “Why not us?” when they broke the 86-year World Series drought.

Academic medical research center, working in a biotech pre-clinical lab or whatever your line of sight is into the clinical side of a biotech, design a plan from what others before you have done, talk to recruiters at events but don’t be overbearing or they will ignore your follow up e-mail. They are too busy of they are good and being a pest won’t get you there. You don’t pay them for their time so be gracious. If you get the same advice multiple times, you may want to take it.

Design a plan, be pragmatic, ask for advice. Your mindset should be along the lines of a career change because no matter how closely you rub up against the clinical development space, you could be miles away.

Looking to break into Drug Development? Reach out to our team at Parker + Lynch Life Sciences.

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