Turmoil in Pharma-Land

There have been announcements this week from both AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline about increased profits – and large scale restructuring and redundancies. These companies are both major employers of researchers so this will have caused dismay for many of our postgrads.

Reports still coming in sound grim, whatever way you spin it, with uncertainty over which plants will close (including R&D plants at AZ) and locations of redundancies not yet released. We’ll need to hold our breath to see the impact on the massive AZ R&D site  at Alderley Edge and their Macclesfield manufacturing plant.

A complicated picture

As ever though, there isn’t a simple story of “no jobs in pharma”. On Chemistry World, part of the Royal Society of Chemistry website, a spokesperson for AZ is reported as pointing out that although they have announced reductions in headcount of 15,000 since 2007, with a further 8,000 just announced, in the same timeframe they have also created 8,000 positions in areas such as biologics.

It’s not just research and manufacturing jobs which are at risk. The Financial Times points out that in the Western world generally, there is a move to more centralisation of decision making about prescribing drugs (eg. NICE in the UK and health insurers elsewhere) with individual doctors having less scope to make their own prescribing decisions. This means fewer marketing and sales staff will be needed.

On the other hand, Computer Weekly pointed out that as both GSK and AZ had largely outsourced their IT functions, these would be unlikely to be as badly affected as other functions by the job cuts.

Reshaping how pharmaceutical research is done

Some common patterns have emerged over the years. The massive pharmaceutical companies have been moving from employing their own R&D scientists directly, towards scanning the horizon and developing collaborations or licencing deals with small, nimble high-tech drug discovery companies. These SMEs (small and medium enterprises) may have been spun out of universities or be closely located to other small research companies, often on science parks. The recent announcements from AZ seem to point to an acceleration of this strategy, but it’s happening all over.

This means that if you want to do cutting edge drug discovery or related research, you may be better targeting the small company (possibly on your doorstep) which you didn’t realise existed, rather than the large, supposedly “safe” corporation which everyone has heard of.

Where are all these small high-tech bioscience companies?

Luckily, we have a cluster of them in the North West of England, and an organisation, BioNow to support and promote them. BioNow has an interactive map of biotech companies in the region, and we’ve got our own Careers Service list of local bioscience employers (pdf).

Further afield, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has a database of pharma companies, also categorised by region, on their excellent careers website.

So, no-one’s going to kid you that it will be easy to find a job in the pharmaceutical sector, but if you modify your job search strategy, you might still strike lucky.

GSK still recruiting

And after all this, we got two more prompts this week from GSK to remind us that they are still recruiting for their Graduate development programmes in Science (as part of Global Manufacturing), Engineering, Health Outcomes and Finance. Closing date – Friday 12th February.