SAN FRANCISCO, May 30 - Steve Madden is looking for a job. After being laid off in January from now-defunct DoubleTwist, he has been doing the biotech version of pounding the pavement: networking at bioinformatics industry events and handing out resumes at job fairs.
As founder of the Bay Area Bioinformatics group, it would seem that Madden is in a particularly good place to look for jobs. But job hunting for him and others, he said, has been slow.
"It's just taking people longer [than in previous years] to find jobs," he said. But "it's not Argentina."
While hard data on the number of jobs for genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics specialists are notoriously difficult to come by (and those that are available are subject to a variety of interpretations) a consensus in the biotech jobs-placement community points to three trends: 1) greater consolidation in biotech may translate into fewer jobs; 2) opportunities abound for scientists with a taste for business development; and 3) bioinformatics, bioinformatics, bioinformatics.
Bigger is Better?
A "factor we're seeing on job postings is a trend toward consolidation in larger companies," said Lee Jensen, CEO of Bio.com, which hosts job fairs and an online-placement service. "The Amgens and Immunexes are becoming one company [and] this is bound to reduce the total number of jobs."
For those who work for merging companies this has created some anxiety and, in some cases, proactive job searches. At a recent job fair in Oakland, Calif., for example, hundreds of people formed snaking lines that led to resume collectors from Applied Biosystems, Illumina, Affymetrix, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and other biotech concerns.
Some who were queuing were coming to the end of graduate studies and looking for a first job, and others were trying to transition from plant biology to human health-care-oriented gigs. Still others were attempting to marry graduate work in biology or chemistry with job experience in banking or telecommunications into a biotech position.
A group of at least six was running scared from MedImmune, which acquired Aviron in January which, according to members of that group, is in the midst of consolidating jobs.
"They have double of everything and are working on restructuring," said a MedImmune employee who requested anonymity.
Let's Make a Deal
While this may seem like dark clouds to some employees, they are a boon to people aspiring to do business development, an area repeatedly pegged by experts as a growth area.
"Collaboration is a necessary part of industry, it is the way the industry is growing," said Morrie Ruffin, vice president for business development at the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "Very few companies have all the skill sets and technology and capabilities in place to become successful, especially among emerging companies. Most get there through partnerships and collaborations."
The number of collaborations and partnerships in biotech has increased six fold since 1993, Ruffin said. In 2001 alone there were 526 intra-biotech deals, a 16 percent increase from 427 deals in 2000, he said.
And the people who can facilitate these deals are in demand.
"The number one area where there is a huge need is in business development," said Ruffin. "There is a dearth of business-development [people] in bio."
The current funding environment, tough as it is, has also put a premium on those who can make development deals and turn products into distribution successes.
"It's a real confusing time for industry," said Mari Paul, a San Francisco-based consultant with biotech executive search firm BioQuest. "It's tougher sweating for each individual company, and when they don't have as much from investors they have to sell something.
"The time is more difficult for funding, [so there's] more demand for business development," she added.
While the ideal candidate to be a business-development rainmaker will have a science background and an MBA, most do not have that combination. When faced with a candidate with a business or science background, companies would prefer to teach business to someone with a science background, said Ruffin.
Making Sense of it All
Jobs in bioinformatics are also booming.
"There's no question about the need for more bioinformatics jobs," said James Audet, a consultant with executive-recruiting firm Russell Reynolds. "The person with an understanding of biology and computer science will be quite valuable. A person who gets a PhD in molecular biology and has a minor in computer science is an extremely valuable person out there."
Audet and other experts said that supply is low and demand high for trained bioinformaticists to work in biotech and pharma. And newly minted PhDs in both biology and computer science can expect to pocket between $70,000 and $200,000 in starting salaries if they turn to industry.
And how does one sweeten one's employability even more?
A plus, and in more and more cases a requirement, agreed recruiters, was also communications skills and an openness for interdisciplinary work.
"The general trend job-wise is increasingly interdisciplinary skills," said Audet. "We get a lot of requests for people who know biology and chemistry. Increasingly people realize it's the people with combination skill sets that are valuable. If someone wants power in a company, [they need to] understand both."