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Computer Specialists Claim Fastest-Growing Biotech Occupation, Says DOC Report

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R&D-focused computer professionals made up the fastest-growing occupation in the US biotechnology industry between 2000 and 2002, according to a recently completed survey by the US Department of Commerce.

The survey of 1,031 US firms performing biotechnology activities was conducted during 2002, and released in report form in mid-November (available at http://www.technology.gov/reports/Biotechnology/CD120a_0310.pdf). Respondents indicated that during the period of 2000-2002, 1,236 computer specialists were hired in positions related to biotech research and development, an annual growth rate of 21.8 percent. More scientists were hired during the period, however (5,939, for 10.8 percent annual growth), followed by science and clinical laboratory clinicians (4,337, for 13.8 percent annual growth).

In 2002, R&D-related computer specialists — a category that includes bioinformaticists, computer scientists, scientific programmers, and computer engineers involved in R&D activities — accounted for 6.2 percent of the total biotech workforce of around 66,000, putting the total number of computer professionals employed in biotech R&D at around 4,100.

The report found, however, that US biotech companies are far more likely to outsource computer-related activities than other workforce tasks. Computer specialists made up only 6.3 percent of the in-house workforce of the responding companies, but accounted for 28.8 percent of workers under contract abroad and 12.4 percent of those employed under domestic contracts (see first table, below). Overall, outsourcing accounted for only 3.9 percent of the total biotech-related workforce, with domestic outsourcing accounting for 3.3 percent (2,053 workers), and foreign outsourcing accounting for only 0.6 percent (347 workers).

Overall, around 430 — more than 40 percent — of the 1,031 responding firms indicated they are engaged in bioinformatics research (see second table, below).

— BT

In-House and Outsourced Technical Workforce Breakdown for US Biotech Firms

Occupation

In-House (%) Outsourced (%)

Domestic

Foreign

Engineers

8.3 9.6 9.8

R&D-focused Computer Specialists

6.3 12.4 28.8

Science & Clinical Laboratory Technicians

31.9 36.1 16.7

Scientists

53.5 41.9 44.7

Total

100.0 100.0 100.0

Source: US Dept. of Commerce Technology Administration and Bureau of Industry and Security.

Bioinformatics Research Activity, by Biotechnology Application Area
Application Total Number of Practicing Firms* Percentage of Firms Conducting Bioinformatics Research Number of Firms Conducting Bioinformatics Research

Human Health

780 32 250

Agricultural and Aquacultural/Marine

128 32 41

Animal Health

144 26 37

Industrial and Agricultural-Derived Processing

132 34 45

Marine and Terrestrial Microbial

41 46 19

Environmental Remediation and Natural Resource Recovery

41 30 12

Other

160 19 30

Source: US Dept. of Commerce Technology Administration and Bureau of Industry and Security.

*Number of firms, out of 1,031, indicating this application area as a primary or secondary focus of their biotechnology activities.

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