Pharmaceutical graduates from recent years might be wondering whether they made the right career choice. Last year American pharmaceutical companies removed over 20,000 jobs as a result of restructuring in their research and development departments. This is the result of a combination of factors; the rate of drug development is slowing, the losses of patents and economic problems have not helped. While the need for better treatments for disease is going to stay, the direction that the pharmaceutical industry is going in will change; in fact it is changing already. An awareness of this can help pharmaceutical scientists to shape their careers accordingly and look for jobs in areas of the industry that are set to strengthen. Here we look at three areas that are already seeing and are predicted to see significant growth within the pharmaceutical industry within the coming years.
The rise of smaller pharmaceutical companies
While research and development of new treatments has previously been focused around large pharmaceutical companies, the tide is now turning. Having lost patent rights on lucrative drugs, they have counteracted these losses by scaling down their research and development departments, instead putting the costlier and riskier initial stages of development in the hands of smaller pharmaceutical companies. This means that more opportunities are opening up within these small scale companies for graduates and those with higher qualifications, with some smaller pharmaceuticals seeing a growth of up to 30% within the last couple of years. Employment within these smaller departments isn’t just a good way to increase job security, but can allow researchers to become involved in other areas of the drug manufacturing business, adding to their skills. If you are someone who is full of ideas, is flexible and keen to expand the areas in which you work, you are exactly the type of candidate small scale pharmaceutical companies will be looking for; bear in mind if you are planning to do a PhD or postdoc research, aim for something innovative, which will help you to shine in the new job market. However, don’t rule out employment by one of the big pharmaceutical companies quite yet, as they are looking to remodel their departments into smaller scale units.
Don’t forget academic labs
Pharmaceutical companies increasingly have links with academic institutions and where this is the case their facilities and equipment tend to be first class. While the search for possible new drugs and drug targets only tended to take place in industry in the past, this is increasingly happening within academic labs. It is a win-win situation, as larger companies are able to outsource their resource and can tap into academics’ extensive knowledge, while the institutions can be at the forefront of cutting edge research. Both under- and postgraduate students at these institutions are often well placed to stay on and contribute to research on graduation, providing excellent opportunities for training, development and networking. Time is often split between the academic and a company lab, providing a real taste of what it is like to work within industry.
The move towards individualized treatments
The pharmaceutical industry is also moving away from the one size fits all approach to treatments that are tailored more towards people’s genetic makeup. This is being driven by two factors – it is becoming more difficult to find new drugs that can target the population as a whole and advances within genetics have quickly brought about the possibility of more tailor-made treatments. Research can be used to determine why one drug works well for a group of people, while little benefit is seen in another, based on differences in genes and their expression. One example of such research is for naltrexone – a drug initially used in the treatment of alcohol abuse, but whose use to help those with drug addictions is now being explored – which is not universally successful. A genetic variation within the µ-opiod receptor gene, which is thought to occur in up to 25% of people, has been identified to explain this and is now offering hope for more tailored treatments in alcohol and drug abuse intervention programs. This area of pharmaceuticals is a great opportunity for anyone with a background in genetics and will also provide options to investigate why promising treatments in animals don’t confer the same benefits in humans through investigating genetic differences.
Although there might still be uncertainty within the job market at present for the pharmaceutical industry, these emerging areas of growth are providing hope for the creation of new jobs across the industry. The possible advances within this area of science that are likely to develop in the coming decades are only likely to increase job opportunities further.