Monday, October 15, 2007

A Me-Too Career Option

(What is it? Why there is a need? Who needs it? How to accomplish? )

In the year 2000, when I completed PhD in biotechnology with the specialization in molecular biology, even sky was not the limit. I enjoyed working with the best biotechnology institutes in India and aboard. Being a molecular biologist, most of my work was limited to molecular neurobiology or bacteriology. Although everyone is fascinated by the glamour biotechnology research and want a bite of the sweet pie, looks like today, the life sciences graduates have limited career opportunities. Also, limited efforts have been made by different job portals to collect employment statistics in the biotechnology management areas, in particular. However, initiatives from the government agencies and educational institutes and undoubtedly from the web-career sections of biotech/pharma companies are underway to address this and to establish a measurement framework for tomorrow’s industry needs. Looking at the scarcity of career opportunities in basic sciences, probably the ray of hope is biotechnology management as a me-too career option for tomorrows’ life sciences graduates.

The key to a career in biotechnology, regardless of educational background or expertise, is to appreciate the unique challenges faced by biotechnology companies. While a majority of individuals involved in research and development have advanced degrees in the sciences, there are numerous other opportunities for individuals without scientific degrees. For many trained in biotechnology and the life sciences it is this core competency in management that creates entrepreneurial success. It is important to realize that technology entrepreneurship is an attitude towards management and technology that focuses on opportunities, needs fulfillment and controlling resources. It is not only focused on risk management, owning resources, or science for science sake. The history of innovation has demonstrated that science alone or the better technology does not bring a technology to commercial success. By understanding the factors influencing the business of biotechnology companies it is possible to select opportunities and a rewarding career. Although, the biotechnology companies focus on researching and developing new drugs, there is a relatively greater involvement in other areas like marketing and licensing that require managers with business expertise in addition to those with scientific backgrounds.

The purpose of this write-up being the know-how of biotechnology management sector as a career option, a functional overview of this sector is needed. Many students either pursuing or aspiring for an MBA find it difficult to differentiate the biotechnology-related specialized management with the usual business administration. However, a real barrier for successful technology firms (especially biotechnology) is the lack of entrepreneurial management skills. Therefore, rather than explaining a hypothetical biotechnology sector, this monograph is confined to introducing the modern areas of biotechnology management. This includes an assessment of how the need for biotechnology management related education is currently being addressed, mainly in terms of commercialization of biotechnology and industry requirements. Aside from research and development, biotechnology companies perform many of the same operations as other companies. Corporate executives, for example, generally have business or management degrees. The biotechnology management could be divided into equally important specialized areas (without any specific order) like: marketing management of biopharmaceuticals, human resource management in the biotech companies, financing/venture capital funding management and intellectual property management in biotechnology. Failures in the transition from scientists to management occur because they believe that adding supervision skills is simply a learn-as-you-go experience. Science Management is an entirely different career from that of the individual contributor in science.

The biotechnology industry, after years of promises, is finally starting to bring products to market. Most of the biotechnology companies are establishing links with larger, more established drug companies to give them the financial and marketing muscle they need for the next stage of their development. Marketing and sales experts are needed to study and develop markets and ultimately enable the delivery of products to consumers. The significant negative impact of patent expirations on sales represents a great opportunity for individuals who can successfully develop strong brand positions for pioneers to help them sustain sales post-expiration. Marketing is important, but it is the biotechnology company who also needs financial resources to complete the development of technology or become the next Amgen or Biocon or Genentech? The answer is quite simple, the more you can explain and demonstrate your understanding of your market, the increasing levels of confidence investors have in your concept and ultimately your firm.

The manager of a biotechnology start-up faces the challenge of fostering a transition within the founding team from science-oriented to commerce-oriented thinking and action. The central role of funding and financial management in biotechnology establishes a demand for individuals with proven financial expertise. Furthermore, the potential for substantial financial returns has attracted great interest for biotechnology in public markets, creating a demand for analysts, venture capitalists, and investment bankers with an understanding of biotechnology-related financial issues. The challenges include making decisions with either perfect (higher risk, higher return expectation) or imperfect (technology, market, people, intellectual property, etc) information to picking up a financial partner in the strategic business.

Likewise, whatever the changing fortunes of the biotechnology industry are, successful management of human resources is essential. Today's biopharmaceutical projects have a high degree of complexity. In order to properly utilize staff and other resources like suppliers and internal groups, a manager must be able to clearly visualize the desired goal. Human resources constitute an increasingly critical function in any biotechnology company, particularly in an industry that's in an increasing state of inflation. Perhaps the most valuable, but often least recognized, source of a company’s intellectual property is the staff. However, keeping those hearts and minds loyal to the cause is no easy feat. Middle managers and human resources experts are needed for their specialized abilities. The volatile nature of R&D and funding also necessitates carefully crafted communications with a diverse audience.

The creation of innovations in a knowledge intensive sector is essentially a dynamic process. The biotechnology revolution also had a profound impact on the organization of innovation creation, and subsequently, on industrial organization in the biopharmaceutical sector. Considering the prospectus of patenting new drugs and diagnostics both the inventor and a manager of an invention-intensive business will need to understand to make meaningful decisions on the subject. Because of the importance of intellectual property protection in biotechnology, the life science graduates with technical and legal expertise are needed to write and defend patents and assist in the collection and evaluation in the competitive biotechnology industries.

So, you've managed to read this column on biotechnology management. I hope you have enjoyed it. I also had a good time writing it. I welcome your comments and suggestions!

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