Why Business Development can be a great career for scientists

Today I’m going to discuss business development in the pharmaceutical industry. This is a role that is of particular interest to me, since it is the direction that my own career path has taken since leaving the lab.  I happen to think it’s a great job for scientists who are interested in business. Within the pharma industry, business development is a role that provides a birds-eye view of the entire drug development process while maintaining a very clear focus on business goals. Because business development jobs are cross-functional, they frequently provide opportunities for close collaboration with other teams from both research and operational sides of the business.

Business development is often confused with sales. This is understandable, because they ultimately have the same goal — driving revenue for the firm. But selling products to customers is only one way to drive revenue, and in the world of pharmaceutical and biotech companies, the ability to sell a finished drug to the public is at the end of a very long cycle of research, product development, clinical trials and regulatory approvals. Along the way, pharmaceutical and biotech companies need to be able to understand their market, identify opportunities and develop strategic plans for making deals and managing partnerships.

For example, an established pharmaceutical company may seek to in-license a new drug candidate or drug development platform from a smaller biotech company, or might even acquire the company outright. On the flip side, biotech companies look for partners that will help to support the high costs of clinical trials in exchange for marketing rights.  This presentation (PDF) by the VP of Corporate Development for Endo Pharmaceuticals provides a great summary of some of the questions and considerations involved in the process of deciding and negotiating pharmaceutical inlicensing and acquisition deals.

There are numerous different paths to a business development job. Transitional jobs which could help someone prepare for a career in pharmaceutical business development might include market research, technology transfer or sales. Many people in the role have an MBA or other business background, but it is quite possible to succeed with a degree in the sciences — in fact, it is often essential, according to Brandon Price, a business development consultant interviewed by Science Careers:

“In the big corporations, business development most often refers to teams of people looking for new products, new markets for existing technologies, strategic partnerships, and the like,” Brandon says. Scientific knowledge is really important in these jobs, and although there are non-Ph.D.s in business development, employers will readily pay a premium for advanced degrees. I see far more BD positions that require Ph.D.s than I do positions that require any other degree, including MBAs.

The role of a Business Development Specialist requires strong research, communications, critical thinking and strategic planning skills — all of which one hopefully has developed in the process of completing a graduate science degree. Understanding the research process, and being able to communicate effectively with scientists is also important, and can provide an edge. Having a strong grounding in the sciences can also be a great advantage in evaluating a new product or process to determine its value. For scientists, working in business development is a great way to learn about business strategy and planning while gaining experience in relationship management, negotiation and finance.

I transitioned into business development gradually. Immediately after completing my PhD, I began working as a recruiter (headhunter) in the life sciences. Recruiting is essentially a sales job, and the position gave me a solid grounding in basic business skills while developing my abilities in negotiation.  Subsequently, I worked in business development for a health informatics consulting firm before taking my current role with a CRO. Currently, I help to develop new business opportunities related to the development and marketing of new diagnostics.  It’s a rewarding career that makes good use of my background in science, and while I don’t work in a lab any more, I still get to chat often with people that do.  I also enjoy being on the side of the business that brings money in!

This has been a high-level overview of pharmaceutical business development.  In the future, I may write a post or two digging more deeply into specific aspects, such as licensing or market evaluation.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Good luck in your search.

Posted: August 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Business Development, Technology Transfer | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »