Top 4 Life Science Career Clusters For Employment Opportunities

Life Science career clusters
Written by: Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.

When it came time to search for careers outside of academia, I didn’t really know where to start.

The first question that popped into my mind was: “Where do I start looking?”

I knew all the top graduate schools in the country.

Harvard.

Stanford.

John Hopkins.

What I didn’t know was where all the top life science industries were located.

At a local networking event, one industry professional that I met talked about the growth of life science clusters.

Clusters?

I didn’t even know what this meant.

I inquired further and learned that life science clusters are an excellent way to track down the best science and to assess the relative strengths of a region when it comes to engaging with industry and supporting innovation.

A cluster is a structure made up of universities, research labs, science parks, incubators, hospitals, start-ups, large companies, and government agencies.

They all come together with the aim of generating innovation and strengthening the area’s competitiveness and economic growth.

Jackpot.

Find life science clusters and find a wealth of companies to target for my new industry career.

There are several areas that attract venture capital for Life Science

What PhDs Need To Know About Biotechnology Clusters

Industry surveys and reviews of economic trends clearly indicate that most industrial sectors which are reliant on complex skills and innovation tend to be highly clustered, rather than spread out all over the country.

This certainly holds true for the life science industry in the U.S.

In fact, the top three clusters of Greater Boston, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay area account for about 64% of the total venture capital (VC) funding for life science in the nation.

A recent Global Life Sciences Report showed that in the U.S., the life science industry showed increased stability with the continued trend from bench to small and medium sized ventures, along with 52 life science companies completing IPOs and collectively raising $7.0 billion.

By stark contrast, just a few years ago, only 16 companies completed IPOs and raised only $1.1 billion.

The-Scientist reports the trend continues, stating that “in industry… many startup companies have seen an infusion of capital… and with that comes increased competition for talent.”

As this increase in industry is forecast to continue, the highly concentrated nature of the life science industry is based on multiple factors.

Regions doing well in the life science industry are generally those with a strong tradition of innovation and technology development in basic research organizations.

Hence, regions with high R&D spending and a well-organized system for translation of basic research are the ones with a thriving life science cluster.

Clusters are teeming with employment opportunities for Life Science PhDs

Top 4 Life Science Career Clusters In America

Areas such as Boston and San Francisco are two of the top hubs of the life science industry.

One of the reasons for this is because Boston and San Francisco also have have high concentrations of highly reputable universities.

But what does this mean for PhDs like you?

It means that when you are ready to start your industry job search, you should be looking to these life science clusters as sources of employment.

The key is to have an intelligent networking strategy in place.

To get hired into any company in any cluster, you will need to target employees for informational interviews, attend local networking events, and stay up-to-date with business news related to specific companies.

Clusters are teeming with employment opportunities and are looking for PhDs just like you.

Besides research and financial support, developing a life science hub also requires an infrastructure for fostering entrepreneurship, attracting a skilled workforce, proximity to a strong market, and incentives from local administration.

Considering all these factors, there are 10 regions in the U.S. that are hotspots of the life science industry, with the highest concentration of jobs in this field.

Here are the first 4 top U.S. life science clusters you should be targeting…

1. San Francisco Bay Area.

This region has the oldest and the most well-established life science industry in the world.

Accounting for direct and indirect effects, the economic impact of the life science industry is estimated to be over $259 billion.

This region is considered as the birthplace of the biotech industry, which started with the establishment of Genentech about four decades ago.

A number of well-renowned universities such as UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and Stanford located in this region have acted as the source of fundamental research whose translation and commercialization supported the growth of numerous venture capital backed biotech start-ups, which the Bay area is known for.

Various national labs, such as The Gladstone Institute and The Buck Institute for Age Research, employ over 50,000 individuals in the northern California area.

The high concentration of top quality research institutes and universities enables this region to attract a skilled workforce.

The presence of multiple top quality research institutes ensures that this area gets a substantial amount of NIH funding.

According to a recent Life Sciences Outlook Report by JLL, the Bay area received almost $900 million of federal funding.

This life science hub has also attracted over $1.5 billion of VC funding, accounting for 21% of the total VC funding in life sciences in the U.S.

This financial support has strengthened the translation of new inventions and development of innovative life science start-ups in this region.

According to some estimates, the combined total number of professionals employed by all types of life science oriented employers located in the Bay area is almost one million.

Biotechnology, genetic engineering, pharmaceuticals manufacturing, and diagnostic technologies are the main types of life science establishments in this cluster.

Owing to a strong tradition of innovation, about 50% of the life science oriented workforce in this cluster is dedicated to research and development of new technology.

Some of the largest biotech companies in the world that are located in the San Francisco area include Gilead Life Sciences, Genentech, and Biomarin.

Besides these global companies, this area also has a rich history of VC-backed promising start-ups such as Myokardia (therapy for cardiomyopathy), Alector (Alzheimer’s therapy), and Audentes Therapeutics (gene therapy).

This enables this region to sustain the continuous growth of the life science industry, making it one of the top life science clusters in the world.

Life Science jobs in the greater Boston area

2. Greater Boston Area.

In most recent surveys, this area is considered the leading location for biotechnology and has one of the highest concentrations of life science start-ups.

The Kendall Square area of Boston has been branded by some industry experts as the “most innovative square mile on the planet”.

There are multiple globally renowned academic organizations such as MIT, Harvard, and Broad Institute which have acted as the source of cutting-edge research that has fostered the growth of innovative start-ups in this cluster.

Translation of fundamental research in medicine is also boosted in this region owing to the presence of highly reputed research hospitals like Boston Children’s hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

This area benefits from the presence of 52 academic institutions located within a relatively concentrated area.

This ensures that there is no dearth of a skilled workforce essential for the sustained growth of the life science industry.

Along with being one of the best areas for fundamental research, this cluster has also been leading the race of attracting financial support in the past few years.

The same JLL Life Science Outlook Report shows that the greater Boston area attracted the highest percentage (36.2%) of VC funding in the life science sector, totaling over $2.5 billion.

It is also the leading region for NIH funding, home to the top three NIH-funded research hospitals.

There are over 2,000 life science organizations in the greater Boston area, which currently offers employment to over 86,000 professionals.

Biotechnology R&D is one of the subsectors that constitute a major proportion of the life science industry in the Boston area.

Medical and diagnostic laboratories, CROs, and manufacturing of medical instruments are also other major contributors to the life science industry in this region.

A number of major biotechnology organizations such as Biogen, Novartis, and Sanofi-Genzyme are situated in this cluster.

Besides these large biopharma companies, this area also has numerous start-ups built around the latest life science innovations.

Some noticeable examples are Jounce Therapeutics (Immuno-oncology), Voyager Therapeutics (Gene Therapy), and Dimension Therapeutics (Gene Editing).

In a recent report entitled “Top 30 Life Science Startups To Watch in the U.S.”, six out of the top 30 start-ups in the nation were located within the Cambridge area.

3. San Diego Career Cluster.

About three decades ago, this area attracted much of the educated workforce because of the presence of multiple national labs and its growing defense research and manufacturing.

Gradually, the presence of scientists and engineers translated to basic research in other fields, including biosciences.

As the industry grows, the region has been able to develop infrastructure and attract an even greater educated workforce to support it.

Being California’s second largest city, with a population of about 3.3 million and growing at an estimated rate of 0.9% per year, also makes San Diego a lucrative market for any sector.

This area has been home to a number of premier research institutes which did pioneering work in the field of life science.

Establishments such as the Salk Institute, Scripps Research Institute, and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute not only contribute scientifically, but they also play a major role in the employment of the scientific workforce in the area.

Research and Education labs were estimated to employ about 116,000 people in the southern California region, according to a recent California Economic Impact Report.

As a result of having so many major national labs, this region brings in significant NIH funding which is essential for growth of innovation sectors such as biopharma.

Just this year, researchers in this region received $780 million worth of NIH funding.

Besides NIH funding, the growth of biotech in this area has also been facilitated by the ability of start-ups to gain VC funding.

Recently, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported a record year for life science companies in the San Diego region, accumulating $1.16 billion in VC funding spread across 102 finalized deals.

The San Diego cluster is home to over 1,400 life science companies, which employ about 65,000 people.

This region’s life science employment reported a strong growth rate of 5.6%.

The industry is also predicted to grow in the next few years.

The medical device industry constitutes a major section of the life science industry in San Diego.

One of the first life science companies founded in San Diego was Hybritech, which developed the PSA test for prostate cancer.

In the recent past, San Diego has given rise to a number of biotech start-ups which have been founded by successful serial entrepreneurs.

Once they are acquired by larger companies, they move on to start new life science initiatives.

This has helped in the growth of life science industry in this region.

Biorenewables, medical devices, national research labs, and biotechnology are the main employers of life science professionals in this region.

Some prominent examples of large biotechnology companies located in this cluster are Gilead Life Sciences, Allergan, Ionis Pharmaceuticals, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

The strong medical device and diagnostic sector of San Diego is represented by Quidel, Illumina, Hologic, Thermo Fisher, and Nuvasive.

Life Science careers in North Carolina Research Triangle

4. North Carolina Research Triangle Park.

The Research Triangle Park (or RTP) in North Carolina is definitely the most prominent tech and biotech cluster in the Southern part of the U.S.

The RTP (as it is commonly known) was established in 1958 to prevent the negative economic trends that were affecting this region.

The RTP is at the center of three major cities: Raleigh, Durham, and Charlotte.

Proximity to a collective population of over 2 million provides a great source of potential employees.

The RTP also benefits from being located close to and collaborating with major life science-focused innovative academic organizations such as University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State College of Agriculture, and Engineering of the University of North Carolina at Raleigh, and Duke University at Durham.

After an initial slow growth, the development of RTP as a biotech cluster rapidly picked up and, as a result, North Carolina recently experienced a job growth of 23.5 % in the biotech industry, which was the highest in the nation.

According to current industry reports, the area has seen job growth in the life science industry at a rate of 6.6%, which is much higher than the national average growth.

This year, the North Carolina Research Triangle Park cluster consisted of 929 companies which collectively employ about 35,000 life science professionals.

VC investment, a major indicator of the health of a region’s life science industry, also experienced a strong improvement for this cluster.

Exitevent reported that total VC funding experienced a 71% growth in the amount raised in just one year.

Major areas of the life science industry – Pharmaceutical R&D, CRO, and agricultural biotech are the strengths of this life science cluster.

Monsanto was the first major life science oriented organization to set up a facility in the RTP.

Quintiles’ global headquarters was moved to RTP soon thereafter.

Currently GSK, Monsanto, Novartis, Biogen, Grifols, and Merck are some of the large life science establishments with a significant presence in the RTP area.

In addition to these, there are multiple start-ups, a large proportion of which are focused on agricultural biotech, including a new accelerator dedicated to developing agricultural biotech oriented start-ups.

Innovation and development in the top life science clusters are growing at a rapid and exciting rate. PhDs must take advantage of this growth and the skills they learned during graduate school to target these clusters as a source of employment. Companies are looking for PhDs with the right combination of technical savviness and transferable skills to help them continue this success. The time to transition is now.

To learn more about the top 4 Life Science career clusters for employment opportunities, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.

Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.

Arunodoy is a Ph.D. in Integrative Biology and has training in intellectual property, entrepreneurship, and venture capitalism. He also has experience with global biotechnology and biopharmaceutical companies, including clinical trial consulting. Arunodoy is passionate about the translation of academic research to the real world and commercialization of scientific innovation so that it can help solve problems and benefit people. He possesses in-depth understanding of both technological and commercial aspects associated with the life science industry.
Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.
  • Shawn Lyons

    Wow, this is just what I was looking for. I had never heard of a science career cluster before, and this sure tells me what to look for. I’ve really been needing some direction, and this is a big help. Thanks, Arunodoy. 🙂

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi @ShawnLyonsPhD:disqus Thanks for reading the article and great to know you found it helpful. Most innovation based sectors (biotech or IT) are clustered around certain regions and not evenly spread all over. So it is helpful to target these areas.

  • Madeline Rosemary

    It makes sense that various organizations would cluster together to pool resources and work cooperatively. It almost reminds me of the ancient barn-building cooperatives that got big tasks done before we had much of any technology available. Now that our scientific work is so diversified and detailed, I can really see why companies, venture capitalists, and universities would band together to develop new products instead of trying to do everything solo.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi @madelinerosemary:disqus yes you are right. In order to develop a healthy biopharma sector a region needs good innovation, state support and VC money all in one place. So organizations of this sector tend to be clustered in certain locations. Thanks for reading my article

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    Bravo! This is certainly exciting news. Of course these clusters have probably been around for some time, but the business and partnership models are evolving and streamlining. Great news for anyone looking to elevate a career path and find meaningful work in a productive environment of like-minded science buffs like us PhDs.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi @matthewsmithsonphd:disqus These clusters have been developing for the past 4 decades and are some of the most “matured” clusters for life science in the US. If you are looking for new opportunities these would be the ideal locations to target.

      • Matthew Smithson PhD

        Yes, this is terrific, @arunodoysur:disqus

  • Kathy Azalea

    How great to know there are ample opportunities in very different locations. It’s exciting to see that one can find a really great career in a place close to home like North Carolina. I’m excited to start looking in that area.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi @KathyAzalea:disqus There are about 10 clusters in different locations all over the US, but these 4 are the largest ones in terms of number of companies. RTP is a great location for life science. Hope you will find something there that you like.

      • Lakshmi Prabhu

        Hi @arunodoysur:disqus Thank you for the informative article. You mentioned in your comment above that there are 10 clusters all over the US, and the article lists 4 of them. Can you elaborate on what the other 6 are?

        • Arunodoy Sur

          Hi @lakshmi_prabhu:disqus There will be following articles on the same topic where I talk in detail about all the other clusters

          • Lakshmi Prabhu

            Great, thanks @arunodoysur:disqus. Looking forward to it.

  • Vijayendra Agrawal

    Very informative article! Thank you Arunodoy for sharing! It gives a very clear idea where to start from.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Thank you @vijayendraagrawal:disqus

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    I’m familiar with some of the companies listed in the San Diego cluster, and it seems to me that SD would be a good place to seek employment as the population grows. The medical industry seems quite robust there, and R&D is side by side with treatment facilities.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi @marvindesprit:disqus SD is definitely one of the best places for life science sector. In all current national rankings it is behind only Boston and SF. If you are trying to find employment there make sure to start networking in that region.

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    This is great info for anyone, whether they’re trying to get that first great position or move up in the world. And the locations are great, too. 🙂

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Thanks @CarlieStevensonPhD:disqus Yes most of the biotech clusters are located in areas that have large educated population, good economic conditions and universities.

  • Theo

    Wow, I can’t believe that North Carolina had a 23.5% job increase in biotech. I like those odds. There are a lot more positions for PhD’s than I was expecting after I discovered how slim the chances are in academia.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi @TheloniusJHolland:disqus Thank you for reading the article. RTP area is definitely one of the top clusters for life science. This region is especially strong in CROs and agricultural biotech.

  • Harvey Delano

    It’s exciting just to know how many great opportunities there are to make a difference. People are really depending on the scientific community to make headway into a lot of the chronic and degenerative diseases. With teamwork like this among various companies and institutions within the clusters, I expect that we will make great headway in lots of areas. I know we’ve really been on the verge of curing the most elusive diseases like cancer and AIDS, and the clusters are just the interactive and cooperative efforts we need to see.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi @harveydelano:disqus Yes collaboration is key for success in a complex field like biotech or pharma. Not just research collaboration but also synergy between state govt, academic institutes, investors/VCs and the industry is essential for growing the sector and finding new cures.

  • Sonja Luther

    Really fascinating. I bet more of these clusters start popping up in other metro areas. More convenience for everybody, including patients, and better environments for collaboration.

    • Arunodoy Sur

      Hi @sonjaluther:disqus there are about 9-10 well developed clusters spread all across the US. Besides that there are 2-4 more areas which has relatively new and less matured clusters. This article is the first one of a series where I will be providing information on all of the life science clusters in the US.
      Thank you for reading and please look out for the following articles 🙂

  • Julian Holst

    This just keeps getting better and better. Thank you, Arunodoy!

    • Arunodoy Sur

      @JulianholstUSA:disqus Thank you for reading and for your positive comments