Written by: Arunodoy Sur, Ph.D.
I was apprehensive to start working in “Big Pharma”.
Companies in this sector seemed very structured and rigid.
Yet, working in this sector seemed like the path I would have to take.
Big companies were visible and obvious as the next step for my industry transition.
The only job postings I could find online were from big companies.
Still… I liked the idea of working for a small to mid-level company instead.
At a small to mid-level company, I would have the opportunity to try my hand at many different skills and wear multiple hats.
But again, the problem was that smaller companies, start-ups especially, were difficult to find online.
These types of companies rarely posted job openings on online job boards or social media.
I was only looking for jobs on big online job boards at the time.
Just like everyone else.
To find a way into a small to mid-level company, I needed a company directory and I needed to network.
Fortunately, I found out about a biotechnology cluster in my area.
What is a biotech cluster?
A biotech cluster is an amalgamation of small, medium and large companies, research centers, academic institutes, and government agencies.
They thrive on cooperativity and innovation, and have sustained financial support.
For me, the biotech cluster I found was a jackpot of opportunities with companies that would fit my professional goals.
I immediately reached out to employees for informational interviews and learned about their day-to-day activities and how I could make myself an ideal job candidate.
Now, my job search strategy was on track and I was soon hired into a mid-level company.
Why PhDs Should Search Biotechnology Clusters When Looking For A Job
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that scientists and engineers will remain in demand for the next decade in the U.S., with a 23.1% increase in the next 10 years.
In the upcoming Global Sciences Outlook report, the demand for scientists is expected to increase in conjunction with global trends to serve an aging population and an increase in communicable and chronic diseases.
There has never been a better time to move into industry.
Biotechnology clusters are known to foster innovation and its translation.
This is not limited to big companies — according to the Annual Jones Lang LaSalle report, growth in biotechnology clusters is attributed to the smaller companies opening laboratories in emerging cluster markets.
Since life science technologies in particular take a long time to commercialize and are often risk-prone, long-term funding is essential for sustained growth.
Regions that have been historically successful in developing a biotechnology industry are also the ones that managed to attract the most venture capital funding for start-ups as well as federal funding for basic research.
Therefore, targeting these biotech clusters as a source of employment provides an opportunity for PhDs to be at the forefront of innovation with the stability of working in a financially stable environment.
What’s more, these clusters are a one-stop shop for every type of life science organisation — from startup to “Big Pharma” — PhDs will have the choice of which organizational culture to target.
How To Get Hired Into A Mid-Level Job In A Biotechnology Cluster
When it comes to getting an industry job, it is important to look for companies that pique your interest while offering room to grow professionally.
There are no shortage of companies within life science clusters that can fit this criteria.
If you are already in a graduate school that is affiliated with one of these clusters, you may even think about establishing collaborations or inviting industry professionals to speak at networking events.
Start early building relationships with industry professionals at these companies and be consistent.
In particular, focus your efforts within hotbeds of biotechnology activity.
Ask yourself, where are PhDs getting hired right now?
Which companies just doubled their annual growth?
Where are these companies located?
Once you start answering these questions, you’ll notice that many of the world’s fastest growing companies, especially small to mid-level sized companies, are located in discrete clusters.
3 of the hottest biotech clusters are located in the U.S.
Here’s how to find these clusters and how to get jobs at small to mid-level companies within them…
1. New York and New Jersey biotech cluster.
This area has some of the oldest pharmaceutical establishments in the country.
With access to the highest concentration of people in the nation, in addition to international connectivity and proximity to the financial capital of NY, this area has always been conducive to developing industry.
Over the past few years, NY has initiated a renewed initiative to develop the biotechnology industry and has been able to attract significant investments and a skilled workforce.
This cluster benefits from being the location of a number of well renowned universities, research hospitals, and national research institutes.
This cluster is estimated to have the highest concentration of scientists per square mile.
Scientific organizations such as Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory are playing an integral part in enhancing the stature of NY as a major bioscience hub. Other organizations such as Cold Spring Harbor and Feinstein Institute of Medical Research are also contributing in boosting the region’s biotech sector through their fundamental research and translation.
Currently, this region was one of the top 5 regions in terms of VC investments in the life science industry.
In just 6 months, the NY metro area received the highest amount of life science focused VC investments in the nation.
New Jersey alone has about 3,000 establishments in the biopharma sector.
Out of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies, at least 13 have a large presence in the Garden state.
Recently, 40% of the new drugs approved by the FDA originated from companies that either have their headquarters in NJ or have a strong footprint in this cluster.
This year alone, NJ employed over 77,000 employees that total an economic impact estimated to be over $30 billion.
Pharmaceutical research, medicinal manufacturing, and medical equipment manufacturing are the major sectors in the life science industry in this region.
NJ is home to Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson and Johnson, and Merck. Major biopharma present in NY area are Celgene, Regeneron, Roche, and Pfizer.
Among all the regions, in the past few years NY has shown the strongest intent for growing their life science industry.
It has offered a 10-year tax break to incentivize new life science establishments and initiated projects such as expansion of its premier life science campus, the Alexandria Center for Life Science.
All these initiatives are sure to further enhance the life science industry in this region.
2. Maryland, D.C., and Virginia cluster.
Over the past few decades the Maryland suburban area, combined with D.C., has developed a strong biotech cluster.
A major unique feature of this life science hotspot is its strong relation with federal and national labs.
In this area, innovation-based industries, including biotech and pharma, have benefitted a lot owing to their proximity to national research institutes which attract talent, act as a source of new innovation, and facilitate the translation of those novel technologies to industry.
Multiple major federal research institutes such as the National Institute of Health (NIH), Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and the Army Medical Research Institute are located within this cluster.
Besides these federal labs, this area also has several well-renowned academic institutions such as George Washington University, University of Maryland, George Mason University, and several other colleges.
The presence of these scientific research organizations has immensely helped the innovation in life science in this region.
As a result of all the innovation and academic research, this area received over $500 million in NIH funding in this year alone.
This area is reported to have over 1,600 life science oriented establishments, a large number of which are start-ups.
Biotechnology start-ups in this cluster managed to earn $154 million in VC funding in this year alone too.
Owing to the environment of innovation in this region, a vast majority of life science organizations belong to the biotech or drug development R&D subsection.
Other prominent sub-sectors that constitute a significant portion of the life science industry of the Maryland-D.C.-Virginia cluster include pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities and Medical/Diagnostic Testing Laboratories.
A number of promising innovative start-ups have developed in the Maryland-D.C-Virginia cluster over the past decade.
Companies such as RegenxBio, Glyomimetic, and MacroGenics are some of the local private companies that recently became publicly traded and owned entities, a sign of expansion and sustainability.
This area also contains larger pharmaceutical organizations such as MedImmune, Otsuka, and AstraZeneca.
Besides biopharma companies, the life science industry of this region is also home to medical device and diagnostics companies like Qiagen, Agilent Technologies, and Becton and Dickenson.
3. Seattle and Bellevue cluster.
The Seattle area of Washington State is considered the first of the second tier biotechnology clusters.
It is not as robust or well-established as the major locations, such as Boston or the San Francisco Bay Area, but it still has a healthy life science industry with a lot of potential of growth.
One advantage of this region is that the culture of innovation that is necessary for developing a life science industry is helped by the presence of other innovation-oriented companies such as Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon.
The presence of some highly reputable research organizations also facilitated the growth of scientific research and innovation in the Seattle area.
Fundamental research conducted by The Institute for Systems Biology, Allen Institute for Brain Science, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Seattle Children’s Hospital helped the growth of life science innovation.
Owing to the presence of these institutes, this region ranked in the top 10 in number of issued patents.
In spite of being relatively new and smaller in size, the Seattle-Bellevue hub has been consistently ranked in the top 10 in terms of attracting VC funding as well as NIH awards.
Companies in this cluster raised a total of $310 million this year alone, which was the sixth highest in the country.
The Seattle and Bellevue cluster also received over $890 million in NIH funding this year.
Although some large companies with headquarters in other states have a footprint in this region, the main driving force of this cluster are small and mid-sized companies.
Some of the noticeable members of Seattle’s life science sector are: Seattle Genetics, Juno therapeutics, Acucela, and Nanostring.
The small start-ups in this region have also been growing in stature through strategic partnerships and collaborations with larger established companies.
Juno Therapeutics entered into a 10-year collaboration with Celgene for immuno-oncology. Another local company, Nanostring, initiated a partnership with Merck to develop a novel test for predicting patient response to various anticancer therapies.
The Seattle-Bellevue cluster is home to a number of promising life science start-ups which are expected to attract more VC funding and are predicted to grow in size.
This makes the Seattle-Bellevue cluster one of the regions to watch out for over the next few years.
Life science clusters provide a unique environment for small and mid-sized companies to grow and succeed. These companies also provide a unique experience for PhDs to be exposed to a variety of roles and responsibilities which may not be accessible in “Big Pharma”, where job titles are more structured. PhDs should take advantage of the opportunity to gain new skills and further their industry experience by targeting companies within these clusters. Targeting companies in these biotechnology clusters is a fast and effective way to get hired into small to mid-level start-ups all the way through to larger pharmaceutical companies.
To learn more about the 3 life science clusters to search for a biotechnology job, 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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