Drugmakers seek temps; start-up funding sags

A projected 7,000 drug-industry pros will mass at the Drug Information Association (DIA)'s conclave at the Pennsylvania Convention Center next week to hear speakers like Dean Kamen, inventor of the HomeChoice portable kidney dialysis unit and the Segway Human Transporter, among other gadgets.

While drug profits are under pressure, and start-up capital is scarce, industry recruiters are busier than ever as companies reorganize to cut costs, says Greg Coir, president of Woburn, Mass.-based Randstad Pharma, a $1 billion-a-year division of $20 billion multinational placement agency Randstad."We're seeing (around) a 20 percent increase in demand, year on year." The group places more than 200 people a month in US jobs, on average.

That's not because drug organizations are getting larger, but because many are relying more on outsourced and contract help instead of fulltime workers who are expensive to hire, manage and lay off. Typically they're looking for "skilled, experienced" bio and chem pros, not recent college grads, Coir added.

Clients in the drug centers of Philadelphia and New Jesrey seek medical writers "who document clinical trials and post-trial marketing"; "pharmaco-vigilance," including monitors for drug safety, side effects and prevention; and "study monitors," who help manage drug studies nad clinical trials -- including "virtual workers" who monitor European and Asian drug trials from Philadelphia and other university towns where researchers congregate. Electronic medical records management is also "a booming area."

I asked if recruiting was shifting from the very large drug companies to mid-market, specialized and generic producers. There's "a little" of that, also a lot of reorganization as big drug companies digest each other after the mergers of the 2000s, and drugmakers purchase one-product biotech firms "to build their pipelines." 

Coir is concenred about the industry's longterm prospects. The industry group BioNJ, he says, "estimates the number of biotech companies there will contract by 50 percent in the next couple of years" as successful firms get "gobbled up." Normally they'd be replaced by start-ups. But a cutback in National Institutes of Health funding has made it hard for scientists, doctors, founders. "They're not getting to the next stage of private funding."