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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Are there any jobs in Medicinal Chemistry? And how can I get one?

Through my efforts to provide encouraging information and strategies for those interested in life sciences careers, I will occationally invite guest bloggers to provide their thoughts.  My first guest blogger is Connie Hampton - founder of Hampton Associates and provider of scientific and executive search services.  Connie's blog is highlited in my blog list.  More information regarding her background and services can be found on her website (www.hamptonexecutivesearch.com).

Are there any jobs in Medicinal Chemistry? And how can I get one?

There are over 7,000 IPhone developer jobs today on SimplyHired.com and only 500 Medicinal Chemistry positions.  This is only 1/5 of the total jobs, but the other 4/5ths are filled before they are posted. Obviously it is much harder to get a job in Medicinal Chemistry than IPhone development.  These jobs are all over the world, from summer (unpaid) intern to Principal Scientist and Professor.  If you are one of the many students of medicinal chemistry about to graduate, how are you going to compete? 

Job Search is Tough and You were Never Taught How

Today’s economy is especially tough on small therapeutics companies.  Seed money is hard to find and further financing is even harder to get.  Since it takes 100 ideas and at least 10 years from proof-of-concept to marketed drug, the venture capitalists are putting their money into IPhone development in order to spend less than a year to get 4+ times their investment.   Medicinal chemistry is necessary in both large and small molecule drugs, but there are fewer companies and simply fewer positions than there used to be.

The solution to finding a job under these circumstances is to take on the task of finding a job as a job, to “hunt your own head” and become your own “job fairy”.
  1. Put in no fewer than 20 hours/week and preferably 30-40.
  2. Write, for your own use as a pool of phrases, what you bring to the table in the way of skills and cutting-edge knowledge
  3. Write your approximate overall career goal.
  4. Decide, geographically, where you want to work.  Will you move or will you commute?
  5. Start a database of all the companies within your commute distance which use the skills you have and can provide you with the next step in moving you closer to your goal.
  6. Start a database of the people you know, where they work and how to get in touch with them.
  7. Sync these two databases with each other.  Which companies do you already have a personal connection in?  Which do you need to get (at least) one?
  8. Start networking!  Up to 80% of jobs are filled by networking and only 20% by job boards
This is just the homework part of job search.  The next step is getting out there and meeting people to find out who has a problem you can solve.  Do you know how to network?

Networking is when you give something of value to the other person (that does not cost you much) and get something that you value (that doesn’t cost them much).  You give time, attention, information and you get time, attention and information. 

The first person you want to network with in a company that you are interested in should be someone who is NOT the hiring manager and NOT a person in the department that you want.  You need to know if the company is financially stable, a good place to work and fits with your idea of a good company.  Who of your connections is able to tell you these things?  You need to give them the gift of your attention.  Ask: “how do you like your job?”  and “what is it like to work there?” and “are they hiring or laying off?”

If the company sounds good, THEN you want to be introduced to someone in your preferred department.  You need to find out if they are working on any problems that you could help solve and present yourself as someone who could do so.  If they have a problem that is NOT one that you want to solve, then ask the same questions as above and move on.  But if they are working on something that appeals to you, have a very “geeky” conversation – ask really good questions, display your understanding of the issues.  At the end of the conversation, do NOT beg for a job. Do NOT hand them your resume.  Instead say, “What an interesting problem!  You must be having so much fun!” even if you know that it is not being fun for them. 
Then go home and put the person and company in your Gist.com database.  This site will sweep the internet for any mention of the person or company and look in Twitter, Facebook and blogs to find them.  This will allow you to email this person once a week with “saw this and thought of you” emails and therefore stay on the top of their minds.  When their boss and hiring manager realizes that the problem is not getting solved with the people he is already paying, the first thing he will ask is “Who do we know?”  Your name will be the one that comes up.

Stay in touch with your contacts in the departments of the companies you want to work for.

Keep checking their websites in case your job gets posted.

Stay alert to other ways that the company may be looking for you.

But keep on networking your way through the list of companies that hire people with your talents.

This is your career network and it will last you for the rest of your career.  You will help these people find jobs and they will help you.

Connie is a scientific and executive search consultant and a purple squirrel hunter – after a company has exhausted their network, posted the job and not found the right person, they turn to her to find that hard-to-find MD or PhD or MBA.

She started recruiting early in the history of the worldwide web.  While she does not restrict herself to just the web, she stays on the cutting edge of social media and makes full use of it in finding the right people for her clients.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Biotechnology and the Dot-Com Era

Earlier this month, I attended the CalBio2012 conference in San Francisco. Among the attendees were venture capitalists and executives from biotech and pharma companies around the world. The two days of panel discussions and keynote addresses focused on all aspects of these industries from financing strategies to reimbursement issues. As a networking event and major local conference, I found the topics highly relevant. However, of all the sessions, I found the lunch keynote speeches to be the most inspiring.

The keynote address on day one of the conference was particularly noteworthy. The speaker was John Crowley. To those of you who don't know, this is the man who risked his career to head up a company focused on finding a treatment for Pompe Disease – a terminal illness affecting his two children.

Pompe disease is a condition where glycogen is not cleared from cells. This leads to cell death, organ failure, paralysis and death. While the story of how the treatment was ultimately found and developed is truly an inspiring example of the hope and promise that biotechnology brings to this world, this story is not the focus of this post. For an excellent interpretation of the Pompe disease story, I highly recommend the Harrison Ford movie "Extraordinary Measure" which focuses on the Crowley family and their journey.

Instead of focusing on Pompe Disease, I thought it would be relevant, especially in today's economy, to comment on a small part of Crowley's speech describing previous attitudes towards investments in biotechnology. As you all know, investments in early stage biotechnology companies are considered highly risky. This is largely due to the roughly 15 year timeline from concept to market coupled with the 6% success rate for small molecule drug candidates completing clinical trials and becoming marketed therapeutic agents.

In the 1980s, VC financing and IPO interest in biotechnology companies were abundant. It seemed that any company incorporating the letters G, E and N in its name was likely to obtain needed funds. Examples include Genentech, Biogen, Genencor, Gensia, Amgen and many more. It will also be no surprise that all of these companies were running operating losses during their initial financing periods. Relevant to the Crowley keynote speech is his description of interactions he had with a venture capitalist while serving as CEO for a biotech company. Paraphrasing Crowley's narrative, the dialog went something like this:

VC: So, how are your sales?
Crowley: Well, we currently don't have any sales.
VC: I see. How strong are your revenues?
Crowley: Actually, we presently don't have any source of income.
VC: Interesting. When will your product be ready for market?
Crowley: Uncertain. There can be no guarantee that our product will ever be ready for market.

The above dialog summarizes the reality of the biotechnology industry from its inception to the present. The only driving force behind the ability to finance companies with long term operating losses and no guarantee of success was the hope and promise of a better future. For a long time, this was enough. Investors were interested and biotechnology was the only industry that could justifiably operate under this business model.

Let's now move ahead to the 1990s. In this period, a new industry emerged - the internet. With the evolution of the internet came may entrepreneurs eager to capitalize on the promise of e-commerce. Whether selling products or focusing on business-to-business services, investors were jumping into this new sector with hopes of making large profits and quick exits. While some of these dot-com companies had solid business models, most eventually came and went. That did not stop the massive ballooning of the IPO market. While some people did, in fact, realize significant returns on their investments, most did not. So, when the investing community had had enough, the dot-com bubble burst and the NASDAQ plummeted from its "irrationally exuberant" highs. Ultimately, much of this downturn rests on the dot-com companies attempting to adopt the biotechnology model of selling shares while operating at a loss.

Recognizing that the dot-com bubble had collapsed, investors next turned to the smaller "biotech bubble". While the dot-com IPO boom did have an impact on biotech, the size of this bubble was far less significant than that related to the internet. After all, it is the internet-based industries that are better understood by the investing public. Nevertheless, following the dot-com bust, biotech stocks fell. The investment community had had enough of high-risk markets and money dried up.

When I hear people tell me that the biotechnology business model is broken, I point out that the model never changed. It is today, what it was in the 80s - highly speculative and full of promise. What has changed, however, is the risk-tolerance of investors. Where biotech companies used to be able to obtain financing at research stages, they now find themselves lucky if they can attract financing when achieving positive results in phase II clinical trials.

While the biotechnology business model is not broken, it is obsolete. Clearly, investors want less risk and the future of innovative drug-discovery efforts depends upon the industry's ability to adapt during these challenging times. Unfortunately, no amount of adapting can fully bridge the divide from identification of development candidates to entry into clinical trials. The expenses are simply too high.

The interplay between innovation and venture financing has always been a partnership. Extending partnerships requires effort and compromise on both sides. While I routinely work with early stage companies to find cost-effective ways to advance their programs, the investment community must also come to the plate. This country was built on taking risks. Continuing our leadership in innovation requires continually taking risks. Ask the Crowley family. I am sure they would agree.