From The Editor | October 23, 2015

Who Wants To Work At A CMO Anyways?


By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma

Who Wants To Work At A CMO Anyways?

Outsourced Pharma has been tackling the subject of employment in the biopharma industry. In articles over the past months, we’ve dealt with questions like: Who are the managers and workers at CMOs? Are there enough graduating students and potential employees in the U.S. to fill the needs of the biopharma industry here?

Which leads to a few final questions to answer today: Are individuals in the U.S. graduating with degrees or backgrounds in biology, chemistry – or training in biomanufacturing – aware there is an AMRI as well as an Amgen, a Cambrex as well as a Celgene, or even a Lonza as well as a Lilly? And if they are, why would they select the service providers? And why is it positive for for the biotechs and pharma companies if they do go with the CMOs?

These questions lead me back to a conversation this summer at BIO in Philadelphia, with Lonza’s Karen Fallen, Vice President, Head of Business Unit, Clinical Development & Licensing. She was 20 years old when she found herself at Lonza. Some of her subsequent career spanning two decades there will help us in today’s endeavor.

And coincidentally – or maybe conveniently – while this article was being written, we received a prime example of an important employment dynamic in biopharma: former Bayer HealthCare executive Gustavo Mahler has been promoted by CMC Biologics to the position of CEO. We’ll get to this aspect of the industry momentarily as well.

So let’s see if I can pull this all together to wrap-up this season’s series of  “As The Biopharma Worker Turns.”

Fresh Out Of College!  

Remember your first job fresh out of university? You couldn’t wait to try your hand working at a contract research and development or contract manufacturing organization. Or maybe that’s not quite what happened even for most of us participating in the biopharma industry today. For some more seasoned professionals, nary a CMO even existed at that life juncture! But many do now, spread around the world. Are these CMOs enticing venues for today’s graduates?

“From my experience, students do know the CMOs are out there,” says Kamal Rashid, PhD, director, Biomanufacturing Education & Training Center (BETC), and research professor, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). “They’re looking for a job, and whether it has to do with a specific drug program, an established biomanufacturing company, or a CRO or CMO, they will pursue it. If an offer comes from a CMO, they aren’t sitting around the kitchen table with their parents saying, ‘Should I go to a CMO or not?’”

Rashid, who has over 30 years experience in university settings training workers – his specialty is biopharmaceutical manufacturing – says the service providers actively engage with universities for recruitment opportunities. The universities, as we discussed in our last article, have responded by providing students the knowledge and training for the exact needs of that hiring industry. We should see more U.S. students directly enter CMOs and other biopharma service provides. Here’s why.

Why New Grads Should Select CMOs

And in case there’s the need for enticement, here are two important reasons why newly minted graduates, and (re-)trained professionals, should consider joining service providers. And as mentioned above, we utilize these points to demonstrate why it is important for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry that they do.

1. It’s where the jobs are

Biotechs and pharma companies are always looking to acquire the best workforce. At the same time, there are periods when that activity is less pronounced, for example during economic and/or industry downturns, depending on product life cycles, or because of corporate transitions. Instead of losing scientists and engineers to other industries at those times – or worse for all having talented people lay idle – on-boarding those graduates into the industry through CMOs is a great option. Be sure this is not a competition pitting recruitment at pharma vs. recruitment at providers. And think about it: What does this new talent end up doing? Working on the next biotech or pharma projects at the CMOs they join.

Furthermore, we should note the degree to which sponsors and providers end up “trading” personnel down the line. Visiting the career paths of scientists, engineers, project managers, and executives in the biopharma industry will uncover the fact that many have worked at service providers before joining the sponsor side, and vice versa. That’s the dynamic I mentioned above regarding the announcement that Gustavo Mahler will become CEO of CMC Biologics. Before joining that service provider, he had a successful career at Bayer HealthCare. The skills and experience gained in one sector are largely transferable and additive to the other.

According to Rashid of WPI, today jobs are plentiful on the CMO side. Moreover, he stresses that with the global growth in areas like biomanufacturing – both at CMOs and biopharma companies in Europe, China and India – U.S.-based companies face increased competition for scientific and operational talent. “Growth is a good problem to have,” says Rashid, “but CMOs and others must pay attention to workforce development issues in their own backyard to build a sustainable pipeline of employees.”

2. Career opportunities abound at CMOs

Nobody should take any of the above as suggesting if you can’t get into a biotech or pharma, you can settle for a CMO. Not even close. First, these can become some of the most challenging jobs in the entire industry. For one thing, service providers have to stay ahead of the technology curve, and often introduce the new platforms for the further development of drugs. Next, jobs at CMOs can become careers of significant personal satisfaction and industry importance.

Lonza’s Karen Fallen, VP, head of business unit, Clinical Development & Licensing, attests to that ... and demonstrates Rashid’s point about international competition for employees at CMOs. Fallen joined a small biologics company in the U.K. called CellTech when she was 19 years old. One year later that became a part of Lonza. “I’ve been with the organization for over 25 years now,” she says. “I’ve grown up with Lonza.”

Fallen started in various quality related areas, and then got promoted to running some of them, including QC labs on the mammalian side of the business. “Some years later, I decided to have a complete change,” she said. She means a change within Lonza; she found her way into their commercial organization.

“I next looked for the opportunity to do a stint in the states,” Fallen continues. She had always resided in the U.K., with her formative years at Lonza there as well. She managed to get a position within the company’s sales organization … and packed up for San Diego. “With one other person in San Francisco, we established a sales organization in that part of the U.S.,” she recalls. “We successfully pursued biotech clientele there. I was there for about two years before returning home. I’ve been given a number of elevating roles and positions since.”

Just under three years ago Fallen took up her current vice-president position. Today, she travels globally and has direct reports in the U.K., Switzerland and the U.S. “Lonza has always been like this with employees,” she says. “I actually moved to Scotland a few years ago, and don’t have to commute daily into our facilities. My husband actually has a microbrewery in our back garden.”

Well, difficult to top that for a reason to participate in the biopharma industry via a position at a service provider.