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Getting down to business: Life sciences workers are leaving Big Pharma — voluntarily or otherwise — and smaller firms are snapping them up

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Fred Grossman, president and chief medical officer, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Fred Grossman, president and chief medical officer, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Inc. - ()

Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Inc. expects to make significant additions to its staff of about 140 employees by the year 2018.

And when it goes to do that, it knows where to look.

Fred Grossman, president and chief medical officer at the Mahwah-based company, explained:

“We’re going to need really top talent for our innovative pipeline of research and development,” he said. “And, a lot of the time, we get that from drawing people from big pharmaceutical companies.”

The firm has gone from being a small generic drug company to using that business to self-fund a homegrown pipeline of compounds in R&D. Like other firms with lofty aspirations, it is hoping to take from its largest competitors in more ways than one.

“There has been a lot of competition among (life science companies) looking to recruit talent,” Grossman said. “We think of us as being at a sweet spot for recruitment. There are a lot of people who start in Big Pharma and then look to take on roles in medium or smaller companies, more of the entrepreneurial side that operates without some of the same constraints.”

But it’s not just that Big Pharma is shedding staff out of worker preference. Several larger companies in this space have recently decided to cut back operations, leading to layoffs.

Most notably, Novartis, in a far-reaching overhaul of its R&D structure, announced it would lay off about 250 employees across the state, mostly in East Hanover but also in Princeton.

The list goes on: Merck recently cut jobs in Kenilworth and Rahway. Pfizer went through a layoff process that came to bear on New York last year.

Debbie Hart, CEO and president of BioNJ, said such shakeups came as bad news during an otherwise good time for local life sciences.

“We never like to see companies downsize or people lose their job,” she said. “It has definitely been the more unfortunate part of (an otherwise) exciting period for the industry.”

But Hart has seen a narrative of talent spillover playing out that acts as a silver lining.

“One of New Jersey’s greatest assets is the life science talent here,” she said. “And, even though it’s unfortunate, that talent does get freed up during these times.

“There are some more companies that will be growing here that can now take up these folks. So there are positive and negative aspects to this.”

Glenmark has planned on bringing its worker count up from 140 — a figure that already represents a doubling of its staff from where it was a year ago. It also had talent trickle in during the decade or so before, as it grew from being a $36 million company in 2000 to being the $1.5 billion firm it is today.

But the company’s growth has introduced new demands for additional manufacturing sites and warehouse space, Grossman said. It’s not a unique situation.

Just as some of the talent is being swept up from Big Pharma, some of the facilities formerly owned by the industry’s giants are being taken up by firms of a relatively smaller size.

That’s been exemplified by Allergan, a company that wouldn’t think of itself as being Big Pharma at all. In fact, it was almost purchased by Pfizer in a $160 billion acquisition that was scrapped last year. It’s now moving into a property that once housed Pfizer in Madison.

Allergan, which had been weighing a move to Pennsylvania, announced it would move its U.S. headquarters from Parsippany to Madison and consolidate its operations at three other facilities across the state in this location.

“We put a lot of work into finding the best, most convenient location for everyone,” Rob Stewart, chief operating officer at Allergan, said. “We’re looking to complete the transition by the end of the year. It will be nice to have everyone together in one place.”

The company is hoping to co-locate up to 1,800 workers in the new base, a 463,000-square-foot site that Pfizer sold in 2014. The company was awarded more than $50 million in state incentives in making the move.

“And we have made commitments that we’re not only continuing our operations there, but also expanding operations within that facility as we integrate it,” Stewart said. “Now that we have a common location, and as we start setting up the organization in a way that we want to operate it going forward, we will make an addition of 300 and maybe more jobs in that location.”

Allergan’s growth as a company is indicative of the investments being made in researching the highly specialized life science areas that once were shied away from. It’s a trend that partially accounts for some of the reshuffling of drug-hunting teams at larger companies.

Expect a few local life science companies to evolve into some of the industry’s next power players over the next decades — if they’re not picked up in expensive acquisitions in the meantime.

And expect to see more of them.

“With emerging trends like the effort going into spinning new companies out of academic institutions, there’s a lot of promise for an even stronger ecosystem (for startup companies),” Hart said. “Frankly, it’s a whole new day in New Jersey for biotech.”

Email to: bjohnson@njbiz.com

On Twitter: @ReporterBrett

Meeting of the minds

Even with the world’s biggest biotech and life sciences convention occurring in California, every corner of New Jersey is represented, according to Debbie Hart, CEO and president of BioNJ.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s annual international convention is scheduled for June 19 in San Diego this year. The event, which is expected to bring in 16,000 people, will feature high-profile speakers, such as former British Prime Minister David Cameron. Hart said BioNJ, most of the state’s educational institutions, prominent local life science companies and other organizations are collaborating to highlight what’s exciting about the Garden State’s biotech ecosystem.

“You will have this whole industry coming together and representing New Jersey there,” she said in an interview ahead of the event. “We’ll all be picking up and moving out to California to meet the rest of the world, and then we’ll get back to business back here.”

Business getting an uplift

The constant flux in the country’s health care system and the talk about drug pricing restrictions is changing the way some markets look.

Plastic surgery and the broader area of what’s referred to as medical aesthetics, for instance, hasn’t been affected by the trends that have some biting nails in the life science industry.

“As a cash pay business, it’s insulated from all of the pricing pressures and the backlash in general from changes in insurance,” Rob Stewart, the chief operating officer of Allergan, said.
One of Allergan’s key areas, both in its products and its research and development pipeline, is medical aesthetics and dermatology, which covers therapies for skin conditions such as rosacea and acne as well as fat reduction. Additionally, the company has indications in development for on-market products such as Botox.

“This is a strong area that’s growing very nicely,” Stewart said.

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