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‘More than 50 per cent of bio-pharma companies have vacancies in key roles’

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Kelly Scientific Resources has released data which highlights a severe talent crunch in the biopharma sector. Thammaiah BN, Country General Manager, Kelly Services India shares more details of the study, the socio-economic of the talent crunch on the industry, measures to build competency and capacity in the sector and more, in an interaction with Lakshmipriya Nair

Can you give us an overview about the extent of talent scarcity in biopharma? A comprehensive idea about the demand and supply gap.

Thammaiah BN

Bio-pharmaceuticals account for the largest share of the biotech industry revenues. This segment is currently driven by biosimilar potential in India and companies are investing significantly in new product development. However, Kelly Scientific India internal research data shows that the talent crunch is limiting the scaling up plans of bio-pharma companies.

The demand is up by 35 to 40 per cent in pertinent job profiles owing to stringent US FDA audit norms. There has been a 50 per cent increase in demand for job roles related to bio-similars as most pharma companies are getting into bio-similars while the existing players are ramping up their teams. More than 50 per cent of bio-pharma companies have vacancies in key roles. These are skills that can fetch hikes of average 30-35 per cent while shifting jobs.

What would be the socio-economic implications of this scenario?

A talent crunch in this sector can derail the efforts of Indian pharma and biotech companies on the path of innovation and new drug discovery. The efforts to make drugs more affordable will also face challenges in the long term with compulsory licensing snowballing into a major problem. The only long-term solution is to bolster domestic R&D capability. In the short term, loss of revenues in exports for the drug companies and foreign exchange for the Government of India are other implications.

What are the major reasons contributing to this talent crunch?

The biopharma industry currently is driven by biosimilar potential in India and globally. With several biologics drugs coming off patent, India stands on the shores of immense opportunity to become a world leading centre for bio-similars manufacturing, fuelled both by domestic as well as global demand. As such, most pharma companies are getting into bio-similars while the existing players are ramping up their teams. Indian companies are not just competing with international companies globally but also in India as these MNCs also are keen on doing cutting edge science out of India. All of this is leading to shortfall of talent.

Which are the areas (positions, levels) that face serious inadequacy of manpower?

The areas that are witnessing high demand in pharma are Quality (USFDA), analytical process engineering, formulations (5 to 12 years’ experience range). The maximum demand from bio-pharma companies is for clone development, cell line development (CHO Cells), MSTAT, technology transfer skills, analytical development, Clinical Data and Medical Affairs (CDMA), upstream and down-stream professionals and senior quality professionals (USFDA exposure), those with manufacturing experience and biostatisticians. The lowest demand is for process chemistry and molecular biologists.

What are the short-term and long term steps needed to tackle this issue?

In the long term, there needs to be an overhaul of pertinent education streams besides public-private partnership in large scale capacity building initiatives. In the short term, corporates and industry bodies should collaborate with academia and research institutes to develop training to re-skill pharma and life sciences professionals.

What is the industry doing to build capacity and competency in terms of human resources to serve the biopharma sector?

The lack of talent in areas like analytics, quality, manufacturing, clone development is making Indian pharma and bio-pharma companies look at global and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) talent. Niche expatriates (lead to VP levels) are also on lookout for opportunities in India. Expats also come in when there are tie-ups for technology transfers, manufacturing, quality (US FDA).

Some companies club potential candidate meetings at a time when their business heads or top scientists travel for global meetings or conferences. HR consulting firms like Kelly proactively work with clients to build such a pipeline of potential candidates on foreign shores.

Expat and PIO talent with experience range of five to 20 years are being mainly sourced from the US, Europe and Singapore markets for positions across mid-level to VP roles. Pharma companies are also resorting to international transfers wherein they depute employees from their US operations to India. Few of them have also established academies to train freshers and re-skill mid-level scientists. Some bio-pharma companies are also ready to offer premium salaries to fill key positions.

Can you elaborate on the advantages for people seeking a career in the biopharma sector?

The pharma industry, by and large is recession proof and has been growing at a steady rate in India. This industry offers stable job opportunities. As the industry takes strides towards innovation and new drug development from being a bulk drug and generics oriented market, the career opportunity is immense. This is more evident in the bio-pharma segment as most of the biopharma companies are planning capital investment in new product development in the coming years. India is also emerging as the most important growth markets in biopharma/ bio-manufacturing after China and North America. So, candidates joining this segment will have tremendous career opportunities in the years to come.

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