Careers Development in a Growing Industrial Sector

In this article, outlines possible pharmacy career paths in a growing and changing industrial landscape

The pharmaceutical industry is estimated to be growing at 16 per cent annually. This will lead to an increase in employment opportunities for well-trained pharmaceutical scientists in which pharmacy graduates are well qualified to participate. Industrial pharmacy has diversified, with consolidation in the industry, and now offers a wide choice of career structure both in large innovative pharmaceutical companies and smaller support organizations. Industrial pharmacy delivers continuing education and unparalleled career growth opportunities: there has never been a better time to join.

The general optimism and growth is being driven by an increase in demand for new, effective and safe medicines. The world’s population now lives longer, increasing the demand for medicines that prolong and improve the quality of life. With compassionate pressure increasing to address “third world” diseases, the industry will have to respond to hitherto unmet medical need. World governments are increasingly anxious to approve important new drugs and are streamlining their regulatory review processes to expedite approval. In the US, over 120 new drugs have been approved annually in each of the past two years, compared with 70 in the two years before that. Finally, care providers are increasingly relying on drugs to cut the cost of patient management in hospitals. The pharmaceutical industry has responded to this demand by increasing the supply of drugs, both in development and on the market, arising from general advances in science, for example in genomics and combinatorial chemistry. The ability to respond to unmet medical need with scientific excellence has fuelled the sustained growth in industrial pharmaceutical activity.

The pharmaceutical industry has changed radically over the past 20 years and the process of change is set to continue. Previously, the sector was populated with a number of self-contained companies that discovered, developed, manufactured and sold medicines. Consolidation in the industry has led to a change in the pattern of employment for industrial pharmacists. A smaller number of large companies continue to compete for talented pharmaceutical scientists to drive their development pipelines. However, international contract research and manufacturing organisations have now emerged, phoenix-like, from the embers of consolidation. Organisations like Quintiles, Boots Contract Manufacturing and Covance now support all sectors of the industry and grow as large pharmaceutical companies subcontract scientific studies and batch manufacture to manage capacity shortfalls. Similarly, consulting companies have developed to support decision-making and problem solving in all sectors of the industry. They specialise in virtually all aspects of industrial pharmacy, from regulatory compliance to drug delivery research. Smaller drug houses continue to produce specialist drug products and standard generic drugs. These companies must innovate to drive down manufacturing costs while maintaining the same regulatory compliance and quality standards as the large pharmaceutical companies. In all areas, the industrial pharmacist is ubiquitous and numbered among the senior leadership cadre in all branches of the industry. Industrial pharmacists must look to emerging contract research organisations, consultants and specialist drug product manufacturers for career opportunities in addition to the well-known, research-based pharmaceutical companies.

A recent Royal Pharmaceutical Society Industrial Pharmacists Group (IPG) Committee work group on recruitment has made a number of constructive suggestions about career development in the pharmaceutical industry. The challenges facing undergraduates and graduates contemplating industrial careers are not necessarily new; however new hurdles like the introduction of the Society’s registration examination, industry consolidation and student loans have not helped the promotion of careers in industrial pharmacy. Pharmacists should not be discouraged by the obstacles and should be creative and tenacious in pursuing careers in the industry.

Undergraduates seeking a career in industrial pharmacy should, without doubt, apply for industry/hospital preregistration places. This is not a prerequisite to a successful career in industrial pharmacy and the IPG Committee strongly recommends seeking entry level jobs after registration. Such jobs depend upon the nature of an individual company’s business and would typically be in pharmaceutical development functions, such as formulation design, commercial or clinical trial manufacture and supply.

After two to three years’ experience, industrial pharmacists should appraise their career objectives with a view to continuing education. Industrial pharmacists wishing to continue in research and development would be well advised to obtain formal research training by studying for a PhD or MSc by research. A career break within two to three years of starting an industrial career is recommended, although many companies will support part-time postgraduate study to PhD level.

Many pharmacists will use their industrial knowledge and experience to move to a secondary level jobs away from pharmaceutical development, eg, regulatory affairs, clinical research, commercial manufacturing/quality assurance or medical sales, marketing or information. Pharmacists moving to commercial medical departments often complete MBA degrees to orientate their pharmaceutical knowledge and experience to the health economic environment. Again, many companies will support staff financially and allow study leave.

Pharmacists wishing to direct commercial pharmaceutical manufacturing and quality assurance operations will now find the Qualified Person qualification is more accessible This professional qualification in industrial pharmacy is much sought after by drug companies and will soon become a legal requirement for clinical trial manufacture and supply in research organisations. In 1998, 17 qualified persons were added to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s QP register. In the same year only one pharmacist was added to the Society’s QP register. If the profession of pharmacy wishes to retain its influence in pharmaceutical manufacturing, more pharmacists need to become qualified persons.

Industrial career development does not, of necessity, require additional higher qualifications and many industrial pharmacists opt to build their skills and knowledge base through experience gained in different environments. Pharmacists working in regulatory affairs frequently move between pharmaceutical companies and the regulatory agencies to broaden their knowledge of regulatory strategy. Their career development is also supported in association with the British Institute of Regulatory Affairs.

There is, then, optimism, growth and career diversity in the pharmaceutical industry that only survives with a culture of continuing education, professional and personal development. Every industrial pharmacist has contributed to the success of the industry as it stands today: I hope this tradition continues into the new millennium.

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