A revolution is under way in the biopharmaceutical industry -- a revolution borne out of necessity. The industry faces global economic and demographic pressures, rising customer expectations, and outdated cultural models. Research and development (R&D) stands at the vanguard of this revolution. Some 35% of life science companies have revamped their R&D models in the past three years, according to HRI’s research.
New R&D organizational models based on partnerships, alliances, and even crowdsourcing are changing talent needs. The most needed skill sets for R&D have moved away from pure scientific expertise to regulatory knowledge and relationship skills. Developing and managing outside partnerships and regulatory science are the two most sought-after skills today. As the patent cliff has eroded company profits, the industry has responded with large-scale layoffs, a staggering 150,000 from 2009. While the worst cuts occurred in 2009 and primarily affected sales staff, smaller waves continue to pare the workforce, extending into the scientific community. The industry is left with talent gaps that threaten its ability to perform well in an outcomes-based healthcare model.
Biopharmaceuticals is considered among the most research-intensive industries and the scientific team is the beating heart of the industry. Management expects this highly educated workforce to develop a constant stream of profitable new products. The challenge is immense.
Thousands of drug compounds are in some phase of clinical trial today. But there’s no guarantee the comparatively few compounds that launch will be enough to counteract lost sales from patent expirations. Although drug approvals peaked in 2012, they have remained below 40 per year since 2002 even as R&D spending has increased (Figure 1).
In essence, the industry must make more therapies that fill unmet need, at a lower cost, with fewer resources than ever.
So companies are changing how they conduct R&D, not only reconfiguring existing operations, such as an increasing focus on biologics, but also looking outside for promising new alliances that will help boost capabilities and replenish the pipeline more rapidly.
Partnerships with academic medical centers (AMCs) and third parties, such as contract research organizations (CROs), are the two most common, aside from government contracts.
In the new pressure-cooker environment, traditional competitors are teaming up to tackle shared R&D challenges. Consortiums, alliances with foundations, and even crowdsourcing are among the new approaches. Done well, these relationships complement in-house R&D and allow companies to share both risk and reward with external partners.
But the new models can’t stand on their own without an effective HR strategy. In a recent PwC global survey, CEOs identify talent gaps as the second biggest threat to their growth prospects, behind anxiety about corporate tax burdens. Human resources (HR) leaders should play a key role in shaping partnerships and developing an accompanying talent strategy for their scientific workforce. HR must be at the forefront of ensuring their organizations are properly equipped with the right mix of people and talent in R&D.
To gain a better understanding of how life science organizations are refashioning their R&D organizational models and approach to scientific talent, PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) conducted in-depth interviews with human capital and R&D leaders and a telephone survey of 130 US life sciences industry leaders with human capital responsibilities. Among the insights:
- Fifty-one percent of life science executives, the highest of 19 sectors, report that hiring has become more difficult than before, with only 28% saying they’re very confident they’ll have access to top talent.
- Some 60% of pharmaceutical executives say they intend to increase investments over the next three years to create a more skilled workforce. And 72% intend to increase their R&D capacity in the next 12 months.
- Only half of HR professionals surveyed feel their leadership views them as a strategic function, as opposed to tactical. The role is still limited to hiring and firing functions for many companies.
- Performance incentives should combine "soft" and "hard" metrics, and need not be limited to financial targets.
- Scientists want career paths that recognize and reward their passion and commitment to research, not just additional responsibilities. Too often, scientists are pushed out of what they do best – research -- and saddled with management chores that distract them.
Finally, senior executives must act as a powerful motivating force for their people. Companies with decades-long legacies have lost their edge due to repeated layoffs, wearing down the morale of scientific staff. Working with HR, leaders can convey a compelling mission that employees will not only accept, but embrace.