For better or for worse, there seems to be a lot of people like me, folks who are discovering that the biotech world gives them the satisfactions and rewards they always wanted—and then some. I haven't seen any numbers I trust yet, but it's pretty clear that in the war for talent, Big Pharma now has a powerful competitor. If companies want to have a sporting chance in that war, they need to start thinking about why biotech is so appealing—and how they can get some of that appeal themselves.
Innovation FirstIn a lot of ways, biotech is what I used to think pharma was—the right place at the right time. That's partly a matter of technology: With its focus on genetics, biotech is closer to where the action is in pharmaceutical innovation, with a concentration on pharmacogenomics and research that focuses in on patients rather than diseases. But biotech is also at an appealing point in the industry lifecycle. The field is no longer tiny—according to Richard Oliver, author of The Coming Biotech Age, biotech is a $1 trillion industry in the United States. The top companies, such as Amgen and Genentech, are giving traditional pharma companies a run for their money. Business Week named Amgen fourth on the S&P 500 in 2004 for being the most "future-oriented" of the 500 corporations on the list. But at the same time, most individual biotech companies are relatively small and far more entrepreneurial than the traditional pharma company.
Mark Ahn, Ph.D, who left Big Pharma to become president and CEO of Hana Biosciences in San Francisco, felt that the challenge in Big Pharma is that innovations and advancements are slowed. "The bureaucracy which comes with size can also choke off sources of innovation and energy," Ahn said. "A smaller organization can take advantage of its size and focus, while being mindful of the ever-changing demands of growth." The freedom to explore and experiment was an enticement to Ahn, who felt that in addition to more scientific opportunities, the biotech model was more focused on new experiences that concentrate on patients.
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