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European Pharmaceutical Recruitment in Times of Change

European Pharmaceutical Recruitment in Times of Change


All industries today face perpetual change and the need to cope with new challenges; nowhere is this trend more prevalent than in the life sciences industries, ie pharmaceuticals, biotech, diagnostics, medical devices and healthcare services.
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

In addition to the traditional market forces of competition, globalisation, changing customer requirements and input costs, life science companies must transform structure and working methods continually to meet their own particular business objectives. Life sciences companies ranging from the smallest biotech to the largest multinational pharmaceutical have to balance spending plans with the need to satisfy shareholders/investors. For recruitment companies in this sector the impact of all this change creates its own set of challenges, particularly when working with big pharmaceutical companies where major changes tend to be broader and more disruptive, and wholesale changes are often made at a stroke to improve performance.
An example of this is the relatively recent trend in some larger pharmaceutical companies to change the role of physicians. Only a few years ago, within major pharmaceutical companies there were several physicians in a given therapy area overseeing the full spectrum of medical issues. In the very largest of companies, within a given therapy focus, one senior medic oversaw Clinical Development, another looked after Medical Affairs and yet a third administered Drug Safety, including Pharmacovigilance. In some companies, according to workload, there were additional physicians in each area, many with considerable medical experience in a narrow therapy area and a single functional discipline. Supporting the physicians in each area would be equivalent non-medics, for example highly qualified scientists in, say, Clinical Development, or even more specialised in, for instance Pharmacogenomics. There would be non-medic product and programme managers in Medical Affairs and experienced Drug Safety executives to support Drug Safety physicians. This made sense since each therapy focus and each development phase of a product has different medical issues to address, and different levels of complexity. But in all areas, whether therapeutic or functional, there exists the ever-present need for a physician to provide not only medical opinion but also the sign-off of particular documents and submissions in line with regulatory compliance.
Physicians in industry tend to be very well rewarded, usually considerably more than highly qualified scientists or specialist administrators in such areas as Clinical Development, Drug Safety and Regulatory Affairs. In the last few years, several major pharmaceutical companies have made changes that have effectively reduced the numbers of physicians on the payroll. In some companies, senior physicians have been asked to cover more than just one therapy area where possible, for example, combining Oncology with Haematology. In others, physicians have been asked to cover two functions, for example Clinical Development and Drug Safety. In medium-sized and small pharmaceutical companies such “doubling up” of activities is more common. Such changes in some large companies have almost halved the number of physicians looking after therapy areas, except where new therapy focus areas have been introduced. In that situation, the company might not have an internal physician with experience in the new focus area, thereby requiring the recruitment of a physician with just the right skills and experience. A recent common change has been to combine Clinical Development and Drug Safety under one physician, which often requires the recruitment of a medic from outside with skills in both areas.
For recruitment firms, helping pharmaceutical companies recruit physicians into combined roles as described above has been less of a problem than at first it seemed. Although the total number of places for physicians in larger pharmaceutical companies might have declined, the new roles require higher calibre individuals with experience either in more than one therapy area or in more than one function. The candidate pools for such individuals are smaller and good candidates demand higher remuneration. In addition, the physicians forced back on to the market are mostly highly qualified in a given therapy area and/or function and can be placed successfully into companies with different organisational structures and cultures, be they large, medium or small.
A major force impacting the industry today is Directive2004/27/EC, enacted in October 2005 by the EC Regulatory Body which revised rules governing medical products in the EC. Volume 9 of the Directive requires that the function of Pharmacovigilance (PCV), in every pharmaceutical or biotech company, be headed by a Qualified Person (QP) responsible for all aspects of PCV, including the setting up of effective systems, the issuing of specified safety reports and dealing with the competent authorities and other regulatory bodies. The QP does not have to be a physician, but has to have considerable experience of PCV and must have been formally trained as a QP. If the QP is not a physician, he or she must have a qualified physician - preferably with General Medical Council registration in the UK, or Board Certification in other countries – to hand who can sign off medically important information or statements with respect to PCV matters. This move by the regulators led to a rush to recruit high quality physicians of QP status to head up PCV departments across Europe. Such physicians are very rare, and those willing to take on the role of QP Pharmacovigilance are therefore in high demand, and able to command very attractive salary and benefits packages. Recruiters with their finger on the pulse are positioned to add considerable value to their clients with these needs!
The secret for the recruiter is to be close enough to companies and potential candidates to notice the trends in individual companies, or across industry, whenever they occur.
Another key issue featured in the pharmaceutical press in the last twelve months has been how best to re-organise the medical sales force. In Europe, many companies are looking closely at the cost effectiveness of medical representatives calling on GPs and are looking at alternatives. In the UK, it is said that the average time given to a medical representative by a GP is four minutes –down from seven minutes 10 years ago. A medical sales force is expensive, with packages that include a good salary, a motor vehicle and other benefits. Moreover, the role of GPs in buying decisions has changed. Ten years ago in the UK, GP practices began to look after their own purchasing, so GPs had the opportunity to make considerable input to buying decisions. Over time, GP practices combined to form GP Group Purchasing Organisations for a number of GP practices, then Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), until today there are huge purchasing organisations for a number of PCTs, often covering a whole region of the UK and handling £multi-million deals.
As a result of the concentration of purchasing power with respect to Primary Care Trusts in Europe, a new kind of role is emerging in the pharmaceutical companies, the PCT Liaison Manager/Director (or similar title) responsible for putting together and winning major product and service deals with the large PCT purchasing organisations. So where do the GP sales representatives fit into this? The answer is not “they don’t”. They still have the opportunity to talk to GPs about fewer products, but can focus on newer and emerging products. The demise of the GP sales force has not happened yet, so there will still be a need for Sales Representatives, Regional Managers, Area Managers and Product Managers for some time to come, but the exciting task for recruiters is to identify and place the “big deal makers”, ie the individuals who can make business with the PCT and Hospital Trusts. And that brings rewards for everyone.

Roger Anderson: