The life sciences industry is undergoing seismic change.

Planning for the future is crucial at any stage, but right now it is everything. Companies are looking into crystal balls to decide what their organisation must look like so that it can meet the future needs of an increasingly personalised, stratified healthcare market.

Despite the well-publicised reductions in headcount across global Life Sciences, finding and placing transformational talent is still a major hurdle for them all. Top talent are not being hired from the ranks of the downsized but are still being attracted away from active roles, where they are doing great things.

Workforces are now – and will become more – agile and flexible. This brings about a rise in the acceptance and use of Interim Executives or Consultants.

New talent is being grown internally – or directed to – key areas of change within the industry, these include translational medicine, understanding the systems the biology underlying clinical trials data, regulatory and QA, R&D outsourcing and commercial market access. Life Sciences organisations should consider how similar the models of outsourced R&D and outsourced Executive Search are and therefore how in-house talent groups can achieve more by effective global partnering.

#Interim executives

Today’s and tomorrow’s companies are being built on an agile combination of permanent and flexible talent. This is something we began to see in the pre 9/11 boom-time and why, in 2002, we created an Interim Executive offering. It is noteworthy that today we are again seeing a bull market for Life Sciences in the USA in particular and a key trend in the industry today is an increase in the use of Interim Executives. These professionals bring a highly flexible highly experienced executive work force to address short and mid-term problems. An Interim provides immediate access to experience and expertise that has built up over time across a range of relevant organisations and geographies; they can be brought in quickly to solve particular issues; to supplement and mentor permanent staff. For example, small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can access skills that they cannot afford to retain in-house, while larger organisations can engage an experienced Interim to fill a gap or help successfully turn a project around.

There is a flexibility that comes through the use of Interim Executives that allows multinational companies to adapt to the next phase of pharma.

#Systems biology & informatics

Life Sciences was once driven by its chemistry. Now it is driven by biology and complex data. In order to exploit these new talents needs to be acquired or grown internally. A new generation of scientist-informaticians are unravelling the complexities of systems biology and the impact of genomics on patient outcomes. This is not just in discovery or academics Experimental Medicine. There is an absolute requirement for deeper understanding of the systems biology underlying today’s clinical development data. This use of systems biology and bioinformatics has impact from Boardroom to bedside and will define the next generation of Life Sciences products. These translational skills are already in high demand between Life Sciences firms, informatics start-ups with now $1bn valuations (e.g. Foundation Medicine) and at the interface of industry and academia. All are associated with the demand for more personalised/precision medicines.


R&D outsourcing is an on-going trend and companies are learning from their experiences over recent years, both good and bad. The key to success in this is more than just signing up contract houses at low FTE rates. Success is driven by people who can forge true working partnerships with an integrated network of global companies. This is a new skills area and one where the industry is developing a new cohort of talent. The best talent will be sought out because the activity is key to the future of discovery.

In a direct corollary Outsourced Executive Search will also remain an important component of recruitment. It is a skilled professional service that couples global market insight, effective communication, professional judgement and high quality service. Like outsourced R&D outsourced Executive Search firms are focused and targeted on that discipline alone and therefore excels in it. The emergence of significant in-house talent acquisition (TA) groups within Life Sciences is a positive and another similarity to the R&D outsourcing trend. TA groups are able to meet the needs of many roles and package up work for outsourcing from their organisations. In fact they are sourcing many of their staff from outsourced executive search firms. Outsourced Executive Search can be, and should be an important strategic partner of talent acquisition just as contract R&D firms now are to their clients. It is an important adjunct to what talent acquisition provides. Both groups can – and must – work together more effectively – like their R&D relatives – to ensure that they recognise and then exploit each others capabilities.


The pace of change and stringency of regulatory and quality requirements affecting Life Sciences companies have never been higher. It is an imperfect storm. Where historically, regulatory personnel may have been seen as working in locally both geographically and functionally, today, with industry regulations continuing to change globally, regionally and locally, regulatory affairs and quality now sit right at the heart of business strategy.

Although activities of dossier preparation, submission, quality-by-design initiatives and approval are still key requirements of the regulatory and QA functions there are more strategic requirements to consider. Companies now require regulatory professionals who can demonstrate experience and success in delivering progressive regulatory strategies across multiple geographies; professionals who have knowledge, understanding and access to key decision-makers and influencers in regulatory authorities in addition to commercial acumen and the ability to translate value and risk of regulatory and quality strategies to the broader business.

The ability of companies to attract, develop and retain highly knowledgeable and skilled regulatory professionals has always been high but the bar is rising every day. New ways need to be found to grow and develop regulatory talent within the industry. Although excellent talent is hard at work, an expansion of the talent pool is critical for current and future business success.

#Market access

The increasing stratification and globalisation of Life Sciences products means that Market Access is now more complex – and important – than ever. Commercialisation teams now require broader skills and a wider understanding of the science and of regional healthcare economics. As organisations combine portfolios of Medical Technologies, OTC, diagnostics, preventative interventions and therapies the approach to markets requires many more touch points and at many different times in the healthcare lifecycle. This (again) requires new thinking and new skills. These skills may come from the industry or by xenograft from close cousin industries such as nutrition or consumer products. These new models are changing the face of Life Sciences and increasingly engaging the patient, rather than simply the physician.


Recruitment is now viewed by many organisations not as a local but as a global activity. Decisions are being taken on behalf of the multinational organisation from the centre. This approach is natural and mirrors many of the models in R&D and outsourcing. What is needed for success in this centralised model is excellent understanding of the many distant environments into which those roles will be placed. It requires all local insights to be shared and acted upon at the centre of the business. This is a major challenge and is another area where TA groups and outsourced providers can co-operate to ensure time and money are not wasted by ineffective, short-lived placements caused through ‘hiring at a distance’.

Although trends come and go, there will always be two priorities forever trending in recruitment: Source highly skilled #talent and Improve #quality of hire.

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