Corrections or additions?
This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the December 4, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Garden State: Biotech Boomtown — Howard Solomon
In the face of dwindling farmlands and a pharmaceutical
industry that is powering 40 percent of the state’s economy, it is
not too surprising that some financial wags have replaced New Jersey’s
"Garden State" nickname with "America’s Drug Capitol."
While this moniker might easily burden our state with a misconstrued
image, the facts are undeniable. Of the $179 billion our nation made
in pharmaceutical sales last year, $127 billion came right from New
Jersey businesses. And on a more personal note, life science
working in the Garden State are earning $7,500 above the national
Both employers and potential employees seeking to profit from this
boom are the focus of "Recruitment, Retention, and Compensation
in the Life Sciences and Biotech Industries" on Thursday, December
5, at 4 p.m. at Ortho Biotech in Bridgewater. Cost: $20. Call
The New Jersey Technology Council (NJTC), sponsor of the event,
panelists from all aspects of the industry, including
co-founder of Advanced Biologics in Lambertville,
of Ken Clark Associates, and attorney
the law firm Morgan Lewis.
"Exactly what part of the biotech arena a person goes into,"
notes panelist Solomon, "depends primarily on his state of
After a boyhood in North Bergen, Solomon took a straight forward hard
science route, earning a biochemistry B.S. from Drew University and
a microbiology Ph.D. from Rutgers. He even taught at Loyola University
for eight years. As a research director at Merck and then at Johnson
& Johnson, Solomon headed the development of such prime drugs as
for cholesterol and Fosomax to fight osteoporosis. By 1995 Solomon
decided to "step out of big pharmas" and become an
company, which guides drug inventors large and small from the first
clinical trials right through to the retailers shelves.
As Solomon sees it, life science and biotech professionals are people
who can put their skills to work in three major business milieus:
& Johnson and the other major players in the pharmaceutical field,
these are the big players, and by in large they have laid claim to
a justifiable reputation for generosity. Typically these employers
lavish the most extensive array of benefits on their employees,
from outstanding medical insurance to on-site dental and dry cleaning
pick-up to gourmet take-home dinners. Working equipment is unlimited.
So too is travel time and compensation for conferences and educational
seminars. These firms have grown huge by being on technology’s cutting
edge and they want their employees to remain optimally informed.
Also job stability remains unrivaled. They don’t call it
aid for nothing. America’s love affair with new drugs, unlike
or hula hoops, is not based on consumer whim, but rather lies
rooted in a real need for self-preservation.
Even when such perceived threats as homeopathic medications loom on
the medicinal horizon, the big pharma players have shown themselves
adaptable enough to incorporate the newcomers and translate them into
a handy profit.
Solomon, however, suggests asking some serious questions before
on. What are the stock options like? In some cases they turn out to
be little more than payroll savings with less growth than a government
bond. What are the promotion opportunities and will you find yourself
living in six different locales in the next five years just to keep
your position? What are the reward/compensation packages for
and team invention? Finally, for how long does your contract lock
you into a non-competition clause?
better. Solomon admits that while very cozy for some, the big pharma
firms do not offer everyone a research Eden. The individual seeking
a less constrained atmosphere may well find a home in a smaller
recalls his two stints with major drug firms: "Three times a week
I would spend most of my afternoons with 11 other guys all of whom
wanted to know why I wasn’t producing. They were all management and
spent most of their lives in meetings. I always felt like telling
them that if they’d let me out of their conference room, I could go
back to the lab and produce."
"These early-discovery, small biotechs are definitely
Solomon says, "but they are definitely for the risk takers."
Generally the up and coming bio techs are setting their business plan
on one drug that can boom or bust. This means they are also hitching
your star to that same substance. There’s nothing necessarily wrong
with putting all your eggs in one basket, warns Solomon, just make
sure you examine that basket. "Look not only at the drug’s
he advises, "but its marketability and production capability.
Conduct a one-person business audit of its potential success."
Compensation at such smaller, early-stage discovery firms is often
heavily weighted with stock options. Yet how much of this untried
business’ stock do you want as part of your pay package? Medical and
other benefits will probably be a bit tighter, but on the other hand,
here is the chance for a scientist to cross the line and become a
partner and a real entrepreneur.
have lavished over $20 billion on clinical research. Current estimates
claim that between 30 and 40 percent of that is outsourced from major
manufacturers to smaller, specialized firms. For scientists like
who co-founded Advanced Biologics in l995, this path combines the
entrepreneurial excitement and thrill of scientific discovery with
a little more stability than the smaller biotech startup.
Service companies stay afloat by contracting research chores of all
sizes from huge drug manufacturing firms. "This provides a whole
broad spectrum of employment opportunities," says Solomon.
companies hire medical writers, biostatisticians, management teams
to deal with the FDA, everyone, including scientists from the bench
chemist and technician right on up." It is a wide, varied, stable,
and comparatively high-salaried industry.
One other form of Garden State life science compensation has been
found by chemist
and taken a position at Merck. "You aren’t alone here," he
says. "You feel a whole community of scientists — a tangible
network. I mean yes, you can telecommunicate in other areas, but here
(in New Jersey) there is always someone you can talk to and share
ideas with right down the road." Regardless of your mindset or
business milieu, this is definitely a valuable form of compensation.
— Bart Jackson
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