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 Howard


co-founder of Advanced Biologics in Lambertville, Bill


of Ken Clark Associates, and attorney Richard Rosenblatt of

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


With Michael Corrado, he founded Advanced Biologics, a service

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:

The big pharmas. Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Merck, Johnson

& 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?

Smaller biotech companies. Bigger doesn’t invariably mean

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


Bench chemist Niel Lister, who moved into a small biotech


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.

Service companies. Since the 1990s New Jersey businesses

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 Chris Welsh, who has recently moved to Cranbury

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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