Career paths in the life sciences products industry
The life sciences products industry is predicted to reach a global market size of $58 billion dollars by 2020 . The industry employs a wide range of graduates and postgraduate qualified researchers in areas such as product testing and development, product management, business development, technical support, and marketing. Research areas of interest to the industry centre on proteomics, genomics, immunology, molecular biology, epigenetics, stem cell research, neuroscience, cell biology, and metabolomics. Here we explore some of the roles and career paths on offer in the sector.
Life sciences reagents and products companies, sometimes classified within the biotechnology sector, supply a wide range of products to facilitate research in the biological sciences. Researchers who purchase products are based in academia, public sector laboratories and pharmaceutical or other biotechnology industry sectors. Core to the business is the development, testing, marketing, sale and support of products. They can cover a broad product remit. Some examples include immunoassays, antibodies, small molecules, recombinant proteins, cell lines, lysates, imaging and microscopy labelling reagents, and a wide variety of assay kits. Examples of applications for the latter include the quantification, purification or labelling of proteins and DNA.
There are companies that also provide laboratory equipment, medical devices, and software platforms to facilitate research, however, we won’t be addressing these specifically in this article.
Many companies take a combination approach of developing their own products in dedicated laboratory facilities in-house with the external sourcing of products from original equipment manufacturers, often referred to as OEM suppliers.
Examples of companies operating in the sector are Sigma Aldrich, Abbott Laboratories, Merck Millipore, Bio-Techne, Bio-Rad and Thermo-Fisher Scientific. North America has the biggest share of the life sciences reagents market, close to half according to many market estimates , .
Overview of key roles
Research and lab-based roles
Many companies develop their own in-house product lines that need development and testing. This requires the dedicated input of a research group. There are several roles available including Researcher, Senior Researcher, Scientists, Senior Scientists, Project Leaders and Senior Lab Management roles. Employers will typically ask for a minimum of a graduate qualification, in combination with extensive working experience of specified laboratory techniques.
Researchers often work in a specialised research team, which is dedicated to the development or characterisation of a particular product line. It can be a fast-paced environment, due to the tight commercial deadlines needed for product release. Good communication with senior members of the team, project managers, and commercial colleagues is needed regularly, to inform them of a project’s status. As such, researchers often work in an extended matrix team to ensure the systematic reporting of progress.
Depending on how senior your role is, you’ll need to supervise and coordinate other research staff in the team, including technicians. An industry setting means you’ll need to comply with defined quality standards within the lab, including any ISO accreditation the company may hold for products. Feedback from customers may be passed through technical support staff, which could lead to further testing or optimisation of products.
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Technical support roles
Individuals working in this area impart scientific support to customers after they have bought a product. Job titles include Scientific Support Specialist, Product Support Specialist, Technical Support Specialist and related management roles in the area. Typically, candidates are required to have a PhD. and have significant experience of laboratory techniques that customers may be using. You may be assigned a specialist area, based on your research background.
The role involves the day-to-day handling of customer enquiries and the resolution of complaints, typically by phone and email. As such, you need to be an adept problem-solver, be patient, with excellent customer manner and communication skills. Depending on where products ship, most companies have a need for multi-lingual support staff, as foreign customers may be in touch.
Any potential product concerns need to be relayed to the laboratory so that further product testing can take place on an identical batch. This sometimes involves organising a product to be shipped back from the customer. You may need to travel and represent the company at conferences and exhibitions when customers visit booths to seek direct product support or in-depth knowledge on a product.
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Marketing bioscience products involves coordinating several parallel activities to increase a brand’s reputation, product awareness and education, and ultimately sales with researchers. Roles include Marketing Specialists, Marketing Coordinators, Marketing Managers, Product Marketing Managers and Heads of Marketing. Typically, you will be assigned to a product range, that may be combined with geographical regions.
Individuals who possess a research background, or a minimum of a graduate qualification, combined with commercial marketing experience, are employed by life science reagent companies. Candidates who demonstrate commercial awareness, but lack experience may be taken on in trainee roles.
There is a mix of several channels required to undertake a successful marketing campaign. You may be required to coordinate several of these to increase qualified sales leads and customer engagement, depending on the business model. Purchasing customers often possess considerable technical knowledge, as a result, detailed and engaging technical content marketing like articles, blog posts, posters, graphics and white papers, are required both online and in print. Producing video content is also common.
Other typical activities are coordinating digital marketing that includes sending email campaigns, use of social media, (both the latter are used to disseminate technical content produced), search engine optimisation (SEO) and the management of pay per click (PPC) advertising. Exhibiting and running global events and webinars are another key way to raise awareness, educate customers and generate leads. Lead generation is critical to your role. Note that you are normally also assigned an annual budget within which, all activities must take place.
As a marketing professional, you will need to be aware of competitors in the field and may need to produce competitor analysis reports as part of your role. A significant aspect of your role involves communication, including written, presentations, and customer interactions at events.
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Product managers are assigned a portfolio of products, for which they have central responsibility. This ranges from sourcing and suggesting new products for development, to the full commercialisation, marketing and sales of product lines. Roles available include Product Manager, Senior Product Manager, New Product Line Manager and Head of Product Management.
All of the marketing activities discussed above may be used by Product Managers helping to promote products and increase customer leads for sales. In addition, the role can involve expanding your range and adding relevant products by liaising with suppliers directly, or through an internal supplier management team. Regular interaction with colleagues in manufacturing and lab facilities is also necessary to provide commercial input on the product development and testing that’s needed to improve and expand a portfolio.
Product managers, like marketers, need to have a keen awareness of competitors in their field. They will need to produce regular reports on global market trends for their product range and use these to determine pricing and product development. Designing and using surveys to gather further market insights can also be part of the role.
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Business Development roles can have a varied specification, dependent on the company you work for. However, routinely you are responsible for B2B relationships with customers in large key accounts. Accounts can be universities, public sector laboratories or pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. You provide these customers with dedicated feedback and product support, that helps bolster the relationship and sales. This will involve liaising with your company’s technical support and laboratory facilities to ensure any outstanding customer issues are resolved.
You will also be responsible for providing feedback to other commercial arms of the business on how accounts are progressing, along with any issues that have been flagged. Business Development Managers often have accompanying sales growth targets for their key accounts, as part of their remit. Furthermore, your role can usually extend to finding new strategic collaborations for your company.
Business analysts work in partnership with all key stakeholders across a company to source, prepare and analyse company data that can be used as critical knowledge to make decisions for business success. Examples include but are not limited to, customer purchasing data, customer demographics, sales and external survey data. Job titles include Business Analyst and Senior Business Analyst, Business Research Analyst and Lead Business Analyst.
You will need to gather much of the data you utilise first-hand. Some may be held in databases, so you will need excellent IT skills, which may include the use of languages like SQL to store, retrieve and manipulate data. You will also need to instigate the gathering of new data that is required for business needs through surveys, user groups, and interactions with key stakeholders. Your role will involve analysing data for significance, compiling and presenting the data and relevant conclusions in terms of its application to the business.
A combination of a life sciences and an IT qualification or skills form an ideal background for the role. You’ll need to summarise your results in reports and presentations regularly, so excellent written and verbal communication skills are required.
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There are diverse roles available to researchers with a background in the biological sciences, in the life sciences reagents industry. Laboratory-based research roles focus on product development and testing, with a preference for candidates with extensive experience in specified lab techniques. There are many other commercial roles in marketing, product management, business development, and analysis. Whilst not always a pre-requisite, those in hiring positions give preference to those with a life science background, in combination with commercial experience. Trainees positions are given to those who may not hold experience but can demonstrate commercial and business acumen.
1. Life Science Tools and Reagents: Global Markets. BCC Research. May 2016