How Pharma Innovation is Transforming Talent Trends

How Pharma Innovation is Transforming Talent Trends
Shen Mawani

3 mins

How Pharma Innovation is Transforming Talent Trends

Find out how pharma innovation is impacting the wider talent market with Shen Mawani, SRG and Philip Probert, CPI

Although inflation is the top global threat for CEOs today, PwC’s survey reveals 80% of CEOs are not planning on reducing staff remuneration and 60% of CEOs plan to maintain or grow the size of their workforce. 

To expand in the face of economic pressure, leaders across the world are seeking to cut operational costs and power innovation. However, while 48% of CEOs are diversifying their product and service offerings, skills shortages and talent attrition remain critical hurdles the pharmaceutical industry must overcome.   

Despite the challenges, opportunities for innovation abound in the pharmaceutical industry. Emerging drug modalities and Industry 4.0 are paving new paths forward, shifting business models and talent demand.

In this article, I’ll explore some of the key talent trends, challenges, and opportunities facing the pharmaceutical industry today with Dr. Philip Probert, Technology Lead for Biologics at CPI, a UK government backed, independent organisation with specialism in pharmaceutical process development, optimisation, and specialist manufacturing.

Read on for more about:

  • How emerging modalities are accelerating expansion in pharma
  • Bridging digital skills gaps through passive talent acquisition
  • Managing supply chain disruption with early talent

How emerging modalities are accelerating expansion in pharma

The long-standing role of small molecules in drug development is beginning to shift.

While small molecules currently make up around 90% of all on-the-market therapeutics today, they struggle to target proteins without well-defined binding pockets, leaving a significant number of

drug targets ‘undruggable’ due to adherence issues. Furthermore, small molecule drugs often lack universal applicability and show a lower curative potential than new drug modalities. 

Emerging modalities include:

  • Nanobodies and modified antibodies
  • Oligo-polypeptides (including: stapled and modified peptides)
  • Oligo-polynucleotides (including: siRNA, mRNA, gene therapeutics)
  • Polyglycosides
  • Macrocylic molecules
  • Drug conjugates
  • Targeted protein degraders (including: PROTACS, molecular glues)
  • Cellular therapies

Given the challenges faced, new drug modalities are set to gain precedence over the coming years, provided they prove effective and skills gaps can be addressed.

Dr Philip Probert, Head of Technical at CPI, explains, “The expansion in new modalities has led to pre-existing skills gaps to become exacerbated as organisations require broader capabilities than perhaps might have been required previously”. Dr Probert expands on the challenge, “R&D departments face a smaller talent pool with a less industrial experience because these technologies and techniques are new – this creates a bottle-neck in the expansion process where regardless of how streamlined your processes are, a lack of staff to run them will inhibit continuity and growth.”

Dr Probert says these talent acquisition challenges can be difficult to prepare for given the novel nature of emerging modalities. “While the introduction of nucleic acid based products beyond MRNA to CRISPR, and oligo based drugs is disruptive and interesting, the industry remains at an inflection point – therapeutics have the potential to become easier to make and more effective and could pave the future of pharmaceuticals but the ways in which this will be achieved remain uncertain – meaning that forecasting a future talent pipeline and training staff is challenging”

Bridging digital skills gaps through passive talent acquisition

40% of UK CEOs believe the technological skills of their workforce are misaligned with their strategic objectives. To help overcome this divide, 56% of CEOs are upskilling their workforce in technology across 2023. 

In pharma, where Industry 4.0 has played a significant role in streamlining and connecting drug discovering manufacture, digital skills remain high on the agenda for many organisations. However, they remain challenging to acquire in the current talent market. 

Dr Probert says, “There’s a much greater interest in digitalisation, automation, and process modelling as Industry 4.0 progresses in pharma, which is driving a requirement for people with not only biological and chemical experience but computing and programming.” He explains, “However, there are very few candidates that align with this – while some may have programming and modelling expertise, they lack biological experience. Organisations like CPI need scientific professionals with a wider breadth of expertise but training takes time and monetary investment, meaning that progress can lag behind its potential.”

Overcoming these talent hurdles by using a passive candidate acquisition strategy can help activate better access to niche skills and experience, however, the market can be complex to navigate without a trusted recruitment partner. In my experience at SRG, scientific professionals who are good at their jobs often lack the time to actively job-search – even if they’re unsatisfied at work.

SRG’s specialist and executive talent division, Search by SRG have an extensive passive candidate network across a wide breadth of technical and niche roles, which enables us to meet client demand, even when business models are in flux. Working with CPI, we’ve provided contractors with specialist experience to support mRNA functions, as well as providing permanent hires for other niche areas like nanotherapeutics, cell culture and cell design. 

When there’s a niche requirement for specialist talent, talent pools are inevitably smaller and more competitive to attract making an experienced recruitment partner all the more critical. 54% of pharmaceutical professionals who left their roles in the ‘Great Resignation’ of 2020-2022 did not return to the same industry, heightening talent competitivity. Working with the right partner can unlock access to new recruitment techniques like AI, and data-driven personality profiling, which can help optimise recruitment initiatives even when candidates are few and far between by minimising the chances of making a bad hire and speeding up time-to-hire.

Managing supply chain disruption with early talent

Supply chain disruptions persist in pharma where they continue to change not how, but when and where organisations are expanding. 

Dr Probert explains, “Increased investment in the life sciences post-pandemic has led to a big push for pharmaceutical organisations to expand and build new facilities. This trend is seeing more businesses hiring ahead but ongoing supply chain delays are meaning it’s taking longer for these facilities to be usable.”

Dr Probert says these delays are having a wider impact on staffing in pharma, “As organisations recruit ahead, it can be difficult to align facility readiness with staff availability, leading to wasted resources in a cost-conscious time period.”

A cost-conscious remains at the forefront for not only organisations, but employees. In research from McKinsey, inadequate compensation was listed as one of the top motivators for pharmaceutical employees that left the industry last year. 

Replenishing the talent pipeline today means thinking ahead, and actively futureproofing pipelines in the most cost-efficient way possible. An early talent strategy can offer organisations a way to bridge skills gaps through training and acquire new hires at a competitive but appropriate cost. Organisations that can reach out to students while still in education stand to benefit from a better-equipped talent network, providing exposure to emerging modalities and techniques. SRG, we help our partners achieve this through early talent programmes including internships, where we show students industry leaders and guide them through how to succeed.

Dr Probert explains how CPI is combatting this challenge by offering more opportunities for training and creating a focus on early careers. “At CPI we’ve expanded the breadth of training offered to staff which is also something staff are increasingly asking for. We also maintain a focus on early careers, bringing in and offer training opportunities to help graduate and post-graduate students get up to speed in the business”.

How SRG helps

SRG have over 30 years of experience in scientific recruitment across STEM. Our global presence, extensive talent network and expert talent consultants enable us to meet the unique requirements of every company we work with.

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