Talent War in Life Sciences

Much has been written in the past year about the “Great Resignation.” Quantitative ranks (data scientists, biostatistics, bioinformatics professionals) have been among the hardest hit in this wave. Spurred by the pandemic, this undeniable trend has forced pharmaceutical, biotech, and healthcare companies to develop new strategies to attract and retain their valuable quant talent.

Leaders across the industry report that they are struggling to find staff and hire candidates before competition poaches their own teams. This is particularly acute in biotech havens like Boston or The Bay Area, where Ph.D. and Masters-level quant talent are being siphoned off by the robust private equity-fueled startup scene. Despite massive hiring, biotech grew just 3% in size in 2021 (to 283.645 employees) due to attrition.

“The attrition issue, the retaining and recruitment, is one of the top two or three priorities we are hearing in the industry,” said Arda Ural, Ph.D., America’s Leader for Life Sciences for EY, in an interview.

Furthermore, salary inflation in the quantitative ranks is growing “at an incredible level,” said Otto Stampacchia, Managing Director of biotech investment shop Omega Funds.

“Everybody we meet has six offers, and so it becomes a timing issue more than anything else,” Immunitas CEO Jeff Goldberg said.

Burnout might be having an impact, as well. The shortage of staff has resulted in quant talent working at a frantic pace and for long hours. This unsustainable trend has been going on for the past 18-21 months as biopharma raced to turnout vaccines and treatments related to COVID, as well as get their other products to market.

The result is that the talent acquisition teams within human resources departments across the industry are being forced to innovate. They are buying new tools and technologies at an incredible pace. One of our fast-growing biotech clients in 2021 switched talent management platforms and added 3 new sourcing tools to their recruiters’ quiver. They are also experimenting with new recruitment models that include outsourcing of various stages of the process, supplementing their ranks with contractors and independent consultants.