By Tarquin Bennett-Coles, Principal Consultant, Life Sciences & Pharma

A historic vote that was given to settle a longstanding debate, Brexit continues to plague the public, the politicians and people in business by causing a blockade on all strategic, long-term plans.  It’s been almost three years since the EU referendum and yet, in 2019, yet we are still no closer to a Brexit resolution.

Perhaps unsurprising are the struggles that even leading players in the UK market have faced with regard to talent attraction since June 2016 – after all, without regulatory certainty and a roadmap for the future, individuals are understandably apprehensive about applying for jobs. Pharma is not unique in this, but a 30 per cent drop in applications over the last 12 months now threatens to topple the UK’s dominant position on the global stage.

The sector may not have reached breaking point just yet, but action must be taken fast if pharma is to secure the right talent for the right roles at the right time and not risk compromising its ability to compete effectively. Instead of waiting for the fog to clear, pharma companies must look explore new methods of tackling talent shortages before the industry collides into a colossal skills crisis.

Digital transformation in pharma

With the life sciences sector already in a state of flux thanks to digital transformation and regulatory change, organisations are under mounting pressure to innovate in order to drive cost efficiencies and boost productivity. Fortunately, as medical devices receive the IoT makeover and data collection instruments become increasingly commonplace, pharma researchers have the means to acquire real-time information that can make for better decision-making to improve treatments and edge the competition.

In collaboration with Proteus Digital Health, Tokyo-based Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co Ltd has broken ground with an innovative, ingestible tablet that provides a live response to how particular food affects the human body. Together, they have achieved FDA approval for the first “digital medicine system”, ABILIFY MYCITE®, a drug-device combination product comprised of Otsuka’s oral aripiprazole tablets embedded with an Ingestible Event Marker (IEM) sensor.

When the patient takes their pill, it quickly dissolves in the stomach and causes a small voltage as a small amount of magnesium and copper collide. The voltage is picked up by a sensor on the body that is stuck to the arm and relays the information to an app and then back to the physician.  With FDA approval, Otsuka and Proteus can help individuals with serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to engage with their doctors about their treatment plans in a new way.

Beyond drug development, key players in the pharmaceutical industry are tapping into the global trend of remote health monitoring and personalised care. Astra Zeneca offer a great example of this; their Day-by-Day coaching service for patients recovering from a heart attack provides a combination of digital content and one-to-one coaching. Advancements such as these serve as evidence of the digital disruption currently happening in life sciences and the potential that lies ahead – of course, without the right blend of skills, pharma will struggle to develop and deliver the innovative products the market expects.

Cross-sector collaboration

With Brexit forever-looming like a dark cloud on the horizon, digital transformation has accelerated somewhat since the referendum as a response to the growing talent gap felt throughout UK pharma. Indeed, we are now beginning to see the traditional pharma powerhouses like Novartis, GSK and Novo Nordisk et al closely collaborating with technology’s behemoths such as Google, IBM and Qualcomm in search of new business models backed by technology.

The synergies between the two sectors are clear to see; the potential that lies in convergence between pharma and technology already being realised to bring about innovation and develop drugs that improve patient outcomes.

With digital transformation, however, comes a need for specialists in core areas such as data science, analytics, robotics, AI and automation. You cannot innovate through technological adoption without the inhouse capability, so naturally, data scientists have become high on the list of talent that pharma needs for the future.

Starting with skills

Accessing this talent will require more strategic recruitment strategies and a change of tactic. Rather than looking to the available talent in the pharma pool, you should start by identifying the skills you need to execute transformation and drive technological innovation. They might come from pharma, but there’s a good chance the talent you need could be currently working in tech.

Novartis are a good example of a pharma company who have succeeded in this approach; their heads of Data Science and Data Strategy boasting backgrounds in finance and technology as opposed to life sciences. Similarly, their first Chief Digital Officer came from Amazon and retail, he had no prior experience in pharma before joining Novartis. What attracted Novartis to these candidates was the mentality of those working in that sector – the way in which they disseminate data; their respective leadership styles; their experience in driving digital transformation.

While Brexit uncertainty persists, a real opportunity exists for pharma to capitalise on technological advancement and improve patient outcomes. Just as the sector has collaborated with tech companies to build new business models, recruitment in pharma can no longer afford to be limited to life sciences; companies must take advantage of the talent available in the tech market to transform their operations through data and digital.

In order to acquire talent from the tech market and secure the competitive edge, pharma and biotech must learn to mirror some of the tech sector’s leaner recruitment processes and personalised compensation models. At Carmichael Fisher, we advise our life sciences clients on the nuances of the tech industry and typical candidate expectations to help them adjust their approach and give them the best chance in taking advantage of a new talent pool.

About By Tarquin Bennett-Coles

Tarquin is spearheading Carmichael Fishers expansion across the UK from the world renowned life science hub in Cambridge. He has over two decades of life science executive search and interim management experience. A regular contributor to a range industry content, from Podcasts with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society to on stage on at M11 Health Enterprise Forum in June.

For more a confidential conversation about how Tarquin can help your organisation attract the next generation of Pharma-leaders, you can contact him by clicking here.

By Tarquin Bennett-Coles, Principal Consultant

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Tarquin Bennett-Coles

Principal Consultant

Tarquin is spearheading our expansion across the UK from the world renowned life science hub in Cambridge whilst continuing to work in collaboration with clients, and colleagues, in the EU and North America. Prior to this role he worked in-house with a global pharmaceutical company as a Talent Scout. He has over two decades of life science executive search and interim management experience.