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What’s Best for You: Big Corporate or Small Biotech?

It used to be that Biotech companies were simply focused on research, and by the time the fruits of their labour were ready to commercialise, a big corporate would snap them up and get all the glory. There was also the thought that Biotech companies were focused on proteins or large molecules, whereas corporate pharmaceutical companies focused their R&D efforts in the small molecule discoveries.

However, like everything in life, things change, and Biotech companies such as Gilead and Celgene have successfully made the move from niche developer to significant players at the global level.

The one thing that does remain however, is their level of focus, with the overarching purpose of any Biotech company fitting into one of the following business models;

  • Developing a molecule, gaining regulatory approval and then commercialising it in order to become a new drug company in its own right
  • Developing a molecule to the point where it has enough clinical data to give prospective investors confidence in it becoming commercialised, and then selling it (or even the whole company) to a Pharma company to take it forward
  • Purchasing or developing a molecule, designing robust clinical programmes around it and then selling or licencing it to a Pharma company. The main difference here is that it would only be sold to a Pharma company who were able to finalise the clinical trials necessary to get the drug over the line.

As the latter two scenarios involve the Biotech company focusing solely on research and development, and not the commercialisation of the product, then unless you are a scientist or medical doctor, it is unlikely you’ll have any opportunities to work in companies with these business models.

One interesting consideration is that over the last few years many Pharma companies (especially some of the bigger players like Novartis and MSD), have taken some key learnings from their Biotech counterparts and created their own sub-specialty divisions, or in the case of GSK and Pfizer, their own sub-companies (ViiV) to build up their specialty knowledge, credibility, and focus.

What’s the difference between Biotech and Pharma when it comes to Sales and Marketing jobs?

In most cases the real answer to this question is about size. The majority of big corporates have multiple divisions and offices all over the world, giving both prospective and current employees opportunities to progress, broaden their experiences and live and work in almost any region of the world. That’s not to say Biotech’s aren’t international, they clearly are, however they’re likely to have less affiliates and less job opportunities compared to the bigger players.

Also, whilst every few years there can be restructures, for the most part Big Pharma is a stable industry in terms of revenue, and these companies tend to have a wider range of molecules in their portfolios and pipelines. Over-lay this with shareholder reports and company forecasts, and it becomes much easier to predict what might happen over the medium term within Big Pharma companies. This means you can make the move in joining one with a pretty clear idea of what a career path might look like.

This is clearly an attractive proposition for many people, so it should come as no surprise to hear that competition for jobs to get into these companies can be high. Then once you’re in the door you have to compete with other quality people, so you’re looking at hard work and good results before you can expect a promotion.

From a Biotech perspective, life can be a little more unpredictable (or exciting depending on your point of view). This is largely because Biotech companies often rely on venture capital companies to fund them, which means as long as they’re getting a return, the funding will continue. However if they only have one or two drugs to rely on, if anything goes seriously wrong, such as failed trials or adverse events, then things can take a downward turn quite quickly.

Taking a more optimistic view, if new data emerges or a gap appears in the market, funding can also increase quite quickly, meaning rapid company growth. When this happens, if you’ve been part of the previous wave of success, then there could be a promotion opportunity and you could find you’re in the right place at the right time. You might also be lucky enough to see Company shares in a Biotech skyrocket overnight, so if you have shares then it could become very exciting indeed!

Finally, let’s consider the cultural differences that often exist between these two types of company.

Big Pharma is often perceived as more conservative and stable in terms of its culture. For some people this is exactly the environment they need in order to be successful.

Alternatively, Biotech companies, especially those that are closer to the start-up phase, can operate more like a technology company where cultures can be more progressive, fast paced and are often about having people with entrepreneurial spirit.

As you can see, there are differences between the two types of company, so being aware of company culture and how it’s likely to vary can go a long way towards finding which environment will suit you best.

So, the question is, which do you think is right for you? Our advice is to keep open minded and speak to your CHASE Recruitment Consultant who will be able to dig deeper and tell you more about each specific opportunity.

If you’d like to arrange a confidential discussion to explore your career options, please email your CV over to or call us on 0131 553 6644 and we can take it from there.

We look forward to speaking with you!

Clare Jones
Senior Recruitment Consultant; North West / North Wales / Yorkshire