By Paul Brennan, NervGen Pharma
Three decades ago, few companies in the biosciences sector employed consultants. In the intervening decades, more and more companies began augmenting their workforce with consultants. Why are so many bioscience and pharma companies employing consultants and what criteria should be employed in hiring the best people? At a time when many industries have been eviscerated by the pandemic, the need for more powerful and effective drugs never stops, nor does the need for talented and committed employees and contractors.
The global biotechnology market is expected to reach $2.44 trillion by 2028, according to a report by Grand View Research, Inc. It is expected to expand at a CAGR of 15.83% from 2021 to 2028. Some factors driving the market include the launch of new and advanced products and a robust investment in the biotechnology sector. A growing market of this size demands highly skilled employees and consultants who can help deliver on the major goals of these companies. In addition, the pandemic has been a catalyst for market growth, with biotech companies at the forefront of the development of drugs to prevent and treat COVID-19.
As these companies are handling a wide array of activities ranging from product development, budget oversight, and productivity, flexibility, and budget are of paramount concerns. Companies may not need someone full time but do need a particular expertise. By hiring consultants, you can on-board people with subject matter expertise minus an expensive long-term commitment or a full-time salary. Independent contractors can make more money than an employee, as companies may pay consultants more because you don’t have to pay health benefits, unemployment compensation, and government taxes such as Social Security and Medicare.
And of course, the age-old reason for finding specialist expertise that is not broadly available still applies. Although these consultants are getting more expensive, my experience is that when the expertise is needed, it’s usually worth the cost.
The types of roles being filled by biotech consultants have grown considerably, as companies are becoming more confident and familiar with working with consultants, and more employees are interested in pursuing a consultant career. Thirty to 40 years ago, consultants tended to have a very specific area of expertise that wasn’t broadly available, such as regulatory experience at the FDA or another competent authority. Today, the biotech sector employs a wide variety of disparate consultants who often act as substitutes for employees. Today most consultants are less specialized but have a broader level of expertise, including manufacturing, business development, regulatory affairs, clinical operations, medical science, project management, quality assurance and quality control, investor and public relations, and more.
Consultants play an integral role in helping biotech companies to deliver on their individual approaches to addressing serious diseases that have shown promise in clinical trials – drugs targeting everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer, infectious diseases, orphan diseases, and more. For companies that don’t have access to staff to ensure their drug discovery and development progresses in a competent and timely manner, or that their development programs meet regulatory compliance, the available consultant pool is becoming an essential resource.
How To Find A Biotech Consultant
Word-of-mouth referrals are important in the biotech sector as it is not uncommon for consultants to be hired based on previous work accomplishments. References are an important way for consultants to find work and equally important for companies to identify consultants.
Whether you’re at a company that is anticipating growth and the need to hire consultants or planning to eventually become a consultant, it is important to continue building your network. A strong contact base ensures the availability of multiple sources to fulfill your consultancy needs.
As the consulting profession grows, conferences are now becoming a great place to identify and network with consultants. An example of this is the partnering forum at BIO. Although typically thought of as a forum for discussion between licensing professionals, it is now becoming a more fulsome event. The forum is filled with companies, CROs, and now consultants that are looking to find their match.
Breaking The Fallacy About Consultants
A common fallacy about consultants is that they are not as engaged as employees. It’s up to the bioscience company to ensure that consultants are engaged and productive. It’s important for company leaders to ensure consultants are as engaged and committed to the company’s success as employees are.
Some ways to ensure that consultants are committed and engaged include:
Having a Seat at the Table – It’s important to ensure that consultants are up to date on company activities. Ensuring that consultants are invited to regularly held company meetings is recommended. It’s important that all team members, whether staff or consultants, are invited to weigh in on meeting agenda items. If the consultant represents a strategically important function of the company, consider including the consultant in your executive meetings. There is no better way to encourage their engagement than including them in strategic discussions.
Goal Setting – Let’s face it: The road to delivering innovative new drugs to the market is bumpy and full of twists and turns. Ensuring that consultants participate in your goal setting process helps ensure they remain committed to helping establish and meet the goals required to get the company to the finish line.
Equity Stake – Stock options have been the equity award of choice for biotech companies. Stock options provide consultants and employees with the ability to participate in equity appreciation without an up-front investment of money. Many bioscience start-ups have the opportunity to offer consultants some meaningful ownership in the company. Stock options, which generally vest over a certain period of years, allow the consultant to share in the rewards of a company that succeeds. In the healthcare sector, many biotech and pharmaceutical companies use stock options as part of employee and consultant compensation. Attracting, retaining, and motivating consultants through appropriately designed equity incentives is recommended.
Of course, stock options are only as good as company performance. When consultants are offered to take stock options in a biotech company, they need to evaluate the company’s liquidity, performance, and goals to determine if their blood, sweat, and tears have a formidable chance of translating to future profits.
Restricted stock, which is actual shares granted or sold to consultants that are subject to transfer and forfeiture restrictions and a vesting schedule, can also be used.
Recognition – In addition to participating in company meetings, make sure that your consultants are considered in your employee recognition programs, regardless of how formal they may be.
Titles – Many people don’t think of this, but it’s entirely appropriate to give consultants a formal title within the organization, at every level within the organization. I’ve even held the title of CEO as a consultant. Titles confer both a level of pride and ownership in the company that goes well beyond what can be provided by monetary compensation.
With the life sciences marketplace ever changing and evolving at a rapid pace, biotech companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers need to dutifully grow revenue and market share, as industry dynamics drive increased focus on regulatory compliance, lower costs, innovation, and network flexibility. Consultants play an integral role in the life sciences marketplace as they pursue growth opportunities and tackle multiple scientific, business, and regulatory challenges to help shape and grow the life sciences marketplace.
About the Author:
Paul Brennan is president and CEO of NervGen Pharma Corp., a biotech company dedicated to creating innovative solutions for the treatment of nerve damage and neurodegenerative diseases. He has more than 30 years of experience in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries working in leadership roles in general management, corporate strategy, commercial planning, business development, and regulatory affairs in Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.