These are challenging times for the recruitment of toxicologists in the pharmaceutical industry. In a word, the supply and demand metrics are not in favor of employers.

The Leyden Group is a Colorado based, private recruiting firm. For over thirty years, my sole practice has been in the recruitment of toxicologists and product safety professionals. While serving many industries, the greatest number of the nearly 600 toxicology jobs I have filled have been with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

For the last several years, many of the roles I’ve been engaged to fill require a Ph.D. and only a few years of experience in drug safety, most often with strategic (non-lab based) drug development experience desired. At the same time, the number of laboratory based toxicology positions has diminished as the industry has evolved toward smaller companies, all without the resources to invest in GLP vivarium operations.

The need for mid-level toxicologists is well understood. Because of pipeline success and robust investment in the drug industry, scientists with some experience are needed to address the workload in data acquisition/evaluation and the preparation of regulatory dossiers as part of the pre-clinical research process. Virtually every pharmaceutical or biotechnology company has their toxicology leadership and senior contributors in place, but often lack people with less experience.

This proliferation of earlier career toxicology openings has been significant over the past few years. Commonly, hiring managers are seeking three to five years of related experience, in line with Senior or Principal Scientist titles. In these cases, companies are seeking people whose experience will allow a person to contribute immediately, without much “ramp time” to orient to a new organization.

Unfortunately, there is a significant issue associated with efforts to hire these relatively early career toxicologists. Starting in 2007 there was a significant slowdown in the pharmaceutical economy, corresponding with a time that the industry virtually stopped hiring entry level scientists. At that time, because of financial headwinds, many drug companies eliminated positions and significantly reorganized. While the industry is now prospering and investment in the biotechnology realm is much increased, the hiring of entry level scientists has never really returned to its previous level.

As a result, the number of toxicologists with ten or fewer years of pharmaceutical experience is tiny, compared to those with more than ten years of experience. The problem has been exacerbated by the retirement of several experienced safety assessment professionals; a significant factor in creating the need for replacements.

When discussing mid-career openings, I often hear that a company cannot consider an entry level person, in large part due to the time investment involved in mentoring a toxicologist with no industry experience. Ironically, companies’ current employees are too busy to train “next generation” toxicologists, something that is, perhaps, short sighted for the continued prosperity of the industry.

Clearly, the pharmaceutical industry will continue to prosper, and the need for pre-clinical safety assessment professionals will correspondingly grow. That said, the efforts to hire from a small pool of mid-career candidates has become a non-viable model. At the present time, there are several positions open requiring ten or fewer years of experience. Many such vacancies remain open for months, given the demographics of this market.

While I realize that my influence may be minimal, it’s my opinion that now is the time to consider hiring strategies which will ensure a sufficient talent pool for the future. With coming retirements, the issue will only get worse in the coming years.

I have considered some possible solutions, which are noted below

– Internships during a toxicologist’s academic training to provide exposure to the industry and nature of the duties a pharmaceutical toxicologist will experience.

– Postdoctoral fellowships in which early career toxicologists can gain relevant experience. At the end of the postdoc, some of these people will be suitable for conversion to a permanent role.

– Designation within a Safety Assessment Department that one or more of the senior toxicologists spend a portion of their time mentoring young scientists.

– Engagement of retired toxicologists who are willing to consult to a company for the sole purpose of training young toxicologists.

– Consideration of people with experience in other industries, especially contract research laboratory employees, who possess important skills, albeit not fully experienced in every aspect of pharmaceutical toxicology.

– Allowing for remote and or modified office arrangements which millennial generation employees value.

– Hiring, and then supporting continuing education for early career toxicologists.

– Creating a career path for early career, investigative or laboratory based toxicologists toward the drug development realm. Parenthetically, there has been some hiring of young scientists in experimental toxicology in the last several years.

– Expanded support to universities which train toxicologists and encouraging coursework which is relevant to regulatory toxicology.

Any or all of these strategies may help alleviate the problem that presently exists and is becoming worse as time goes on. The Leyden Group remains fully committed to toxicology hiring as a specialization. I hope the trend begins to evolve toward effective hiring for the future, as the present demographics are not viable. I welcome input from those inside the pharmaceutical industry and hope it remains an important piece of my business prosperity.

Terry Leyden, CPC

President, The Leyden Group