Pharmaceuticals and biotech: moving at the speed of life
Hiring is strong, especially in biotech. Industry IT and engineering pros agree that regulations make it a challenging field, but a rewarding one
“Technology is evolving rapidly. Quantifying ROI requires a strong command of the business as well as the technology.” – Ruth Thorpe, Novartis Pharmaceuticals
By Laurel A. McKee Ranger
'Pharmaceutical companies continue to buy biotech firms and merge with each other. That often creates more funding and more jobs, especially for biotech,” says Lisa Alexander, founder and president of PharmaDiversity Job Board (www.pharmadiversityjobboard.com).
Alexander says pharmaceuticals are a growing sector of the economy, particularly in the biotech area. “Overall, there is ongoing strong hiring. The biotech sector is moving a little more quickly than the rest.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for chemical engineers are expected to grow just 6 percent over this decade, but jobs for biomedical engineers are expected to increase 62 percent and result in 9,700 new jobs by 2020.
As for diversity, Alexander says, “The sector as a whole remains strong in diverse hiring. Pharma has a strong commitment to diversity.”
Jennifer E. Lopez-Reed at Eli Lilly
Jennifer E. Lopez-Reed is site director at a Kansas City, KS manufacturing facility of Eleanco. Eleanco, a division of Eli Lilly and Company (Indianapolis, IN), is involved in animal healthcare.
“I’m responsible for the manufacturing site in Kansas City. I have oversight of manufacturing, packaging, devices used to deliver medications to the animals, and laboratories. We have two products: Component and Compudose. Both improve feed efficiency and weight gain in animals raised for market.”
Lopez-Reed likes to arrive early so she can be out on the floor and deal with any issues, and she works a long day. She oversees the entire manufacturing site, which includes four buildings, and is responsible for FDA-related safety inspection issues as well.
Lopez-Reed received a BSChE from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguëz in 2000 and a 2002 MSChE from Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN). During school, she was a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), and she’s currently helping her alma mater as a member of the Purdue Industrial Advisory Council.
Between her grad school years she did a summer internship with Kraft Foods (Chicago, IL) as a scientist in R&D. She also worked as a research assistant at both the University of Puerto Rico and Purdue.
In 2002, Lopez-Reed started at Lilly as a process engineer. She worked in insulin manufacture for two years, then as a quality engineer in that area for another year and a half.
In 2006, she earned a Six Sigma black belt and became a process improvement engineer, again in the area of insulin manufacture. In 2008, she transferred into animal health as an operations manager. She took on her current position in 2010.
Inspired by Dad
Interest in the technical world came from her father. “My dad was a mechanical engineer for NASA. He worked on classified projects. I was inspired by his work and work ethic. Now I’m inspired to help solve the problem of hunger. I’m really passionate about that. It’s very exciting,” she says. “The products I work on will translate to 50 billion additional servings of beef every year.”
Lopez-Reed is part of several groups at Lilly, including the company’s minority engineer recruitment and retention team, its women in engineering network, and the Hispanic leadership retreat. She has two young children, but she still manages to volunteer for Meals on Wheels and the Day of Global Service through Lilly. Lopez-Reed is also a Zumba instructor in her spare time.
Diversity “at the core” of Lilly
“At Lilly, embracing diversity is at the core of our long-held value of respect for people, and we work to attract and retain talented employees who bring the varying perspectives and skills we need to operate on a global level,” says Janice Chavers, director of diversity and human resources communications.
“We have been working for the last several years to embed diversity in the culture at Lilly by integrating it into every aspect of our business,” Chavers adds.
Lilly has increased its leaders’ accountability for developing diverse talent. Senior leaders’ performance objectives focus on mentoring and career path planning for women and diverse employees globally. In addition, the senior vice president of glo-bal human resources and diversity reports directly to the chief executive office, and top leaders receive updates quarterly on diversity strategy; the board of directors receives annual reports.
Training programs encourage a diverse, nondiscriminatory and respectful working environment. “We require diversity training for new hires in the U.S.; supervisors in the U.S. complete additional diversity training,” she adds.
Lilly offers ten employee-led resource groups (ERGs) with about fifty regional affiliate groups globally that connect people from diverse backgrounds and support Lilly’s business objectives. “Active ERG members gave approximately 7,000 hours in 2012 to help Lilly’s business internally and devoted 3,000 hours externally,” notes Chavers.
Chavers emphasizes the importance of science and technology to the company’s mission. Engineers do environmental work, facilities design and construction, packaging and plant engineering, process automation and software engineering, process development, process engineering and technical services. IT professionals support discovery research, product development, clinical research, sales and marketing, manufacturing and administrative areas.
CIO Ruth Thorpe oversees IT strategy and innovation at Novartis
Ruth Thorpe is a vice president and chief information officer at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation (East Hanover, NJ). The company is an affiliate of Novartis AG (Basel, Switzerland). Novartis offers new medicines, eye care products, generic pharmaceuticals, vaccines and diagnostic tools, plus over-the-counter and animal health products. Novartis employs approximately 131,000 fulltime associates and operates in more than 140 countries.
Thorpe’s primary responsibility is to oversee the IT strategy and application support for the company’s U.S. general medicines operations. Eleven technical professionals report directly to her; they oversee sixty IT service and support team members.
Thorpe has a 1995 BA in organizational management from Cabrini College (Radnor, PA). She began her career working in human resources information systems. In 1997, she was hired as the director of HR information management and administrative services by Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories (Radnor, PA). In 1998 she went to work for SAP America (Newtown Square, PA) as an HR business analyst. Later that year she joined Wyeth (Malvern, PA) as director of HR, payroll and benefits shared services coordination. In 2000, she took a position as director of the HR/payroll application group at Sanofi Aventis Pharmaceuticals (Bridgewater, NJ). She remained with Sanofi Aventis for eight years, rising to the position of vice president and CIO of pharmaceutical operations in 2008.
Healthcare IT: inspiring and rapidly evolving
Novartis Pharmaceuticals hired Thorpe into her current position in 2010. She finds her work both challenging and inspiring. “Working in an industry that directly benefits patients’ health and quality of life is a huge motivator, and technology is playing an increasingly prominent role in contributing to healthcare outcomes. From the simplest apps and devices that track blood pressure and report it directly to a physician, to social spaces for communities of patients or their caregivers to connect, technology has permeated every facet of our day-to-day lives and become a huge enabler in healthcare,” she says.
Thorpe says the proliferation of mobile devices and the explosion of social media both affect how technology can be used in healthcare. “We can leverage Skype or FaceTime to give physicians immediate access to our medical specialists, or provide a clinical trial seek app and website for patients to locate trials in their area, or use gaming interactions via Kinect or Wii to help patients keep up with therapies. Exciting opportunities like these were not feasible just a few years ago.” she says.
The pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated. Regulations control what can or cannot be done with technology, and the way certain data or processes must be managed. A rigorous due diligence process is necessary, particularly when new opportunities are being explored. “Early and frequent collaboration with stakeholders and regulators is critical,” says Thorpe.
Using IT wisely
Through the years she has worked in pharma IT, she has watched technology evolve. “Just about anything you can imagine is possible, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will add business value. Because technology is evolving so rapidly, particularly in the mobile space, it can be extremely challenging to quantify the return on investment. Navigating this challenge effectively requires a strong command of the business as well as the technology. It also requires understanding the ways in which technology does, and does not, drive behavior,” says Thorpe.
Thorpe is a member of a number of organizations, including the Healthcare Business Women’s Association (HBA), the Pharmaceutical Information Systems Association, and the Society for Information Management. She has received numerous industry and professional awards and recognitions. In 2011 she was named one of Computerworld’s 100 premier IT leaders. In 2012, she was a Novartis Global IT award winner for her work on Hurricane Sandy relief.
Diversity & inclusion is the engine
“At Novartis Pharmaceuticals, our commitment to diversity and inclusion is aligned with our company’s mission and fundamental to the achievement of our strategic business priorities. It’s also the engine that drives so much of what our associates do every day to meet the needs of patients: collaborate in teams, create stronger customer connections and enhance the communities we serve,” says Rhonda Crichlow, a company vice president and head of U.S. diversity and inclusion.
“Moving forward, we will continue to leverage D&I to stimulate innovation and business growth. We will also reinforce our position as an employer of choice by exploring enhanced flexibility and new ways of working.”
Deepalakshmi Srinivasan draws the roadmap for efficiency at Daiichi Sankyo
A director of business process management at Daiichi Sankyo (Parsippany, NJ), Deepalakshmi Srinivasan is responsible for the business transformation function. “I help internal customers meet their goals by evaluating their business processes. I work with business leaders to create a roadmap to where they want to be by evaluating people, processes and technology and then architecting their business models,” she says.
Srinivasan leads cross-functional business transformation initiatives and manages teams. She’s currently working on five different initiatives.
She recently led a business transformation effort designed to increase the efficiency of sales communications. “Our reps were spending a lot of time reading emails. We evaluated the state of the sales communications and made recommendations for improvements, which resulted in more targeted communications. This allows our reps to spend more time in doctors’ offices communicating the benefits of treatments,” she says.
Srinivasan has a 1999 bachelors in electronics and communications engineering from Madurai Kamaraj University in Madurai, India and a diploma in software engineering as well. She is Six Sigma green belt certified and black belt trained. She’s also a certified enterprise architect and a certified supply chain professional.
After graduating, Srinivasan worked for Krypton Systems, an IT consulting company in Chennai, India. “I was involved in IT application development and worked on small offshore projects,” she says. Krypton had an office in Delaware where it provided consulting services to the chemical industry, and Srinivasan came to the U.S. in 2000.
Over the years, she picked up experience in a number of technologies, including SAP, and in 2007 she was hired by Daiichi Sankyo to help with the implementation of its new ERP system. In 2008, Srinivasan was made lead SAP ABAP developer, and in 2009 became SAP development manager. In both those roles she led a team of consultants and managed a team of offshore developers. She took on the process architect role in 2011 and was promoted to director of business process management in 2013.
Inspiration and growth
Growing up in Chennai, India, Srinivasan was very aware of the impact of disease, and knew she wanted to help find effective treatments. Working in IT in the pharmaceutical industry was a natural choice for her, combining her concern for the welfare of others with her love of technology. But getting to where she is now was not always easy.
“I came from a culture where women were not always viewed as peers, and I had to learn to work through cultural and personal roadblocks. I had to learn to ask for the things I needed, to network, and accept awards and recognitions for my accomplishments.
“Now I’m very comfortable doing all that. I mentor, I network, and when I find myself going back to my old ways, I run things by my mentors and get the courage to develop the relationships and skills I need,” Srinivasan says.
Srinivasan was nominated for the HBA Rising Star award in 2012-2013 and was one of five finalists at Daiichi Sankyo. She has two small boys who keep her busy, and she enjoys volunteering in her religious organization, at her son’s school and for the Women’s Forum at Daiichi Sankyo in her spare time.
Tina Marriott Larson directs technical development and more at Genentech
“We embrace diversity in a meaningful way across the Roche Group and here at Genentech. One example is our objective to increase the percentage of women in key positions by at least fifty percent by 2014. We continue to identify high-potential women leaders, and are on track to meet to meet this goal,” says Tina Marriott Larson. Larson is one of those leaders: she’s senior director of technical development, operations and engineering at biopharmaceutical company Genentech, Inc (South San Francisco, CA). Genentech is a member of the Swiss Roche Group of pharmaceutical businesses.
Larson has four direct reports, and leads a group of over 100 employees. She’s responsible for five pilot plants, bioprocess technology development, process automation, technical support, supply chain management, facilities and strategic planning. “I’m accountable for an annual functional budget of $40 million,” Larson reports.
Her days start early in the morning to keep up with offices in Europe, and she collaborates with Roche colleagues both locally and globally. “There’s a tremendous amount of video conferencing and use of technology,” she says.
Larson helps determine the technology that’s needed to produce new products and meet manufacturing needs and regulations globally. The company is now standardizing the manufacturing processes throughout its operations, and Larson is involved in that initiative.
Biologics require an even more rigorous approach to manufacturing than pharmaceuticals. “We need to focus on consistent manufacturing processes. You can test small molecules at the end of the manufacturing process, but biologics cannot be tested with the same degree of certainty. So the process has to be monitored at every step,” she explains.
Larson has a 1996 BSChE from Colorado State University-Fort Collins. She was a member of AIChE and the Society of Women Engineers while in school. She now belongs to the American Chemical Society and Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association.
After interning for Genentech during her final year in school, Larson joined the company as an automation engineer in 1997. She worked in purification manufacturing science and technology (MSAT) and cell culture MSAT, first as an engineer, then senior engineer, group leader, and ultimately associate director. In 2008, she was named associate director of drug substance MSAT. Between 2008 and 2010, she was process development engineering associate director and then director. Larson was named to her present position in 2010.
A natural fit
Larson has always loved science, but it was a “fantastic” chemistry teacher in high school who piqued her interest in chemistry. Her father is an EE, so chemical engineering was a natural fit. The move to Genentech was natural as well. “I wanted to make products that would change the world. The biotech industry was just starting up and the opportunities were endless,” she says.
One of her biggest challenges is managing others. “The chemical engineering and technology have always been easy for me. But management has been both a daunting challenge and a wonderful opportunity to grow in this area,” she says. “The people here are so passionate about the products we make. It’s inspiring working here.”
Genentech nominated Larson for her 2012 Rising Star award from HBA. “It’s a very visible sign of the support the company provides,” she says.
Melvin Rosado works to ensure compliance and LGBT support at Merck
Melvin Rosado is a senior specialist of quality systems and compliance at Merck (Whitehouse Station, NJ) in its manufacturing division. Rosado’s primary responsibility as senior specialist is to conduct worldwide inspections and audits for compliance with quality systems, regulatory requirements and product specifications.
“Another of my responsibilities is to lead and manage the LGBT employee business resource group at Merck,” Rosado says. He oversees three task force leads, eight chapters and more than 320 colleagues supporting the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) group.
Rosado grew up in the small town of Villalba, Puerto Rico and received a BSME in 1990 from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguëz. He worked as a senior compliance engineer at Schering-Plough Corporation before it merged with Merck in 2010.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, he was drawn to technology by good advice and mentoring from a plant manager at Medtronic during his high school years. Another early influence was his mother, who worked in the medical device industry for twenty years. But Rosado’s path has not always been smooth.
Challenges and beliefs
“As an Hispanic/Latino who moved to the U.S. mainland in 2000, and an LGBT person, I have encountered numerous difficulties. But I came to realize that it was because of my own insecurities and weaknesses at that particular moment. I now understand that we need to be ourselves at all times and to be proud of our unique character and background,” he says.
“In the quality and compliance space, the challenge is to communicate the findings or deviations from policy. Even though it’s sometimes hard, there is nothing more rewarding than providing medicines to improve and save lives,” Rosado declares.
“My role as LGBT leader is a bigger challenge, as we are still working with the outside world on achieving basic human rights and dignity for everyone. It’s rewarding when a colleague with more than twenty years with the company says to you: ‘You are making a difference in my life because now, I can be myself.’ This is rewarding!”
Rosado volunteers for the yearly career day at a local high school to share his professional experience as an ME in the pharmaceutical field. This year for the first time, he met with LGBT students to talk about his experiences as a professional and open LGBT person.
Diversity efforts are vibrant at Merck
“We have many recruiting initiatives in place to seek and attract diverse talent. Our partners include the United Negro College Fund, the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, among others. We also partner with minority engineering conferences and minority research science organizations, along with Out for Work,” says David Gonzales, Merck’s director of global diversity and inclusion.
Merck also maintains a strong emphasis on mentoring as a key to successful leadership development. The Merck Hispanos organization, the League of Employees of African Descent and the Merck women’s network offer mentoring programs. In addition, a women’s leadership development program offers Merck women from around the world the opportunity to network and develop leadership skills and strategies.
Merck has nine EBRGs, including groups for women, African Americans, Latino/Hispanics, Asia Pacific employees, veterans, differently abled, an interfaith group, Native Americans, and the LGBT group that Rosado leads.
“Merck’s competitive advantage ultimately rests on creativity and innovation. To succeed, the company must bring together talented and committed people with diverse perspectives, people who can challenge one another’s thinking, and can approach problems collectively, from multiple points of view,” says Gonzales.
Merck looks for a balance of strong technical competency, leadership and business acumen. “For some of our positions, the company looks for Six Sigma certifications, project management certifications and technical certifications. We look for a wide range of skills, depending on the role,” Gonzales notes.
Fellow Susan Peter Drapeau leads R&D at Medtronic Spine
“We have an educated and excited group of people here in Memphis and in Eatontown, NJ. We develop new products to alleviate pain and enhance spinal surgery,” says Susan Peter Drapeau, PhD, director of biologics R&D and a technical Fellow at Medtronic Spine (Memphis, TN). Medtronic Spine is a part of Medtronic Inc (Minneapolis, MN). It provides products and therapies for spinal procedures.
Drapeau and her team are involved in running preclinical trials, preparing protocols and training materials, helping to determine manufacturing processes and working with physicians. “The majority of my time is spent identifying key technologies in spinal surgery and evaluating them for effectiveness. We weigh the risks and benefits for patients and the cost benefit for the company. I have six people on my team in Memphis with five direct reports and three remote team members working in NJ,” she says.
Drapeau received a double BS in chemistry and chemical engineering in 1994 from Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN), and a 1998 PhD in chemical engineering from Rice University (Houston, TX). She went to Rice specifically to work with Dr Tony Mikos on tissue engineering after meeting him at a conference. “Our work there was very applied. We worked closely with physicians,” she says.
Between receiving her PhD and joining Medtronic in 2001, Drapeau worked for Osiris Therapeutics, Inc (Baltimore, MD), a stem cell research company. She started out as a research engineer, then became a manager and senior manager of bone products.
At Medtronic, Drapeau moved up from biological project leader to manager of biologics R&D, then senior manager of the department. She took her current position as director in 2010.
Perks and challenges
As the parent of a seven-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, Drapeau enjoys the flexible hours she can work at Medtronic and finds the company to be very supportive of families. She also feels that the company fosters creativity.
One of her biggest challenges, however, is the time it takes to get products to market. “It’s a long and expensive regulatory pathway. I talk to management about the potential of new products. I enjoy championing the products, but you have to be very confident of their value and the benefit to both patient and company. You have to be able to demonstrate those qualities to management,” she says.
The global nature of business requires her to think about the regulatory environment and marketing potential in other countries as well as in the U.S.
“On a recent morning I had a call from a colleague in India. We have offices in 160 countries and we work with different regulatory agencies. The priorities and hurdles are different in every country,” explains Drapeau. “It’s always a learning situation for me, but that’s part of the reason I’m still here.”
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES IN PHARMA AND BIOTECH
Check website for current listings.
|Company and location
|Daiichi Sankyo (Parsippany, NJ)
|Eli Lilly and Company (Indianapolis, IN)
|Genentech (South San Francisco, CA)
|Medtronic Spine (Memphis, TN)
|Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation
(East Hanover, NJ)
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