Biotech Career Confidential

We recently spoke with an anonymous member of the Biotechnology Community, and they agreed to give the scoop on several aspects of a Biotechnology Career:

What are the profit margins like in general, R&D included?

The profit margins are not that great on RX drugs, in fact the majority of the time we lose money on prescription drugs. Not in the traditional sense of recouping material costs, but in the form of we could be making alot more money making OTC drugs.

Can you describe the supply chain of ingredients your company used?

The supply chain in our industry is rather unique. The majority of our materials exist in some form on the standard market, but are unusable as we have an internalized testing lab that has higher specs than 99% of the stuff out there. So we have unofficial contracts to cherry pick the best stuff or have it made for us. Another thing is the FDA requires extremely qualified vendors, meaning we are stuck with single sourced materials even if they misbehave and ship us a bad batch or ship late.

Do you think your company, and the industry in general, provides adequate insurance-agnostic financial aid to people in need? (for RX drugs)*

Everyone at our plant gets 10 free OTC products a week and can apply for pet prescriptions. I was a contractor so I can’t say much else about benefits.

How many hours a week do you work? I got the impression that the reason why the BMS campus was so rad was so that they could keep their employees there for insane hours. (Esp. With the built in hair salon, bank, and convenience store)

During cough cold buildup I worked 60 hours a week. The only facility was a cafeteria that served subsidized meals. I was hourly so it was not that bad.

Once a new drug is released to the general public, new adverse reactions that couldn’t be found in human testing will emerge. The FDA mandates that drug companies keep doctors apprised of these new side effects. However, it’s well known that many doctors don’t pay attention to these updates. This means that drug companies can follow the law and notify doctors, while still successfully encouraging doctors to over-prescribe the medication. And that’s a pretty big problem. Any ideas about how this problem could be fixed, or at least mitigated? Or is that not the kind of thing you dealt with in your job?

There is a reason there is a complaints number on your bottle. According to FDA mandate every complaint is logged. Reactions go to R&D and manufacturing go to the plant. I did not deal with drug development just manufacturing, so I can’t speak to their level of detail but a complaint as small as one or two broken pills causes such a stir it can mean production redesign or formulation changes. The only R&D I worked with was for over coming production issues.

Are there opportunities for molecular biology within the field? I’ve been trying to find a better job for a while, but haven’t considered Big Pharma much. How’d you get started in a Biotechnology Career?

I got hired out of school, but you need to be willing to relocate a lot. Two words for you: Animal Health. Pfizer has a huge biological division just for AH and it prints money. It’s least likely to be hit by any legislation and the margins are 10x what people drugs are.

How do you feel about marketing drugs directly to people via television  commercials?

I don’t like it, but I think a lot more responsibility should fall on the doctor to explain why it’s the right/wrong choice.

Side-effect updates are supposed to make doctors more cautious about prescribing medications. However, there are two problems that tend to prevent this outcome. The first is that doctors tend not to pay attention to side-effect updates. Secondly, drug companies are good at obeying the letter of the law while still encouraging doctors to over-prescribe medication. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on how the FDA could mitigate each of these problems.

It’s a tough question, anything you do via the FDA is just going drive cost increases and thus pass it onto the patient.

Has your experience in the industry affected your daily life in that, “Once you’ve seen how sausage is made…” kind of way?

If anything it makes me more comfortable as I know how much quality goes into things.
And I don’t care about drug expirations any more.

About drug expirations, could you elaborate a bit on what the criteria are for setting the expiry date for a drug?*

Basically it boils down to a labelling law. Over time things break down and loose potency, our label says one thing yet the actual content is different. That’s where the bulk of the issues come from. Sure there are cases where things can go bad like a sugar based syrup but those are all subjected to microbial purification and testing before they are released. All the plastic we used as been tested under every condition you can think of over periods three times the shelf life of the product, so no contamination from container break down can occur either.

Also, this is a more generic (and possibly better question), but how do the big boys’ production lines look? At the pill factory, we had individual presses isolated in there own little cubicles. They had fifty some-odd dies that spun around, pressing the powder into tablets. Is that what y’all do as well? Or do y’all have cool assembly lines?

Our facility houses 25 packaging lines each doing multiple brands (that’s every size and variation of each brand night time, extra strength, with calcium,etc) and 3 manufacturing areas for the actual pills. Some tablet presses are small like the ones you described and others can be as big as 2 minivans stacked on top of each other. It’s a game of scale as not everything needs a thousand tablet a minute press, due to the setup costs and cleaning times. And to give another sense of the tech involved, we sell a 10g powder packet. The line it is packaged on fills sealed packets that it prints the label with the exp date on at a rate of 1500 packets a minute.

Also know that scene in Portal 2 when you land in old aperture science with all the crazy pipes everywhere? That’s exactly how out liquids mfg area looks.

If pharma didn’t advertise, and demand in America was regulated by insurer/government price-fixing instead of the price mechanism, would that mend the opinion of everyone here of pharma? If not, why not?

It would be the end of R&D for everything except high dollar drugs. It takes years for an OTC product to recoup its developmental costs and those have a fraction of the costs of a full RX drug.