• 20 September 2006
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Hiring Agenda

Hiring Agenda

Hiring Agenda

The biotechnology industry is on a sustained growth path. According to the latest biotech survey done by BioSpectrum, the biotech industry clocked $1.45 b revenue during 2005-06 and recorded 37.4 percent growth. With the BT industry expanding, human resources still remains a vital cornerstone of the industry. In our constant effort to create awareness about career opportunities, in this segment we have put together columns from scientists/managers of noted companies, who are actively involved in the recruitment process.

"We look for bright and energetic people"

Thomas Putti, head – HR, Advinus Therapeutics, Bangalore

Advinus, with its corporate headquarters in Bangalore, is an R&D driven company that is focused on the novel new drug discovery and development of pharmaceutical and agrochemical products. The company is co-promoted by Dr Rashmi Barbhaiya and the Tatas, one of India's largest and most respected business houses, with total revenues of more than $17 billion and a market capitalization of more than $31 billion.

HR vision

The HR vision of the company is to create an empowering space in which people can discover their abilities to produce consistent breakthrough results through growing relationship and ethical practices.

The HR mission at Advinus is to: Recruit good people, retain the better people and advance the best people; recognize and appropriately reward individual and team contribution; evolve appropriate system and polices to ensure a pervasive enabling culture in the organization for optimum development of individual and organization capacities; create an environment conducive to learning and teamwork; and develop leaders at all levels.

Talent acquisition

We actively recruit on the campuses of leading colleges and universities throughout India, hiring the best-qualified people with a wide variety of degrees for full-time assignments in our research divisions, as well as our corporate functions.

Fresh recruits are taken as assistant research scientists and are provided a steady growth prospect depending on performance. From the entry level, they move on as associate research scientist, senior research investigator, group leader, section head, assistant/associate director and move on to head level positions.

Skills

The skill sets required for our organization include a masters or PhD in areas like chemistry, biology, pharmacology, veterinary sciences, pharmaceutics and scientific business technology (IT).

The qualities that we look for in a budding scientist are: bright and energetic people with a good academic track record and lots of scientific curiosity and passion; an avaricious desire to learn and contribute in a scientific environment; honesty to stand for what is right, good communication skills; highest levels of integrity and ethical standards; and ability and willingness to contribute to team's success.

Talent development

The scientific leadership team at Advinus has tremendous passion and dedication to drug discovery and development and living the Advinus values. This means having the initiative to stretch, grow, and take advantage of the many development opportunities available to them. Advinus promotes this commitment by providing necessary formal training and education through technical, functional and company wide programs.

The training efforts are divided into three main groups:

  • For new entrants, there is a structured orientation program which introduces him/her to the basics of drug discovery and development stages.

  • The second part of the induction to new employees is imparted on the job. This training is carried out by senior level scientists who have proven scientific track record in pharmaceutical and agrochemical R&D, both in India and globally.

  • Being part of the Tata group, ethics and integrity are the foundation of all our business and operational activities. All spheres of our business reflect this.

  • Scientific learning and development
  • We have the discovery school which provides on periodical basis opportunities to scientists to present in front of the others their expertise areas.We provide opportunities for continuous improvement and upgradation of skills and knowledge to keep themselves abreast with latest scientific developments.

Other initiatives

We provide training in safety, health and environment which is critical to the R&D organization. We impart training in the areas of personality improvement such as team work, lab etiquette including stringent norms for confidentiality and IP security. Advinus also encourages its high performing employees to pursue further education by providing them necessary facilities. The company sees professional relationships as integral part of growth. To encourage this, we are implementing systems like informal feedback and two-way communication. Advinus also has an objective, performance management system where employees are appraised both on job performance and values in action to ensure their growth.

Compensation

Advinus offers staff members competitive salary, excellent benefits, an outstanding work environment and career development opportunities. Through these comprehensive offerings, every individual has the chance to achieve significant growth both financially and professionally.

  • We offer one of the best salary package to the freshers at all levels

  • Our aim is to be in the 60 to 75 percentile of the compensation benchmark for the life science R&D industry.

  • Being part of a welfare-oriented organization, we have very liberal benefits to employees such as hospitalization insurance for self and family, accident insurance and life insurance for the employees right from their date of joining.

  • We have fun at work activities such as TGIF, quiz competitions, cricket matches and picnics to relieve employees from work-related routine.

With world class facilities, a culture which nurtures individual and team development with ethics and integrity as its foundation and a will to make this the leading global discovery R&D organization from India, Advinus has now positioned itself as the preferred employer destination for budding and seasoned life science R&D scientists.

 

The values of a candidate must match that of the company New Page 1

"The values of a candidate must match that of the company

Sudhir Kant, President, Millipore India, Bangalore

Millipore India is a filtration and separation technology company. With its world head-quarters in Billerica, Millipore India is a part of the $991-million turnover (year 2005), Millipore Corporation, USA. With a spate of new acquisitions like Serologicals and Novaseptic over the last year, the Corporation is setting a scorching growth rate for itself. It is projected to grow to $1.6 billion with these new acquisitions. With this growth, the requirement of skilled new staff is going up for its business divisions.

Positions

For an industry operating in the high technology domains of biopharmaceuticals, proteomics, genomics and drug discovery, knowledge and knowledge management is the key driver of success. Millipore looks only for the best graduates, postgraduates, engineers, MBAs and PhDs in biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, chemical and electrical/electronics/automation engineering plus other life sciences. The candidates must demonstrate a thirst for acquiring knowledge and using it in their applications with excellence. The various positions include management trainees, application specialists (sales), validation executives, process development executives, technical specialists, service engineers and project engineers.

Skill sets

The candidates are evaluated to check their cultural fit into the organization. The values of the individual must match the values of Millipore. Confidence, good communication skills, an aptitude of thinking on-the-feet to solve problems, willingness to travel and team orientation are good starters.

Each employee goes through four training programs every year. These are conducted at the company's training facility in Bangalore or abroad by the best trainers from Millipore India and from Millipore offices in France and the US. Experts from the industry are also called in. The skills imparted vary from one level to another and include training on technology, personality development, strategy formulation, selling skills, time management and commercial skills, to list a few.

Pay package

The salary and perks offered are among the best in the industry with working conditions on par with Millipore's offices around the world. Generous incentives are offered along with the pay. Fresh management trainees take in about Rs 22,000 per month while the technical employees draw Rs 27,000 plus incentives at the entry levels. Growth opportunities are good as the company is expanding rapidly each year with double digit growth. Good work is recognized through on-the-spot performance awards. Specially appointed mentors guide young recruits into the company in the initial stages of their entry. At Millipore, people are the only assets.

We need technically competent people, who desire to innovate New Page 1

"We need technically competent people, who desire to innovate"

Dr Gautham Nadig, co-founder and director, Metahelix Life Sciences, Bangalore

Talent identification and management are critical issues for start-up and early stage discovery based companies. A bigger challenge is in growing scientific talent into managers and to organize a group of people with diverse skills and motivating factors to run a biotechnology business.

HR requirements

Enterprises require people at various levels beginning from the undergraduate level–BSc in science, MSc in biology/chemistry and PhDs in certain specialized areas. The quantity of people available at entry levels has never been in doubt and usually companies are flooded with resumes. Yet it is not very easy to pick a person who has the right skills for the role in the company. Once we climb up the ladder in bringing in more specialized talent, it is not a question of number of people that is important, but the real issue is on the kind of specialized skills that an organization needs and these are people with PhDs and post-doctoral experience in specialized areas of biology or chemistry. There are various instances when companies do not find the people in India and these are usually recruited from overseas.

Hiring criteria and success factors

For a successful science-based business at an early stage, there are two critical issues-To get the right people in place quickly and that the technical quality of these people should be acceptable and above a certain level.

  • The person who is hired must be able to work with others of varying competence and diverse skills. Sometimes there are compromises made and these lead to people-related issues on an on-going basis. In addition, the business must also build the team with a variety of constraints and there are certain critical success factors that could either make or break these efforts.

  • Cost of building a team should be low.

  • Ability to build teams quickly and on demand.

  • Ensure that the right person is selected for the job and therefore reduce the training period required for new hires.

  • Ability to identify the leaders in the group and provide them formal management training.

In building result-oriented teams, Metahelix as well as other organizations have begun to evince interest in the human resource availability situation, specifically in and around Bangalore, because we have a vested interest in it. There are a few critical observations on the quality of human resources and what needs to change if talent and human resources start driving the growth of the biotechnology business. The overall picture is not very encouraging with the MSc level of hiring that companies require. It has been the experience of ours and other organizations as well that one needs to spend enormous amount of time in selection and thereafter in training these resources. With the PhD levels, there are different organizational issues that relate to building competencies in leadership, finance and management training and a commercial bent of mind in these scientists.

So how can a business make a difference to this situation is often a question that crosses our minds. It has come to a point where we need to radically change the way science education is delivered today. If one visited science colleges, undergraduate and post-graduate, you would find excellent institutions. Unfortunately great infrastructure does not necessarily generate great talent. Significant intervention is needed in the quality of teaching–content, methodology, combination of courses, selection criteria of students and teachers. The need of the hour is an army of people who are technically competent, can work in teams, who have the urge to innovate and a desire to win the game.

Motivating people

We have been trying to understand what makes people tick. Understandably, it is the quality of work and the workplace. It could be challenging science when you begin your career, and then it would to be a role of managing projects and thereafter, it could just be a people manager. The motivating factors could again be intellectual, for some. It would be a feeling of responsibility. For others, it would be networking with peers within and outside the organization. Of course, there is the lure of money and to a smarter few, they would like to own a piece of the company they are building.

Every business considers high quality human resources as strategic to its growth and sustainability and it is therefore extremely important to ensure that the human resource needs of the biotechnology industry are properly addressed. This would demand a much stronger engagement between academic institutions and the nascent biotechnology industry today.

 

We have different procedures to recruit different kind of employees New Page 1

"We have different procedures to recruit different kind of employees"

Anuradha Acharya, CEO, Ocimum Biosolutions

While a good education can be a starting point for an employee, we believe that there are many more variables that we have to consider before we recruit the right employee for Ocimum Biosolutions.

Ocimum has always been an equal opportunity employer and by following fair principles, we have a good diversity amongst employees creating an environment of innovation and creativity, which helps us in delivering better products to our customers.

Since a company is made with all kinds of employees, we have different procedures to recruit different types of employees. For young technical personnel, we make them go through a rigorous analytical and technical test as well as interviews, for others it might be just an analytical test followed by several rounds of interviews. We believe that in order for us to build a better company, we need to spend time in trying to recruit the right people. While this is a time-consuming process, we have been able to attract and retain the right kind of employees that help create the right environment for a world class company building products and services for the research community.

Training program

We also have a six-month training program for technical freshers as the field of bioinformatics and LIMS is fairly new and complex for most people. These programmer trainees go through a rigorous training program that allows them to understand the complex bioinformatics domain and also get used to the ISO and SDLC processes. It allows them to become Ocimum ready and start contributing as soon as their training program is over. This program is for a small group of trainees who also go through a selection criteria and are paid a stipend during these six months soon after which they join the
mainstream team.

Culture

Ocimum's culture is to celebrate, learn and also work hard. Since our main aim is to have happy customers, we believe that happy customers can happen if we have happy employees. We offer a 24/5 live support for our customers worldwide. We offer several benefits like ESOPS, medical, dinner and snacks.

Our philosophy is that each employee plays an integral role in fulfilling our commitment to deliver total solutions to our customers. Employees and their abilities comprise our fundamental resource.

Our values reflect our philosophy: To provide quality service to our customers; to get the job well done, whether it is a client or internal project; to provide a pleasant, stimulating work environment for all employees; and to cultivate each employee's professional growth and advancement within the company.

At Ocimum Biosolutions, we value our talented team and our compensation package reflects this. Our benefits are designed to be flexible in nature and far-reaching in scope.

Ocimum Biosolutions lays great emphasis on maintenance and improvement of the work environment and the overall well being of its employees. Apart from sick leaves, the benefit package at Ocimum Biosolutions includes a group Mediclaim policy, where the company pays 100 percent of the premiums for each employee. All employees may participate in this policy.

Effective on the date of hire, all employees of Ocimum Biosolutions are eligible to 12 paid days off per year. Paid time off increases with length of service. For marriage, an employee is allotted five paid days off. The company's flexible working solutions can include unpaid time off, at the discretion of the management.

Ocimum Biosolutions offers all its employees two weeks' paid vacation annually. Ocimum also has a comprehensive maternity and paternity and other family related leaves.

Employees own a piece of the company through stock options available to all, based on their length of service. An ESOP trust with employees as volunteers manages these stock options.

All employees at Ocimum Biosolutions are encouraged to improve their performance and skills through training. Apart from promoting on-the-job learning, the company sponsors for job-related external training based on the employees' performance, previous experience, and education.

All employees are encouraged to take up higher education to evolve themselves. In order to balance their work and education, all employees can avail five days paid time off annually for examinations. Ocimum also has a program called Tradition which empowers employees to participate in both external and internal training programs.

Pay hikes for all employees are based on performance reviews conducted every six months. These performance reviews also accelerate growth in shorter time spans.

All employees receive a monetary incentive for referring others to work at Ocimum. Associates provide résumés to our recruiters and are eligible to receive a bonus once the referred employee completes six months of service. This program is popularly known as Introcentive.

All employees receive monthly food subsidies and people working on weekends or evening are provided snacks, lunch or dinner.

We believe that it is the overall working conditions, growth prospects and the innovative environment at Ocimum that helps us in retaining the best employees.

 

For the student community, it is Fate Accompli New Page 1

"For the student community, it is Fate Accompli"

Dr AP Kariath, president, training and consulting, BioZeen, Bangalore

Human resource in biotechnology has been a very controversial subject for the industry, academia and the student community alike. None of the sectors are satisfied with the situation. The industry has its own problems but no time to solve. The academia has time but no resources nor an obligatory role to solve. For the student community, it is Fate Accompli.

Bleak scenario

Starting from the hype created that biotechnology will be the next generation employment sector and the consequential mushrooming of colleges offering biotechnology today, it represents a scenario of poverty amidst richness. Richness in numbers and not necessarily quality. Least understood is that while human resources are the production elements in IT, the microbes are the production elements in BT. Therefore, the comparison is totally misplaced and must end here.

In-depth analysis

Unqualified statements of the human resource situation even without an in-depth assessment has only added confusion. A true assessment taking into account the various parameters, needs to be done for a start. Determine whether the vacuum is in the pre-formulation through preclinical or process scale up and production should help in pinpointing the stage. Further, the category needs to be looked at. Is it in the experimental design, basic formulation, manufacturing, analytical and innovative thinking? Analysis of the effect of impact of new discovery and regulatory initiatives must also be done. Finally the breadth and depth of skills required by the industry must also be ascertained. An estimate of the numbers will also be important. Such an in-depth analysis will serve some meaningful purpose in taking the next course of corrections.

Lack of lateral support

One must accept that other fields of vocation like engineering and health care is supported by several lateral fields such as IT, diploma, pharmacy and nursing which support the respective sectors. This creates space for all levels within the sector making it robust. However, the biotech sector lacks this. All one finds is a graduation course unfit in all aspects. Neither are they strong in fundamental sciences nor in the specialized fields. This leads to recruitment of postgraduates to perform ordinary tasks leaving them underpaid and discontented. While the top of the pyramid is relatively strong, the base is hollow.

The findings can thereafter be channeled to give a fillip into areas where there is a gap . The academia can also be guided in its curriculum development and the result will make the students of biotechnology employable. The estimate of the requirement will help prune the numbers and improve the quality. Without such an exercise, we are probably heading for another Mashelkar Committee.

 

Patience and problem-solving abilities are a key New Page 1

"Patience and problem-solving abilities are a key"

Meghana Abhyankar-Mehta HR manager, Labindia Instruments, Delhi

Beyond the traditional favorites of medicine and engineering, today's students have an option to work in a knowledge intensive sector like biotechnology. Biotechnology is a new and innovative industry with various career options for anyone with a background in science. The Indian biotechnology industry has come out of infancy and crossed the $1b-mark in 2004 and is expected to grow at the rate of 20 percent per year for the next five years. This tremendous growth in the biotechnology sector has also led to growth in the biosuppliers/solutions provider sector. Solutions providers segment comprises all those companies, which are responsible for providing instruments, accessories, software and consumables to biotech companies. These companies also provide appropriate sales, after sales and technical support to the users and potential users of their products. Any student who has a background in science combined with business flair can find opportunity with biosuppliers. This sector provides job opportunities in various fields of sales and marketing, service and technical support.

Labindia is one such company which is in forefront of biotechnology business in India and provides an opportunity to work in its various departments like genomic, proteomics and small molecules application support and training center in addition to sales, marketing and service support.

Selection process

To gain an entry level job in sales, candidates should have at least a Masters degree (MSc or MTech) in chemistry, molecular biology, biotechnology, agri biotechnology, animal biotechnology, etc. Candidates should also be good in communication and interpersonal skills. Those who are mobile, enjoy traveling and willing to work long hours, will enjoy such assignments. The selection is usually through rounds of technical and HR interviews. The job responsibilities include assessment of the market, appraising prospective users about suitability of company's products, develop the latent potential into active prospects and convert that in sales and increase the band of satisfactory customers. One could start as the sales executive and rise up to the level of national sales manager/vice president, i.e. countrywide responsibility. The salaries at the entry level vary depending on sales commissions but a fresh candidate with no prior experience can look forward to a package ranging between Rs 14,000 and Rs 20, 000 per month approximately.Candidates with engineering degree in electronics or instrumentation with an analytical bent of mind would find themselves suited for assignments in service departments of solution providers set-up. These jobs offer an opportunity to work on cutting edge technology instruments like DNA analysers/Microarray/LCMSMS etc. A fresher could also avail of these opportunities if he is has a strong desire to work in such areas and is willing to undergo specialized training programs which are generally in-house programs of the companies. But the fresher must bear in mind that patience and problem solving ability are some of the key attributes that a company looks for in a service engineer. The salary range depends on the caliber and experience of the candidate but could range anywhere between Rs 14,000 and Rs 20,000. Selection is usually through a process of written examination and a round of HR and technical interviews.

For entry into the field of application support, a doctorate degree in science and aptitude for research work is required. A candidate with master's degree in science, who has an excellent academic record with aptitude for research, can also get into this field. The job responsibilities include internal training of sales and service staff, conducting technical workshops and seminars for scientists, arranging for demos and last but not the least, providing technical support at customers on site or in company facility, via telephone or mail or in person. The remuneration varies depending on the caliber and experience of the candidate. Breadth of scientific knowledge, problem solving skills and patience are some of the skills necessary to be a successful as technical support resource.

The biotechnology industry is facing trained and qualified manpower crunch. Companies value their human resource and invest in their employees by way of training, and building their personality. Candidates with requisite skills and education qualifications need to watch openings in this fast growing sector as it offers exciting opportunities. Those who are exploring avenues for better future prospects for future work and are choosing their specialization in the science stream need gain more knowledge about developments in this sector.

 

Only highly specialized personnel in niche areas will be in great demand New Page 1

"Only highly specialized personnel in niche areas will be in great demand"

Dr Rajendra Joshi, Coordinator, Bioinformatics Group, Center for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), Pune

The definition of the term bioinformatics itself is highly debated. If one looks at it from the molecular perspective, then Mark Gernstein's definition is probably well suited. It is defined as "Bioinformatics is conceptualizing biology in terms of molecules (in the sense of physical chemistry) and then applying 'informatics' techniques (derived from disciplines such as applied mathematics, computer sciences and statistics) to understand and organize the information associated with these molecules on a large scale".

Bioinformatics as a subject did exist in the early Eighties, but came into the limelight after the completion of the human genome-sequencing project along with the other genome projects. Most of the times a comparison is made between bioinformatics and information technology. There is a common misconception amongst people, where it is felt that bioinformatics is stream of information technology. The fact is that bioinformatics is a branch of biological sciences, which is still an evolving science where many of the methods and algorithms for biological analysis are still being researched. It is always puzzling for the student community to find out how they can contribute in this area. Students from varied backgrounds are entering into the bioinformatics domain and their role can differ depending on their educational background and expertise.

Classification

The activities in bioinformatics can broadly divided into three categories namely basic research, algorithm development, and software development. Basic research leads to knowledge about the biological system, which can be represented into a mathematical or statistical form leading to new algorithms. Based on such novel algorithms, new software tools can be developed which can be used for analysis of other biological systems.

Basic research

In academics, basic research is more of a long-term research activity with no immediate returns. Working in such long-term research projects often requires one to super specialize into one of the streams of bioinformatics. In the industry, basic research can play an important role in executing contract research projects. However, it must be noted that the concept of outsourcing in the biotech/bioinformatics industry is not easy. This is primarily because of issues pertaining to IPR and patents. Industries in the area of contract research have to take up confidence building exercises with their clients, in order to succeed.

Algorithm development

The second field is that of algorithm development. In this field a person having a background of Master's degree in mathematics, statistics, biophysics and algorithms, can contribute effectively. Such a field has an important role in academics, whereby the novel methods or techniques can be applied to long-term research projects. The persons from such background often need to work along with biologists to develop an algorithm to solve a particular problem in biology. However, being a difficult field, not many groups in India are working on new algorithm design.

Software development

The third field is that of software development related to bioinformatics, where students mainly from the computer science and information technology background play an important role. Such a software development activity usually finds importance in the industries that are building software for some specific clients. Most of the times people working on such projects have to work along with biologists to understand the problem and translate it into the software solution that needs to be developed. However, not many novel tools with new algorithms have been developed. Many of the efforts are simply towards repackaging the existing tools by giving user friendly GUIs. Further since the user segment is very small, it is difficult to market such tools.

Scope of bioinformatics

Bioinformatics has tremendous scope abroad both in academia and industry. However, it is important to note that only highly specialized personnel in niche areas will be in great demand. Bioinformatics as a subject can play a very important role in genome based drug discovery. Pharma companies can save millions of dollars and years of efforts in discovering new molecules. The number of such industries carrying out extensive research and development in genome based drug discovery needs be to significantly high in India. This will enable bioinformatics domain to gain more importance and create more opportunities in India.

 

Determination and commitment to the path chosen is a must New Page 1

"Determination and commitment to the path chosen is a must"

Mahesh Jagtap, senior manager, product development, VARDA Biotech, Mumbai

In any institute or industry, it is the quality of human resources which determines the levels of achievement. The quality of human resources is all the more important in knowledge-based industries like engineering, biotechnology and IT.

With the increasing speed of technological advances, corporates have to cope up with the changes to sustain and excel in business. And employments become more challenging in this industry.

Before moving to what employers look for, we shall have a broad view of what options are available for job seekers today.

There are various options available to biotechnology students and others who have done related courses.

Biotech careers can be broadly divided into two segments, the research (lab) oriented and field (market) oriented jobs, which further can be divided into the following types/sub segments:

Research

Immunologist (veterinary virologist/vaccine researcher for humans); brewery microbiologist; food microbiologist; fermentation scientist; human geneticist; genetic counselor; plant pathologist; medical biochemist; environmental biotechnologist; agricultural biotechnologist/ plant breeder/ plant molecular biologist; bioinformaticist; conservation geneticist/molecular taxonomist/phylogeneticist; bioprocess engineer; clinical laboratory science professional; biological forensic analyst; enzymologist; and patent attorneys (supplemented by law).

Management/marketing/sales

Marketing for healthcare industry; marketing for biopharma industry; marketing for biotech industrial/research equipment; marketing for biotechnology research reagents, tools and services; international trade in biotechnology.

Many of these options are still unexplored by many job seekers. All of these positions need domain specialization with subject clarity and core interest of the candidates for the position.

Requisite qualities

What employers basically look for in candidates are conceptual clarity of the subject; ability to express and apply the gained knowledge; and determintaion and commitment towards the path chosen.

In research, subject clarity and applicability, analytical abilities, creative thinking matters a lot whereas in management and marketing related jobs, apart from the subject knowledge, interpersonal skills like communication, expression, and leadership abilities are very much essential.

VARDA Biotech, a knowledge and technology driven enterprise, being into core technology marketing, has maintained the balance of domain experts and career beginners. We follow the effective HR tool of recruitment matrix, which is multi-dimensional tool, which measures specific content strength, generic business strength, people strength, mental strength of the candidate. Freshers undergo rigorous training and management tools supplemented by independent assignments. We look for people who come with thirst for knowledge, ability to learn, adopt and transform
themselves.

According to Charles Darwin, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change."

Here are a few tips for freshers which will make them comfortable in any specific field.

  • Identify your core strengths and opt for suitable jobs.

  • Know your value.

  • Don't talk big money too soon.

  • Also, remember there is more to a job than money. Take into consideration the experience gained on the job, career advancement opportunities, work/life balance and other important factors to help determine the true value of the offer.

 

Knowledge of diverse domains will be relevant New Page 1

"Knowledge of diverse domains will be relevant"

Supreet Deshpande, CEO, VLife Sciences Technologies, Pune

The term bioinformatics is often used for everything related to computer applications in research. In its broadest yet correct definition, bioinformatics can be termed as IT applications which make such collection, arrangement, interconnection, annotation, search and analysis of these huge datasets relating to biology and relating them with other existing data for scientists to develop newer approaches for drug discovery and other life sciences applications.

During the course of Human Genome Project in the late 90s, which was aimed at deciphering human genes, huge amount of data got created. This data opened up new approaches for research in the areas of genomics and proteomics and scientists all over the world started new experiments, each of which further created more data. Such huge data required automated collection, arrangement and search applications to unlock the information contained therein for designing better drugs and identifying new drug targets. To handle existing data, new IT applications were created. This new branch of science is called bioinformatics.

The IT industry celebrated the birth of bioinformatics since it gave them the most awaited chance to develop faster tools to process the massive data that was created. Leading companies in the world took up the cause of popularizing bioinformatics as they saw large opportunity for their database products and high-end servers. Somewhere in the midst of the jubilant mood of the IT industry, the primary and pragmatic focus of bioinformatics, that is to facilitate the drug discovery, was sidelined.

The IT version of the bioinformatics success story was so powerful that even before any sizable success attributable to this approach could be obtained by researchers, the spending allocated by the big pharma companies into this approach formed a large percentage of their technology budgets. As a result, several companies mushroomed in quick time and this number multiplied quickly as entry barrier was very low. Anyone who could do data-management in IT also, had a bioinformatics division.

However, when the expected contribution of this approach towards new drug discovery was illusive, pressure mounted on bioinformatics companies. Somewhere under this stress, these bioinformatics companies lost the sense of the very purpose of their existence of helping in designing better drugs and ended up into a rut of creating more data from available data, for survival and more complex tools which were not user-friendly. This data deluge and confusion thereof hastened the closure of many companies.

Students need to remember that the serious companies in drug discovery enabling technologies never joined the bioinformatics bandwagon. Those companies instead paid attention to the core purpose of this field of knowledge and aimed at developing technologies that facilitated drug discovery. One such example is computational drug discovery technology. It is based on 3D structural simulation, not data mining as in bioinformatics. It enables a novel discovery approach for medicinal chemists and molecular biologists to pursue drug discovery through direct methods-designing a molecule for a drug target protein or through indirect methods-finding molecules similar to those which are effective through structural and parametric comparisons. It also allows study interactions of proteins and small molecules at a structural level in 3D simulated environment to identify how molecules can be designed for better effectiveness, less side effects. The benefits of the technology are considerably lower cost of early stage research and faster time compared to conventional experimental process. Bioinformatics has ample open opportunities for inquiring minds.

In this knowledge-intensive field, not only the technological expertise but also the knowledge of diverse domains such as biology, pure sciences, mathematics and logic is very relevant. Students who possess this diverse domain expertise along with the technological know-how of bioinformatics tools have great scope in the field. What it means that those who can understand the core focus of the field, that is drug discovery, and have ability to reorient themselves pragmatically have a bright future in the field. Globally, the contribution to drug discovery has not lost its value. Rather students will have a more challenging workplace in this field.

 

A degree will not be of much help in a competitive job market New Page 1

"A degree will not be of much help in a competitive job market"

Dr SC Jain, senior vice president,
International Panaacea, Delhi

Biotechnology is a sunrise industry and a growth engine of future, opening numerous career opportunities in different sectors, i.e. agriculture and food, healthcare and environment. Hitherto, career opportunities were mostly found in research and development arena, providing jobs in academic and research institutes but now there is ample scope of jobs in the biotech industry, which is developing at a very fast pace in all the above mentioned three sectors. In addition, several promising applications of new sciences are available in the industries related to pharmaceutical, biomedical, agricultural and bioinformatics. Further, for start-up companies, incubation opportunities are available for graduates in biotechnology.

The Indian biotechnology market was a whopping Rs 4,745 crore in 2005 and career opportunities in the biotechnology industry are therefore, enormous and on the rise with the growth rate of almost 37 percent. The IT boom has successfully confirmed the hypothesis that higher the quality of learning, higher will be the earnings.

Rich yields

Biotechnology has prominently emerged as a major segment of life sciences industry. A biotech student has wide scope and option to specialize in any one segment of life and further make it a rewarding profession.

There has been a paradigm shift from conventional agriculture, totally dependent on vagaries of weather and being a traditional occupation for livelihood to a scientific and knowledge-based industry. This change calls for the implementation of modern biotechnology at a level where the farmer in the rural background can benefit in terms of increased crop yield and better economic returns on sustainable basis. India will not be able to realize its strengths if the rural populace is left behind. Agriculture, therefore, has to be treated as an industry and the biotech graduates have a bright career in this industry.

Distinct career-making industries

Agri-biotechnology:

  • Bio-agri-inputs such as biofertilisers, biopesticides, vermi culture and organic manures.

  • Organic farming-cultivation, processing and marketing of organic produce.

  • Maintenance of biomass and micro nutrients level in soil for sustainable productivity.

  • Large-scale cultivation of jatropha and its processing for biofuel production.

  • Biotech parks and Bio IT parks, their operation and maintenance.

  • Bioinformatics

  • Contract farming of medicinal and aromatic plants

Applications of nanotechnology

Agriculture and food processing, safe drinking water, drug delivery system, structural ceramics, energy conservation, high temperature nano thermometer, carbon nano tube sheets, pigments and coatings, medicine and environmental aspects.

Tissue engineering

The tissue engineering industry is an emerging market involving research and development taking place in the world's leading universities and companies worldwide. Tissue engineering is a multidisciplinary field that is part of both the medical device industry and the biotechnology/biopharmaceutical industry.

Clinical research

In the clinical research sector, it has been estimated that by the year 2010, more than 50,000 professionals will be required in India alone. With India becoming a signatory to TRIPS and clinical trials being mandatory as per ICH–GCP norms, new career opportunities are abundantly available in clinical research which covers positions such as clinical research scientists, clinical research coordinator, clinical research investigator, clinical research managers, business development managers etc.

IPRs for a biotechnologist

In today's era, a degree will not be of much help in a competitive job market. We need to train people for specific jobs. In biotechnology, the generalist biotech graduates will not serve the purpose for the industry unless they are intensively trained in specific areas to fit in specific jobs. With the National Knowledge Commission in place, the future of the Indian industry depends upon the knowledge-based-industry and biotechnology is the most knowledge-based-industry. The scope of this industry is immense and the personnel trained in biotechnology shall ever remain sought after.

 

Biotech is an evolving discipline New Page 1

"Biotech is an evolving discipline"

Dr VK Vinayak, president, biopharmaceutical (R&D), Panacea Biotec, New Delhi

Biotechnology is the buzzword today. Several surveys conducted by governmental and non-governmental agencies have indicated a boom in the biopharma/biotech sector. This has led to the mushrooming of several ill-equipped, poor teaching schools across the country, churning out half-baked biotechnologists. Such surveys and projections have also stimulated the government to initiate programs like BTech/BE/MBA (Biotech). Biotechnology as a discipline has also been introduced at the undergraduate level. All of these are in addition to the MSc, PhD biotech programs that have been supported by the DBT, UGC and private universities.

The quality of biotech personnel has definitely taken a backseat. Most often, biotech companies have to screen at least 100-200 resumes of candidates with masters/BTech qualification in order to pick up one or two persons who could fulfil the requirement of the industry.

Courses like BTech, BE (Biotechnology) or MBA have been introduced for specific purposes. It was expected that candidates with BTech/BE (Biotech) having hardcore molecular biology teaching along with hard core bioprocesses exposures would be more suitable for manufacturing units of the biopharma/biotech industries. Such trained candidates could design proper microbial strains, conduct metabolic engineering and optimize downstream processes resulting in high yield of the products. Candidates with MBA qualification would make good marketing personnel for biopharma/biotechnology industry.

Career openings

  • There are a large number of research centers supported the DBT, DST, CSIR and ICMR that are conducting R&D in various disciplines of biotechnology. In addition, many major biotech/biopharma industrial houses have set up world-class R&D facilities. Candidates with MSc/PhD qualifications can look out for openings as research fellows/research associates in these research centers.

  • Since several new biotech schools are being set up and many universities have also set up departments of biotechnology/biosciences that impart various undergraduate and postgraduate biotech courses, these provide good opportunities for candidates with MSc/PhD qualifications for teaching biotechnology at these centers. In addition, teaching options are available in colleges imparting BSc (Biotech) and also in higher secondary schools where biotechnology is taught as a vocational discipline.

  • The industry does have a shortage of skilled personnel who could understand Quality Assurance (QA)/Quality Control (QC), requirements of biotech/biopharma products. Candidates with MSc/BTech/BE (Biotech) qualifications with some expertise in QA/QC could aspire to be QA/QC
    specialist.

  • Many of the health-related and agri-related products are being marketed in the county. Candidates with MSc (Biotech) plus MBA (Biotech) qualifications would be preferred by the industry for marketing such products.

  • India is a hub for biomanufacturing, where the largest number of USFDA approved manufacturing units exist outside the US. Many multinational companies are looking towards India as a biotech manufacturing base. Therefore, candidates with BE/BTech (Biotech), MSc (Biotechnology) with PhD qualifications or exposures in downstream processing would have options for positions like product specialists/manufacturing specialists.

  • Since January 2005, patent regime in the country has changed to product regime. Several patent/PCT applications are likely to be filed. The several forward looking biopharma companies would have openings for biotechnologists who could understand finer points of biotech to be evaluated or file patents. Biotechnologists with MSc/BTech qualifications having a postgraduate diploma in IPR can look for positions of patent expert or patent specialist.

  • India is also witnessing multi-location clinical trials on a large-scale. Many multinational companies are keen to conduct clinical trials in India because of the available genetic pool and large number of clinical subjects. Many CROs have set up their units to organize clinical trials and manage clinical trial sites. Biotechnologists have career openings as research fellows/associates to help in data management, trial management and organizing laboratory services.

  • The option as scientists in various funding agencies like the DST, DBT, CSIR, ICMR and ICAR is also available.

  • Finally, biotechnologists have the option of becoming an entrepreneur and set up unit in the biotech incubator(s), which are located in most of the biotechnology parks.

Although several career options have been indicated above, the biotech discipline is an evolving subject. Thus there is a constant need to improve or acquire technical/professional skills.

 

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