Creating a Career in Drug Discovery and Development
If you have a knack for solving complex scientific problems, along with a real desire to forge new frontiers in medical treatment, you might want to check out the drug discovery and development field.
In fact, as pharmaceutical detectives, architects and inventors, these professionals dedicate their careers to researching and developing ever better and safer medication therapies for fighting disease and maintaining health. And a graduate degree in drug discovery and development can be your entrée to a challenging and rewarding career in this increasingly competitive field.
Employment Outlook in Drug Discovery and Development
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as the population ages, the demand for new medications will continue to rise, while advances in technology will open innovative avenues for drug discovery and development.
Consequently, this field will continue to experience steady job growth - around 13% - between now and 2022. Even more impressive, BLS projects a robust 19% employment surge for biochemists and biophysicists, specifically.
Likewise, the average annual wage rate for medical scientists across all industries was a healthy $90,230 in 2013, with those working for pharmaceutical manufacturers earning an average $107,330. In addition, most of the larger manufacturers offer significant salary bonuses throughout the development stage of a new drug.
Range of Career Options
Put simply, drug discovery involves screening genes, peptides, proteins, or other substances for their therapeutic potential, and researching promising candidates, using a variety of innovative technologies.
Once this research is done, it’s handed off to the drug development team – medical scientists with specialized training in such disciplines as chemistry, biology, and pharmacology – where it is put to good use for designing, creating, and evaluating effective medications. The final step in the chain is testing their safety and efficacy, under the direction of scientists and regulatory experts who are well-versed in administering clinical drug trials.
Not surprisingly then, there are a wide range of career options, depending on your education and your interests. Here are just a few of them:
- Biochemists explore the chemical compositions and processes of living organisms and basic life functions. In doing so, they conduct studies and tests to discover new medications, expand the use of existing drugs, and help solve the mysteries of disease prevention.
- Geneticists research inherited diseases, while also developing pharmaceutical products based on their findings. Like other medical scientists, geneticists are hired for their specialties. For example, biochemical geneticists evaluate errors of metabolism, while molecular geneticists focus on DNA mutations.
- Clinical Pharmacologists develop and test new drugs, with an eye toward optimizing outcomes, while reducing adverse reactions. With that in mind, they are experts in pharmacokinetics (drug absorption) and pharmacodynamics (drug effect).
- Regulatory Affairs Experts work to protect public health and safety, by analyzing data on new product performance; addressing legal and administrative issues around drug trial management; and promoting science-based drug regulations.
- Pharmaceutical Sales Reps spend most of their time on the road, creating higher visibility for their products among physicians, pharmacists, hospital personnel, and patient advocacy groups. Often called a “recession-proof” career option, it offers excellent salary potential, great benefits, and an opportunity to grow with the business.
Personal Attributes for Professional Success
In planning for a career in drug discovery and development, there are a few personal attributes that are critical to your professional success:
- Strong quantitative skills. In the pharmaceutical industry, quantitative data is a “must-have” at every step of the discovery and development process – which means that medical scientists who can effectively analyze and interpret data in quantitative terms are in great demand.
- A collaborative spirit and thirst for learning. Drug discovery and development is definitely a team sport, simply because it requires too many specialized skills for any one person to master. But to collaborate, you must also be committed to learning enough about each project phase to operate effectively from within a holistic perspective.
- Patience. A pharmaceutical scientist might work for months or even years on a project before stumbling upon that “aha” moment that leads to an amazing new drug therapy. So patience is truly a virtue in this career field.
- Good communication skills. It doesn’t matter how brilliant a theoretician, nor how skilled an experimentalist you are if you can’t communicate your ideas, results and conclusions to others – both verbally and in writing.
- A solid education. Above all, it’s essential to complete a solid education at a reputable institution with leading professors in their field, who bring their specialized training and real world insight into the classroom. Your academic program should also include hands-on internships and rotations, along with opportunities to network with industry leaders.