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Why The Innovators Are Leaving Big Pharma

August 31, 2016

by admin


Top life science talent didn’t spend years getting their Ph.D. to become the recipient of innovation rather than the innovators.


Big Pharma brands are increasingly further from the cutting edge of pharmaceutical discovery, and there have recently been a wave of leaders taking the leap into the innovative world of Biotech start-ups. Previously, this would have been viewed as a risky move, but with external investment in Biotech still at record levels, the talent is following the money to put its head where the heart is.

People get into life sciences to make a difference to humanity. The start-up biotech scene has reached that crucial tipping point where the trickle of top people turning their backs on Big Pharma is turning into a bubbling brook, and the prestige of the big names is being eschewed in favour of the innovative big science of the smaller players.


For an executive with a stellar corporate career, leading a tiny biotech start-up can be hugely exciting, and the risk / reward dilemma is increasingly tipping in favour of the potential rewards on offer – i.e. making that breakthrough innovation. These executives may well have their Big Pharma track record to fall back on if things don’t go to plan, but the really interesting development is that mid-to-senior-level talent is also increasingly making the leap. Career development in the big corporates is increasingly horizontal, and the 3-5 year cycles of reorganisation also have their impact.

In you want to help move science forward and can do without the flashy company car and generous pension scheme, start-ups are the place to be. The big behemoths are not sufficiently investing in their R&D capabilities, preferring to acquire the smaller players rather than put in the work themselves. Admittedly, there are roles that join these two worlds together, but according to HBM Partners, a healthcare investing firm, 64% of drugs approved in recent years are from the smaller players.


This is a trend that is by no means confined to the pharmaceutical industry. Executives across all sorts of industries are taking control of their own destinies as entrepreneurs rather than corporate yes-men. It is still a scary step to make when you have a mortgage and a family, but the social proof of their success is obvious on social media. The rewards are there if you are brave enough to make that first step into the unknown.

As an executive search consultant, it is my job to match the best people with the best opportunities. At Talentmark, we have worked with the majority of the top companies for years now – they have not stopped being great places to work, and they continue to attract the best minds in the industry, but there are some fascinating alternatives for those individuals who want to make a bigger splash in a smaller (but no less important) pond.


The risks of moving to a start-up cannot be discounted entirely, but the job satisfaction and potential rewards are increasingly worth it for many.

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