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Innovative & Impactful
Developments in pharmaceutical and biomedical directly influence people’s personal, and professional, well-being.
Forty years ago, the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development (TCSDD) conducted its first cost assessment of new drug development, and the price tag averaged out at $54 million. In 2014 TCSDD conducted a reassessment, and concluded pharmaceutical companies now cough up an average $2.6 billion for each new medication.
Medical device and technology development is another a costly endeavor, both in time and dollars. ScienceDirect reports the average time-to-market - from research and development to testing and sales - runs between three and seven years, and rings up an average $31 million. For high-risk medical products, that dollar figure can triple.
Expenses, however, aren’t the only aspect that’s changed. Forty years ago, there was no Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) or mobile apps, all of which are becoming integral elements to the development, delivery, and use of new drugs and medical technology.
What else has changed for pharmaceuticals and medtech? Four seasoned professionals weigh in on how their careers have evolved with the industry along with advice on what it takes to succeed in these sectors today, and tomorrow.
Duplan Focuses on Alcon’s Present & Future Needs
An invitation to the C-suite generally requires one to possess an extensive resume. However, not all executives boast first-hand experience across multiple function areas of a business or industry. That’s the strength Sergio Duplan brings to his executive responsibility as Alcon’s region president for North America.
The Fort Worth, TX-based corporation, which is a division of Novartis, was founded more than 70 years ago as a pharmacy. Within a few years, it began manufacturing pharmaceuticals, and, by 1950, it was creating ophthalmic products to treat eye infections and other optical conditions. Today Alcon features a product portfolio treating various diseases, including cataracts, glaucoma, retinal diseases and refractive errors.
“Demand for eye care services is projected to increase nearly 30% by the year 2020. It’s great to know that our work directly influences helping people improve or preserve their sight,” notes Duplan.
“This is a company that really cares about its mission of helping people see better, and, because of that, it’s helping shape the way eye care is being delivered around the world, not only through the products and technologies we develop and sell, but also through the causes we support," he adds.
“Our partnerships with organizations such as Orbis, SEE International, and VisionSpring provide eye exams and surgeries for low-income patients, as well as training for doctors in underserved communities around the world.”
In addition to running the surgical division producing equipment for ophthalmic procedures, Duplan leads the division manufacturing of over-the-counter products for contact lenses, lens care solutions and dry-eye drops.
“The best part of my job is working across the entire business to enhance sight and improve lives, from marketing and sales to partnering closely with research and development, and business development as we bring new innovations to customers and patients to discussing career development for our associates,” he says.
As noted earlier, Duplan doesn’t just add ideas and leadership to these functions, he also brings first-hand experience. Starting as an industrial engineer, he learned the intricacies of supply chain operations.
“Understanding the complexities of production and distribution showed me how, to be successful, companies must reliably supply the products customers count on,” he notes.
After earning an MBA, Duplan switched his concentration to money matters.
“Spending four years in finance really grounded me in the fundamentals of what drives a business, and provided a great foundation for my next career move into sales and marketing,” he explains.
That shift demanded Duplan add customer service and messaging skills on top of the logistics and fiscal knowledge he’d acquired. Now he calls on all those skills to guide product development, support associates, and promote Alcon’s public and philanthropic presence.
“I think many people believe you have to be a scientist or have a deep science background to be successful in the medical device or pharmaceutical industry. There are real opportunities for a variety of skills and talents,” he says.
“That’s one of the most exciting aspects of career development in this industry - the breadth and depth of roles and experiences available.”
In addition, Duplan encourages professionals to break free from preconceived perceptions that career development must follow vertical paths.
“For me, the process of learning, developing, and building relationships in different areas of the business made it well worth it, and directly contributed to my career path,” he says.
See what’s happening with jobs at Alcon at alcon.com/careers. Get connected on LinkedIn and Facebook.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than 24 million Americans suffer from cataracts by age 40. Another 7.7 million age 40 and older have diabetic retinopathy. That’s in addition to the nearly 1 million doctor and hospital visits for eye infections each year.
Bognar-Powers & Apex Systems Staff Up
The gig economy continues to gain momentum. According to The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, the number of independent earners exceeding $100,000 in annual income exploded by 70% between 2011 and 2018.
Of course, not all freelance professionals and short-term contractors bank six-figure salaries, but the fact remains, this segment of the labor market serves a vital dual purpose: for companies, independent contractors step in as needed; for professionals, this career strategy offers certain freedoms, such as the latitude to collect a greater variety of experiences from different organizations.
Even contract workers still need to be vetted, ensuring their skills match the job’s requirements, and they can adapt to a corporation’s culture. The human resources (HR) department typically assumes the responsibility of evaluating candidates, but oftentimes their hands are full with recruiting for permanent positions and maintaining employee benefits programs. That’s when specialized staffing agencies, such as Apex Systems, headquartered in Richmond (Glen Allen), VA, step in.
Apex Systems has been placing STEM talent in various industries for more than 25 years. Its life sciences division partners with biotechnology and biomedicine businesses, pharmaceutical manufacturers, clinical laboratories, hospitals, and other organizations that rely on scientists, engineers, and technologists.
In order to make appropriate matches, recruiters and consultants must be well-versed in their clients’ industries. Admittedly, Aliciabeth L. Bognar-Powers was more comfortable placing engineers and IT specialists, having forged most of her experience in the automotive industry and as an IT recruiter, than figuring out the demands and qualifications related to pharmaceutical, biomedical, and other life sciences organizations. However, she committed wholeheartedly to studying the sector when promoted to senior relationship manager in life sciences.
“I’ve always had an interest in these industries; I never knew how I could be a part of them without a specialized degree,” she says.
“What appealed to me most was the opportunity to gain experience in these industries, learn more about the various roles, and be able to contribute to society’s new innovations by supporting clients and connecting them with professionals who could help them meet their organizational goals.”
Two years later, Bognar-Powers not only conquered the steep learning curve of the industry’s staffing trends, but she also arrived at a perspective that empowers her to advocate for client corporations.
“I’m accountable for business development of client accounts, including overseeing process implementations, supporting new account adaption, and coordinating internal and external training,” she comments.
Serving as a conduit in the gig economy also provides Bognar-Powers a third-party point of view of the labor market. She sees where shortages exist. She tracks changes in skill demands. And she also witnesses job seekers’ missteps.
“Many applicants do not realize the hiring process for roles within the pharmaceutical/biomedical industry can be quite a long process,” she explains. “We have weekly check-ins with candidates and assist in the interview process to keep all parties well-informed.”
Bognar-Powers also reminds candidates that due diligence is frequently rewarded.
“To stay up-to-date, job seekers should take advantage of any training opportunities their employer offers, whether it be through a staffing firm or direct company,” she suggests.
“Utilize LinkedIn to stay informed about the companies where you want to work. Join groups and build out your network to find other ways to gather important information and hear about opportunities. Above all, stay curious.”
Check out contract opportunities with Apex Systems at itcareers.apexsystems.com. Get connected on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Upwork reports that 47% of working Millennials have opted for careers in the gig economy, and Deloitte asserts that 62% of this demographic would willingly leave a permanent position to pursue a viable gig opportunity.
Albertorio Pushes Innovation at Arthrex
Engineering is all about designing and constructing products and problem-solving. Medicine centers on how the human body functions and what ails it. Biomedical engineering is the marriage of the two fields, designing products to alleviate pain and empower providers to help people live healthier lives. That relationship appeals to Ricardo Albertorio.
Upon completion of his undergraduate degree, the new biomed engineer headed to medical school for a research study of biomaterials. Although he contemplated an academic career path, Albertorio was anxious to get into the nitty-gritty of biomedical production. After finishing the research assistantship, he accepted a manufacturing process engineering job, which laid the foundation to move into product development.
After Albertorio had been in the industry several years, his professional development objectives shifted slightly away from simply gaining more new experiences toward desiring an environment that bolstered creativity. A former colleague suggested he check out Arthrex, Inc., located in Naples, FL, because of its reputation for innovation.
“I was amazed at the dynamic environment within Arthrex. Back then, and now, it’s a ‘no holds barred’ approach to product development where everyone is excited to tackle the most challenging of engineering problems with the goal of providing the most effective solutions to our surgeon customers and their patients, regardless of effort or cost,” he says.
The privately held company reports that it develops more than 1,000 medical devices each year, particularly within the field of arthroscopy and joints.
“Arthrex specializes in creating minimally invasive implants and instrumentation for the arthroscopic repair of soft tissue, cartilage and bone,” explains Albertorio. “I began working in the distal extremities (hand, foot and ankle) product development group, and later transitioned to managing the team for knee and hip arthroscopy.
“In 2015 I was promoted to vice president of engineering, providing leadership to all eight product development teams,” he adds.
“I ensure engineering efforts are aligned with the vision and mission of the company, providing strategic direction and decision-making, and facilitating the acquisition of tools, technology, and resources to meet and exceed Arthrex’s product development goals.”
Of course, Albertorio strives to set up his team to succeed, but sometimes that includes advising them to embrace unexpected outcomes that demand new solutions.
“[For example], when a medical device company receives a reported product failure, it’s engineering’s responsibility to seek the root cause and take appropriate corrective action,” he states.
“A corrective action may not resolve the failure mode if you rush to a solution or make design changes based on unverified assumptions. Over the years I’ve learned that the overlooked details usually end up associated with the problem or its solution.”
These types of experiences also taught him key lessons for future success, such as taking the time to be assured of decisions throughout each project stage. Perhaps an equally important lesson is how one handles those unexpected or problematic situations.
“You’ll not be judged on your mistakes, but on your actions afterwards,” cautions Albertorio.
However, he doesn’t discourage his teams from embracing calculated risks, including when it comes to professional growth.
“My advice to someone seeking a career in the medical device industry is to look for those opportunities to learn and grow in your area of interest. It usually involves something outside of your comfort zone or challenging your current set of skills,” he concludes.
Learn how to join the Arthrex team at arthrex.com/job-seeker. Get connected on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
According to Pew Research, more than 20 million Americans 18 and older admit to difficulty walking or climbing stairs. Many of these individuals could benefit from joint replacement, which is why the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons predicts total hip and knee replacements will grow by 171% and 189%, respectively, during the next decade.
Sanderson Enjoys the Impact Her Work at Stryker Has on People
As an engineer, Roxana Sanderson falls under the technical professional label, and she, indeed, enjoys the excitement of giving life to an idea that results in tangible devices. But in truth, she’s a people person.
With nearly every job, her focus has zoned in on how her decisions can impact or improve others’ lives in some regard. For example, after a brief stop with a hospital where she created a biomedical device maintenance protocol, Sanderson became a teacher.
“Teaching was very fulfilling and I enjoyed doing it, but my true passion was engineering, and I wanted to go back to it,” she recalls.
That’s when Sanderson moved from Colombia to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, after which she accepted a full-time position with Stryker. Although that job was data-centric, it wasn’t hard to see how her efforts could lead to better products, and, therefore, improve conditions for patients or providers.
“I conducted complaint investigations and reviewed historical complaint data to provide input into new product development projects,” Sanderson describes.
Headquartered in Kalamazoo, MI, Stryker produces medical devices for orthopaedics and neurotechnology, as well as various medical and surgical equipment. In addition to racking up nearly 40 years of consecutive growth, the corporation owns more than 6,500 patents worldwide.
Sanderson knew about Stryker’s technical accomplishments, but it was the people perspective that has really grabbed her.
“I was surprised by how willing everyone is to share their knowledge with you when you’re new to a role or want to learn more about a certain topic,” the senior product development engineer remarks.
Naturally, Sanderson adopted this attitude, too. What’s more, she’s sought means to expand on it in a formal manner. In 2017 she collaborated with coworkers to found SOMOS, an employee resource group promoting Hispanic/Latino cultures.
“Being part of SOMOS allows me to create opportunities for others to make connections. The group has four major priorities: community building at Stryker; cultural education and awareness; attraction, engagement, and retention of top talent; and community involvement,” details Sanderson.
She’s also been impressed with the leaders’ commitment to service outside the company. Last year, Fortune named Stryker to its 50 Best Workplaces for Giving Back list in recognition of various philanthropic efforts. Sanderson especially appreciates Stryker’s relationship with Operation Smile, the non-profit organization that provides specialized medical care to children with cleft lips or palates. In fact, late last year, she volunteered with a team of medical providers and colleagues for a mission to Tangier, Morocco, where 177 kids received new smiles.
“I loved spending time with the children and their families, and was fascinated by their stories. I was also very impressed with the kindness, professionalism and hospitality of the volunteers. The icing on the cake of this fulfilling experience was getting to share it with the Stryker team,” she says.
With each step in her engineering career, Sanderson is reminded that people skills are as valuable and applicable as becoming an expert in technology, both for personal satisfaction and professional growth potential.
“Someone gave me this piece of advice: it’s not enough to work hard, keep your head down and hope you’ll get noticed. You need to promote yourself and seek people who will advocate for you. I take the time to meet new coworkers and develop relationships with people who can act as mentors or sponsors,” she explains.
“I think this is especially important for minority and female professionals.”
Kickstart your career at Stryker by logging on to careers.stryker.com. Get connected on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Tagboard, Twitter, Glassdoor and YouTube.
The Brain Aneurysm Foundation asserts that as many as one in 50 people in the U.S. has an unruptured brain aneurysm. Research also indicates that an aneurysm ruptures every 18 minutes, and people who are Hispanic are approximately twice as likely to experience ruptures than those who are Caucasian.
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