Inside dope on one of biopharma's hottest job markets

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Got biopharma job jitters? If so, you're not alone; 44% of pharma workers are worried about getting the ax, according to a PharmaIQ survey. Yet there are some bright spots in the market for life sciences jobs, and one area of acute demand has been in bioinformatics. Corporate recruiter Rick von Rueden gave FierceBiotech IT the lowdown on opportunities in this hot field.

"There has certainly been a rapidly rising upward slope of demand for experienced leaders in bioinformatics, and that includes research informatics and clinical informatics as well," von Rueden said in a telephone interview.

Why? In short, biopharma is suffering from a bad case of data overload. New tools such as next-generation DNA sequencers have spurred an exponential rise in the amount of molecular info to explore and understand, and the information-driven biopharma business needs people with expertise in computers and biology to streamline analysis of the huge amount of data, to help lead the way to discovery of targets for breakthrough drugs and diagnostics. Pharma, of course, is in desperate need for new products.

A member of the executive search team at J. Robert Scott, von Rueden has been hunting for senior bioinformatics pros to fill positions at biotech companies and research outfits. He recently recruited a chief informatics officer for Blackstone Group's Equity Healthcare. Now he's scouting for someone with bioinformatics expertise to head the quantitative biology group at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

Data gophers need not apply, according to von Rueden. His clients want informatics aces who know the right questions to ask while mining big databases, requiring knowledge of complex biology and specialized IT systems. He also found a chief informatics officer not long ago for autism research funder The Simon Foundation, which has taken a keen interest in mathematical models that can aid treatment for the neurological disorder.

Von Rueden didn't have any statistics to share that illustrate demand for bioinformatics pros, but figures from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate exceptional job growth in this field. According to labor statistics, "bioinformatics" falls under the job classification for "biophysicist," which, along with biochemists, is a profession that is expected to see 37% growth in employment from 2008 to 2018. That's the biggest jump in employment among several categories of bioscience posts that Uncle Sam tracks.

For C-level informatics executives, compensation often ranges from $200,000 to $300,000, and it can be more, von Rueden said.

As one might expect, professionals outside the bioscience arena with experience related to the duties of a bioinformatics specialist are flocking to this field, according to von Rueden. So there's competition for jobs. Yet scientific expertise can set candidates apart from others. - Ryan McBride (Twitter | email)

Editor's Note: FierceBiotech IT plans to emphasize its coverage of IT workforce needs in life sciences, particularly in biopharma. Please feel free to email me, Ryan McBride, at rmcbride@fiercemarkets.com with ideas and/or data that you can share on career trends.