Issue Date: August 28, 2017
Nonprofit scientists head to industry
Several top researchers are leaving academic and government posts for jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. The moves are a sign that the once sharp line between the for-profit and nonprofit scientific realms is becoming increasingly blurred.
The Swiss drug giant Novartis is a pioneer in recruiting scientists from academia. When it set up the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) in Cambridge, Mass., in 2003 the company hired Mark C. Fishman, a Harvard Medical School professor, as its president.
In 2015 Jay Bradner, also of Harvard Medical School, took over the top job when Fishman retired. Last year, two more Harvard researchers—Peter Hammerman and Jeff Engelman—joined Novartis in its oncology unit.
Now, Shaun Coughlin, director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Cardiovascular Research Institute, has agreed to move East to become NIBR’s global head of cardiovascular and metabolism. He is scheduled to start work Nov. 1.
AstraZeneca, meanwhile, is recruiting two senior scientists from outside the corporate realm. Jean-Charles Soria will leave South-Paris University to become head of oncology innovative medicines. And Geoffrey Kim has left the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, where he directed the oncology products division, to become AstraZeneca’s head of oncology strategic combinations.
Separately, Thomas Wynn has left the U.S. National Institutes of Health, where he was a senior investigator, to head early discovery in Pfizer’s inflammation and immunology unit.
Big pharma firms are looking harder at academia for research talent, says Ron Malachuk, a principal at the executive search firm Korn Ferry. “Developing intellectual property and increasing innovation is critical for drug companies,” he says, “and academicians possess the critical thinking skills to lead such initiatives.”
For their part, academic and government scientists are more open to the “for profit” world these days, Malachuk says. Reasons include increased competition for tenured academic positions and professors’ growing comfort with the corporate world through roles as technical advisers or consultants.
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