Spotlight On: A Deeper Look into Life Sciences

Here in the tri-state area, legal hiring in the life sciences industry is heating up.  If you are someone who always had an interest in working in the medical or science field, but chose law school instead; if you are motivated to use your legal skills in a world defined by helping others through scientific innovation; or if you are fascinated by the wonders of science in general, then perhaps an in-house career in the life sciences is for you.

In this article, we are going to take a little time to focus on some important facets of the life sciences industry.  With this short primer, you can get a better feel for whether life science is the industry for you.  Moreover, if you have already decided to look for in-house opportunities in the life science field, then this article can help you prepare to tackle those in-house counsel interviews.

The Difference Between Pharma, Biotechnology, and Biomedical

At first blush, when you think of “life sciences,” you may just automatically think of the “Big Pharma” companies.  Not so.  The world of life sciences actually deals with three major areas or sectors.  Those three sectors are:

  • Pharmaceutical
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical

First, pharmaceutical companies research, develop, and market medicines made primarily from chemicals and artificial sources.  Pharmaceutical products can take many years to process through research and development (R&D) phases before they ultimately make it to market.

Notably, a good part of the R&D process includes gaining the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.  That, in fact, can be a primary focus of your work as an in-house attorney at a pharmaceutical company.  The legal work of demonstrating to FDA the validity and credibility of the scientific methods of a particular product is challenging and varied.  It is particularly stimulating because it requires a knowledge of not only the law, but of scientific processes and products, and their impact on the human body.

Some of today’s pharmaceutical companies have a long history.  Bayer AG, originally a German company, was founded by the person who first trademarked aspirin in 1899.  Currently, Johnson & Johnson, which has been around for 130 years, is the world’s top pharmaceutical company, closely followed by Novartis and Roche.

Second, biotechnology companies, like pharmaceutical companies, produce medicines in addition to a range of other products.  However, the medicines and other products manufactured by biotechnology companies are derived from living organisms, rather than artificial sources.  You may be surprised to know that common products including wine and beer, detergent, and anything made of plastic are all biotechnology products.  In fact, humans have utilized biotechnology since ancient times to breed animals and improve crops.

In essence, biotechnology companies use the processes of living organisms to make products that solve practical problems.  Thus, companies in this sector of the life sciences industry have developed pest-resistant crops, gene cloning, and bio-fuels.  They have also created “biopharma” drugs such as Humira, for arthritis and Crohn’s disease; and Rituxan, for slowing the growth of certain types of cancer.

An in-house career in a biotechnology company can put you amidst a fascinating array of products, and ideas that will likely make for an exciting, wide-ranging workload.  Currently, the top United States-based biotech firms are Amgen Inc., Gilead Sciences, Celegene Corp., and Biogen Inc.

Third, biomedical companies generally create medical devices to assist in medical treatment.  Such products include stents, meshes and other bio-compatible materials, surgical implants and tools, and prosthetics.

The world of biomedical engineering can be compelling for attorneys who are drawn to both the medical and engineering fields.  That is because biomedical companies combine engineering principles and design concepts with medicine and biology to help get better healthcare outcomes for people.  Currently, the top biomedical engineering companies are Merck & Co. Inc., Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer.

Trends in Tech Valley, California vs. Tech Alley, NYC

In recent years, a good number of biotech startups have appeared alongside the computer tech companies in Silicon Valley – the “Tech Valley” in California.  However, in the NYC region, particularly in northern and central New Jersey, there is a real significant and growing biotech and pharma presence.

Indeed, given the strength in academic scientific research and commercial financial support in New Jersey and New York City, biotech investment from such companies as Eli Lilly and Co., Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson has put life sciences on the map in the entire NYC region.  Further, New Jersey has, far and away, the most pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies compared to New York and Connecticut.

Accordingly, while both California’s Tech Valley, and NYC’s Tech Alley are both strong, there is an encouraging trend favoring the New York – New Jersey region with regard to life science opportunities in the future.

Moving from One Life Science Industry to Another – the Good News and Bad News

As you are considering life science companies for in-house positions, you may be asking yourself:  Would I have the skills to be able to shift from biotech to pharma, or biomedical to biotech, if I need to?  There is some good and bad news in answering to that question.

The bad news first.  While all three sectors fall under the “life sciences” umbrella, each sector has considerable differences in product, process, and scope.  Once immersed in one type of company, you will likely need to put some effort into learning the particulars of another sector.

But, the good news!  You are a lawyer.  In the main, you have the best transferable skill of all – the ability to understand the law in any discipline.  Therefore, even though the science may be different, the mechanics of the laws you will be dealing with in any life science workplace will be relatively the same.  So, have no fear.  Your ability to transition from one sector to another might require some homework, but is entirely possible.

To conclude, the New Jersey – New York region (“Tech Alley, NYC”) has a vast number of exciting in-house opportunities in the life science industry.  Whether you prefer pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or biomedical companies, there are many chances for a fulfilling in-house position to move your career forward.  So, keep this article close, do your homework, and start your in-house search in the life sciences today.