Recommendations for Addressing Preclinical Staffing Challenges

Posted on Scientific Staffing. 2 November, 2018

Biopharmaceutical companies are under intense pressure to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of their R&D processes in order to reduce costs and shorten drug development timelines. Towards this end, many sponsoring organizations have turned to outsourcing preclinical activities to Contract Research Organizations (CROs) that specialize in preclinical research.

The FDA requires drug companies to engage in preclinical research to collect important drug safety data before pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices can be tested on humans. Preclinical research often involves testing on animals under close supervision of veterinary specialists and experts in the ethics and regulations regarding the use of animals in these studies.

In addition to the reduced costs, transfer of risk, improved flexibility and quality, and shortened timelines that preclinical CROs can provide, there are a wide range of factors driving the increased outsourcing to preclinical CROs at this time. Some of these include:

  • Sponsors are focusing on core competencies.
  • Some sponsors, especially small biotech companies, do not have the facilities, equipment, skilled staff, etc. that are necessary to conduct preclinical testing.
  • Sponsors are generally increasing R&D budget for early stage drug development at this time due to the 21st Century Cures Act that was passed in 2016.
  • According to a report by the Servier Research Institute, issues related to nonclinical toxicology testing results in a 50.0% failure rate in the early stage development phase. This high failure rate is driving sponsors to work with preclinical CROs that specialize in toxicology testing.
  • Life science companies are shifting their outsourcing model from functional to strategic. This demand for large CROs providing end-to-end preclinical services is increasing as a result.

 

Grand View Research reports that the global preclinical CRO market size had a USD value of 3.25 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow to USD 6.6 billion by 2025, reflecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.3% during the period from 2017 to 2025.

Sponsors are turning to preclinical CROs for bioanalysis & DMPK studies, toxicology testing, analytical services, and other preclinical services (such as imaging, QA support, etc.). The increased outsourcing by sponsors to CROs for a wide range of preclinical activities has created a staffing bottleneck at many preclinical CROs. In this blog, we will discuss some of the best practice recommendations for addressing staffing challenges at preclinical CROs. These recommendations will also be valid for pharmaceutical and biotech companies that choose to keep preclinical work in-house, as opposed to outsourcing to a CRO.

Best Practice Hiring Recommendations for Preclinical CROs

Veterinary specialists, scientists, medical personnel, administrators, governmental and industry liaisons, marketing experts, and a host of other technical and creative individuals are needed to fill the demand for preclinical services at CROs. The competition for these positions is intense, and it is critical for preclinical CROs to invest the time and resources necessary to create a reliable talent pipeline.

A few best practice recommendations for preclinical CROs to ensure an adequate supply of talent to fuel growth include:

Plan for Future Talent Needs. Strategic planning is critical for success in developing a reliable talent pipeline. As such, mapping out future talent needs should be a priority on the same level as acquiring new business. Start with positions that are crucial in supporting the company’s growth and spend some time developing accurate skills requirements. Develop a company organizational chart and do succession planning.

Create a Talent Development Program. Because competition for skilled positions is fierce, it is important to have a program in place to train and develop talent internally. Additionally, mechanisms should be in place to provide on-the-job training for new hires when necessary. Internships and apprenticeships can also effective methods to develop talent.

Partner with Universities. Higher level positions such as in-vivo scientists, research scientists and toxicologists are in high demand in preclinical CROs, due in part to competition with biotechs. Creating partnerships with Universities that have animal science programs is a great way to create a reliable pipeline for these roles. Additionally, the internal talent development can help transition people into these roles.

Seek Candidates Who Align with Your Culture. Retaining new hires is critical to stable growth. Know your company culture, and be sure to build both soft and hard skills into your job requirements. Additionally, seek candidates whose long and short-term goals are aligned with your company’s career progression ladder. For preclinical CROs in remote locations, it is wise to seek candidates that originate from rural communities, as the culture, cost of living, quality of life, commute times, etc, at your location will likely be similar to what they are used to.

Create an Employee Value Proposition. An employee value proposition (EVP) defines the benefits that employees gain from working for your organization. Creating a quality EVP can help you refine your recruiting objectives. Be sure your EVP is communicated effectively to prospective employees by displaying prominently on your website, social media and job postings. An EVP can help you improve the quality of your new hires, reduce turnover, recruit passive candidates, and resonate more effectively with niche candidates.

Present a Consistent Brand to Candidates. Part of attracting candidates that align with your company culture is effectively and consistently presenting your brand to candidates during the evaluation process. Do what is necessary to ensure all personnel involved in the hiring process are aligned and present the company mission, vision, guiding principles and value proposition in a consistent way.

Employ a Comprehensive Screening Process. Hiring scientists for preclinical work involving animals contains inherent risk involving animal activism/sympathies/welfare. It is important to be aware of this risk and implement a comprehensive screening process to vet candidates appropriately. This screening process should also ensure candidate compliance with associated standards and certifications (AALAS, GLP, AALAC, IACUC).

Create a Streamlined Hiring Process. A lengthy hiring process is not usually necessary or wise for most positions, as candidates can get discouraged, lose their excitement, receive raises/counteroffers, or receive an offer from a competitor in your space. Be sure to design a streamlined hiring process that includes clear policies on reimbursement for candidate travel expenses post interview. The per diem rates for travel within the continental United States established by the General Services Administration (GSA) for each fiscal year may be a good place to start when establishing your travel reimbursement policy for job candidates. Use video conferencing to help alleviate time and costs for both parties when appropriate.

Third-Party Staffing Services

Part of developing a successful and reliable talent pipeline can include working with a quality scientific staffing firm that has extensive experience in the preclinical space. A good staffing firm will have a strong national network to help you source the optimum workforce solution for your company quickly, giving you access to talented employees when and where you need them. In order to be successful in creating an effective partnership with a staffing firm, it is important to clearly define your staffing needs, and perform due diligence in selecting the right firm to meet those needs.

A few of the ways in which recruiters can assist preclinical CROs include:

  • Recruiters can offer contract employees to help improve operational agility and reduce costs. This is a great way for companies to create a more flexible staffing strategy.
  • Temp-To-Hire service provided by staffing firms allows companies to hire talent on a temporary or contract basis before committing to a full-time hiring decision.
  • Staffing firms with extensive experience in the preclinical space can save you time and reduce risk by sending you candidates that have already been screened for compliance with background requirements for candidates working this space – TB/PPD tests, titers, vaccinations, blood borne pathogens, medical clearances, respirators, associated standards and certifications,
  • Recruiters can be invaluable in helping to keep the hiring process streamlined and on track. This is especially helpful in situations where competition for talent is strong.
  • Recruiters can provide a second set of eyes to the in-house HR team and dramatically expand their customer’s reach through their network.
  • A recruiter can send samples of candidates they are actively working with to give your organization a sense of what the market is paying for the skills you desire on your team.

Conclusion

Growth in outsourcing to preclinical CROs is causing staffing challenges at these organizations. To meet these demands, it is important for CROs to create a strategic plan that will ensure a reliable talent pipeline to support growth. Organizations conducting preclinical research that make investments in developing the skills of their new and existing employees and take the steps necessary to attract top talent are proactively positioning themselves to compete effectively in today’s global economy.

Astrix Technology Group is a leading provider of staffing and recruiting services focusing on the Pharmaceutical & Biotechnology industries. We have extensive experience staffing pharmacology and toxicology positions and are the sole staffing provider for a global pharmaceutical company with large rural animal facilities. Our recruiters have experience staffing all segments (DMPK, Bioanalytical, Pharmacology, Toxicology, Analytical, Vivarium) and positions (Animal Technician, Research Scientist, Toxicologist/Pharmacologist, GLP auditors, Study Director, etc.) within preclinical CROs doing research with rodents, large farm animals and non-human primates (NHPs).

If you are interested in discussing your hiring strategy with one of our experienced Managing Directors, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

About The Author

Mary Schwans is the Managing Director of Astrix Technology Group’s Staffing Division and is a recruiting expert in the Scientific field. She joined Astrix in 2006 where she has been responsible for the startup and success of the division by growing it from its infancy into an emerging leader in the scientific recruiting field. Ms. Schwans has a strong technical background. She graduated with her BS in Biology from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and first began her career as a scientist in academic laboratories. Ms. Schwans is also part of several Scientific organizations and has held board positions with ALMA.

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