Photos courtesy of TransForm Pharmaceuticals (left) and Pioneer Hi-Bred(center and right)
The majority of participants in The Scientist's "Best Places in to Work for Scientists in Industry" survey reported that they valued their workplaces because the companies maintained industry standards, kept promises, and sustained the staffs' pride in their work. The magazine asked employees in life sciences companies to evaluate their own workplaces and identify company characteristics that employees consider important. Six of the top 10 factors they chose relate to integrity and work ethic, three of the top 10 relate to training, and only one to pay as significant issues. "I have passed up increased pay offers in order to stay in this honest, comfortable, and friendly atmosphere," says survey participant Richard Triglia, of Chemicon International, a Temecula, Calif.-based biotechnology company.
To learn what scientists such as Triglia think about their workplaces, The Scientist sorted through 1,373 survey responses from scientists in industry in the United States, Canada, and western Europe. Though not a scientific study, the survey's results, and the views expressed in it, provide a profile of industry scientists' goals.
Fifty-seven percent of life sciences workers said that maintaining industry ethical standards is important. An understanding of the company's mission, and the employee's role in it, ranked second, with 55% of the votes. Equally valued, participants indicated, was the company's track record in keeping promises, both to employees and to the customer. "We all have an ethics code that we go by and sign," says Bill Dolezal, a research fellow in plant pathology at Pioneer Hi-Bred International based in Des Moines, Iowa, the top-ranking company with more than 500 workers in The Scientist's survey. "I work a lot with international law, and it is very clear that we follow the law; if not, it will clearly lead to dismissal. It's a very curt law."
PRESSURE TO PRODUCE Researchers' endorsements of integrity arrive amid a flare-up of corporate scandals, touched off by the Enron debacle in 2001, that scorched the energy, telecommunications, and financial services markets. While life sciences companies, and industries that employ scientists in general, have remained relatively unscathed by this outbreak of disgrace so far, the fallout from the ImClone and Elan scandals have worried some industry leaders.1,2
At the same time, financial challenges in the biotechnology industry--a receding of venture capital investment, for example--keep small companies stressed. Big pharma, in turn, faces yawning pipelines. Investment in drug development has tripled in the past 10 years to more than $30 billion (US), but the industry has fewer new drugs to show for it. After peaking at 131 in 1996, the number of new drug applications filed with the US Food and Drug Administration dropped to 78 in 2002.3 These economic realities put strain on researchers and their resources. "Along with many other people at the company right now, we feel that more work is expected with less people," says a survey participant who works at the London site of a major pharmaceutical company. "We are being pushed beyond our limits to states of fatigue and breakdown, and extra hours and hard work is not appreciated but expected."
In addition to financial pressure, industry scientists also face heightened public expectations. "The public wants their drugs faster, they want them cheaper, they want them more potent, they want them safer," says Mark Rogge, a consultant to the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists and senior director of preclinical development at Seattle-based ZymoGenetics.
DEFINING ETHICS With so many pressures, and given the complexity of scientific research, it's not always easy to define "industry standards" or ethics. Scientists have internalized their own "strong and pervasive ethical norms" through their training, says Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, New York. "Researchers have been taught to value scientific integrity in all its senses--understanding the worth of knowledge, discovery, and the appropriate crediting of writers and researchers. [Scientists] are taught to take pride in their work," Murray adds.
For Rogge, the meaning of standards can be difficult to pinpoint. "There can be a lot of gray area when you don't know necessarily everything about your drug, what it does, and we could study a drug for 25 years and still probably not know everything about [it]," he says. "When do you stop studying it? When do you stop putting a massive amount of resources into understanding your drug? Where you stop doing that work--you try to tie ethics to that. ... Everyone has ethics ... it's just a matter of where you draw that line."
Some of the top-ranking companies in the survey draw that line by doing frequent evaluations, reviews, and training exercises. "Papers are reviewed across functional groups in the organization," says Sherry Morissette, a group leader and senior scientist at Lexington, Mass.-based TransForm Pharmaceuticals, which ranked ninth in the survey among companies with less than 500 employees.
BUSINESS VS. RESEARCH Many survey participants endorsed company attributes that they said made them proud of working in the industry. But some respondents pointed to tension between scientific workers and business leaders. "I have 10 years of hands-on bench science experience," says David Smith, a survey participant and senior scientist at a Southern California biotech, in an interview. "It was my assumption that I was hired because of that experience and the potential benefit to the research program. Unfortunately, however, we frequently find our comments regarding particular experimental results or our criticism of action plans squelched or completely ignored. We're even frequently labeled as 'negative' and 'troublemakers.'"
Sam Salek, director of the Centre of Socioeconomic Research at Cardiff University's Welsh School of Pharmacy, says that the tension between scientists and business divisions have permeated the industry for the last 20 years. The pharmaceutical companies' and other public corporations' first obligation is to stockholders, he says. "In the beginning, the company is profit-making. There's nothing wrong with that."
CLAIMS VS. CONTEXT Some survey participants also discussed uneasiness about conflicts between a company's public statements and its day-to-day management. This was particularly true regarding equity in pay, hiring, and promotional practices. Many of the large pharmaceutical companies are considered leaders in the area of human resources. Yet, quality incentive programs at multiple work sites can be costly and difficult to maintain. "The benefits and initiatives instigated at corporate level HR are not fully implemented at company level, leaving a gap between plan and reality," says a worker in the British office of a major pharmaceutical company.
Some female workers perceive favoritism toward male colleagues. An employee at a large pharmaceutical company in southern California questions its reputation as a place that promotes women and minorities of merit equally with men. "I always wonder why the damned place gets such high ratings," she says. "I don't know how they run things on the East Coast, but in San Diego they are a PhD's redneck boys' club."
Another scientist exalted in her climb up the corporate ladder. "I'm a high-level female business development exec in pharma," says Kathe Andrews-Cramer, vice president, business development for Argenta Discovery in Harlow, UK. "Need I say more?"
Like Andrews-Cramer, most workers relayed excitement and enthusiasm about jobs that allowed them to work creatively, feel good about their contributions to science, and constantly improve their skills. "My overall work experience is very good," says an Abbott scientist at the company headquarters in Abbott Park, Ill.
Biotech employees, and particularly those who transferred to small companies from the pharmaceutical industry, praised their companies' culture. That environment allows staff to dress casually, involves them in decision-making, and encourages them to maintain flexible hours so they balance their home lives and work days.
Paula Park (email@example.com), Alexander Grimwade (firstname.lastname@example.org), Hal Cohen (email@example.com), and Obaid Siddiqui (firstname.lastname@example.org) are on staff at The Scientist.
1. K. Uraneck, "Balancing business and science at Imclone," 16:54-6, The Scientist, Dec. 9, 2002.
2. J. Sullivan, "Plethora of scandals keep market on edge," The Irish Times, Dec. 27, 2002.
3. S. Warner, "Pipeline anxiety: Scientists pumped into new roles," The Scientist, 17:46-8, May 19, 2003.