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Scientific research, development and innovation are essential factors for any country’s social progress and economic growth. A scientific career can be carried out within “the academia”, in research centers (public, private or both) or in a company, and its ultimate aim is to broaden scientific knowledge.
The quality and impact of scientific production in Spain in certain areas is very competitive globally. Spain has scientific, technological and business leadership in strategic areas such as biotechnology, energy, ICT, etc. with national and international access of the scientific community to advanced scientific and technological infrastructures.
The Public Research Organizations are national public research institutions that, together with the universities, form the basic core of the Spanish public scientific research and technological development system, since they carry out most of the scientific activities.
The following organizations are affiliated to the Spanish Department of Economy.
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).
Center for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research (CIEMAT).
Geological and Mining Institute of Spain (IGME).
Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO).
National Institute of Research for Agricultural and Food Technology (INIA).
Institute of Health Carlos III (ISCIII).
In addition, there are 50 state funded universities and 35 private-funded ones in the country. Many of them have departments and research centres in different disciplines.
The Autonomous Communities also fund cutting-edge public research in their regions.
Video: Estela Area Gómez
PhD Principal Investigator
“Know yourself, listen to people who know the field, and above all try to enjoy doing what you do.”
The natural sciences are those formed by objective and verifiable knowledge on a given subject through a appropriate methodology to the object of study and systematization of knowledge.
The disciplines they cover range from physics, chemistry, engineering and nanotechnology to biomedicine, earth sciences, environment and conservation. It is a very wide range and where, increasingly, the boundaries between fields of study are blurred and research is more multidisciplinary.
Public, Environmental and Occupational Health
Human and social sciences
The human and social sciences encompass disciplines or fields of knowledge that deal with different aspects of social groups and human beings in society.
This category includes branches of knowledge as diverse as demography, geography, archaeology, anthropology, political science, psychology, sociology, ethics, communication and linguistics.
In Spain, the Centre for Human and Social Sciences (CCHS) of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) is the largest research centre in these disciplines and is made up of six research institutes.
Research in Human and Social Sciences has a transversal character and is incorporated in the development of scientific-technical research and innovations oriented to the search for solutions to all the challenges in today’s society.
Scientists in industry work to develop and manufacture products and processes with the goal of increasing sales and profits for their company. In the US, approximately 70% of all scientists with a PhD work in the private sector. The private sector has an enormous variety of opportunities for scientists ranging from research and development, manufacturing and quality control to business development, sales and marketing.
Unlike the academic world, research in industry is much more structured, with much shorter deadlines and much more defined objectives. Progress and effectiveness are constantly evaluated. Researchers in industry must adhere to strict standards when it comes to issues such as data integrity and documentation, including maintenance of lab notebooks, organization of data, and reporting of results.
The industry also requires skills such as effective communication, teamwork and rewards and promotes leadership and proactivity. On the other hand, depending on the company, research in industry offers many of the advantages of research in academia, eliminating the pressure to publish. The resources to develop ideas can be greater and more immediate and the wages are bigger. Careers in industry also provide wide opportunities to explore areas outside of research such as consulting and strategy.
Video: Rafael Mayoral
PhD, Senior Scientist, Merck
“It is possible to pursue a scientific career in the field without having to remain in academia; there are many possibilities related to research in the pharmaceutical industry”.
R & D
Research and development encompasses a wide variety of technical jobs in three areas that often overlap: basic research, applied research and product and/or process development.
In general, research and development activities are carried out by specialized units or centers belonging to a company, or they can be outsourced to a research organization, universities or state agencies. In the context of trade, “R&D” typically refers to longer-term, future-oriented science or technology activities, using techniques similar to scientific research, but directed towards desired outcomes and with broadly expected commercial returns.
Discovery and Preclinical Research
They include careers oriented to business development and/or technology commercialization. They involve scientific and technical as well as business and legal knowledge. It includes activities such as technology transfer, intellectual property and business development.
Technology transfer is the process by which knowledge, techniques, methods of analysis, manufacturing, or other inventions resulting from research are applied to develop and exploit their use through the creation of new products, processes or services. It happens along several core concepts: research institutions, business, government, and across borders. It is often produced through a join effort between government, universities and the private sector as a source of financial aid. Within the company, innovation sales people are heavily involved in regulatory compliance, intellectual property enforcement, innovation promotion, sales development and support.
To adapt to the new needs dictated by the market, the pharmaceutical industry is increasingly outsourcing their less basic operations. Whether to reduce costs, lighten their assets, reduce risks or face complex challenges, pharmaceutical companies and many biotechs outsource many of their processes and strategic decisions to external companies.
These service providers, known as vendors or contractors, support large companies throughout their entire value chain, from basic research to patent finalization.
Most of these providers hire professionals trained in the academia, both scientifically and commercially. Apart from technical knowledge, these companies value the ability to formulate a hypothesis and apply the scientific method to most of the challenges faced by large pharmaceutical companies.
While the vast majority of outsourced services are focused on commercial operations, new firms are increasingly emerging at earlier stages of the pharmaceutical value chain.
Video: CONSULTING – Gaizka Otaegi García
Strategy Consultant, GLG, NY
“Scientists have a work culture and a capacity for resolution that can be applied in many more professional fields than we think”.
Video: Darío García Carracedo
PhD Senior Manager, Medical Affairs, Novocure, NY
“One of the most interesting and even fun things about my job is generating content for materials that are presented at medical congresses; if you are a creative person this work can be very stimulating.”
Small Biotechs or Start ups
Private scientific start-ups are the natural niche for scientists in the service sector. Most of these teams are spin offsof academic laboratories or private scientists who want to develop their own patent. The size of these groups tends to be small, and they are usually concentrated in university institutions or in incubators provided by public institutions, such as municipalities or regional governments.
These laboratories or small biotechs may have public funding, from large pharmaceutical companies, and even fromventure capital groups(Venture Capitals) that see in the patent a potential drug. They tend to have a short half-life, as their aim is to develop sufficient clinical evidence of how their patent works in order to later sell it to large corporations. In this way, pharmaceutical companies save the initial investment in R&D&I.
Although the salaries in these start-upsare not the most competitive, they are a perfect springboard for those scientists from academia who wish to make a transition to the bench of big pharma or biotechs.
Advertising and Medical Communication
Although this sector has much more roots in Anglo-Saxon countries, its implementation is spreading throughout Europe. These communication agencies define and develop the information about specific drugs that pharma and biotechcompanies want to show to doctors and patients (for European regulatory reasons, only in the USA to the latter).
The information focuses mainly on the benefits of the drug, clinical trial data, administration advice, side effects and even regulatory considerations. This information is mostly incorporated in brochures, or PDFs that medical representatives, or Medical Liasons (see industry sector) show to doctors. In some cases, particularly in the US where direct-to-patient advertising is permitted, advertising agencies create the message for magazines, social media, television and radio.
As a highly regulated industry, health authorities require strict control over the information that is passed on to doctors and patients. This requires scientific professionals to create or validate the evidence described. This need is much more important in advertising agencies, where the message is developed by creative professionals.
These agencies hire mostly doctors and scientists from academia, with no industry experience, but with writing and communication skills.
Business Consulting is such a broad term that it encompasses any firm or agency that provides strategic or management support to pharmaceutical companies. Although these agencies focus essentially on the commercial side, more and more firms are offering solutions to pharmaceutical companies in the identification and development of drugs.
Traditionally, these firms have been nurtured by professionals trained in business schools (MBA), finance, or even law. Since McKinsey & Co began recruiting PhDs at the turn of the millennium, large and small agencies are increasingly incorporating scientists into their projects.
Depending on the type of service they provide, most consulting firms can be grouped into the following segments:
In an increasingly competitive and dynamic environment, pharmaceutical companies need to know where their competitors stand with respect to new drug development. To do this, competitive intelligence agencies collect information through interviews with physicians and analysis of market reports to identify market trends, especially for developing drugs. Being highly technical studies, this segment of consulting demands scientists who can interpret clinical and medical data.
This practice is one of the most established in the corporate world, and consists of analyzing and collecting basic data and information on market trends, be it about customers, competitors, market shares, epidemiology, prescription trends, etc. While competitive intelligence focuses more on pharmaceuticals, market research agencies look at all pieces of the industry. The largest companies in this sector are IMS Health, DataMonitor and Thomson & Reuters.
Strategy and Management Consulting
This type of consulting, the most complex, helps companies improve their performance by analyzing their internal operations or strategic plans, identifying inefficiencies and finally developing improvement plans. Pharmaceutical companies outsource this type of study for various reasons, although the most predominant is the incorporation of external points of view that are not conditioned by internal policies.
The selection process of these agencies is known to be one of the toughest. Most of them are looking for candidates who fit in with the company culture and who also have the ability to solve basic problems in a creative way. The latter is measured through Case Studies, where agencies pose hypothetical questions and analyze the way in which the candidate develops the answer. You can find more information in the book called Case In Point, by Marc P. Cosentino.
Although the best known consulting firms are McKinsey & Co, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Co, Deloitte and PWC, there are smaller agencies where access is easier (ZS Associates LEK, Oliver Wyman, AT Kearny, Inventiv helath & Simon Kucher).
Since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003, genomics is one of the scientific areas that has grown the most thanks to the development of new technologies that have dramatically reduced the cost of obtaining biological sequences. The availability of massive data (high-throughput) from the laboratory has triggered the demand for new drugs aimed at new therapeutic targets, as well as more precise treatments suitable for the patient and with less toxicity. Bioinformatics uses algorithms and mathematical models to interpret this data and develop more reliable predictions.
Although academia is currently the largest employer of bioinformatics experts, the pharmaceutical industry and private agencies are beginning to incorporate postdocs with experience in this field or with a master’s degree in computational biology (e.g. “Master’s in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology” from Universidad Complutense Madrid).
Clinical Trial Management (Clinical Research Organizations)
Clinical trials are undoubtedly the most critical process faced by pharmaceutical companies and large biotechs. The approval of the drug by the health authorities (e.g., FDA, EMA) and its commercial success depends almost entirely on the outcome of these trials. For this reason, their design, the correct recruitment of patients, collaboration with hospitals and doctors, and the production and transport of the drug are priority tasks. As it is a complex process, large corporations outsource the management of trials to specialized providers (CRO – Clinical Research Organization).
The scientific profile fits very broadly in these agencies, especially now that these CROs are starting to do preclinical, or basic science-related, trials. However, while scientific knowledge is necessary, many of these agencies also require some experience in the industry, or a master’s degree in clinical trials. Many American and European universities or institutions include these degrees at a competitive price (e.g., “Diploma de Monitorización de Ensayos clínicos” by the Colegio Oficial de Médicos de Barcelona).
In addition to the globally known CROs, such as Quintiles, PPD, or Covance, many public and private hospitals are starting to incorporate some of these functionalities in their departments.
The scientific culture aims to bring science closer to the citizens. Unlike scientific communication, carried out among scientific peers through the publication of articles in specialized journals or conferences, the transmission of scientific culture is carried out through the dissemination of science to students and professionals in different areas through teaching, or through the dissemination of science to society.
There are different public programmes to promote scientific culture in Europe(European Science Foundation, Atomium Culture, EuroScience Open Forum) and in Spain(FECYT, Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness), which have among their objectives the dissemination of scientific and technological culture. In Spain there are also numerous science museums and planetariums that wish to contribute to effective and quality science education, conserve and enhance the historical scientific and technological heritage and showcase Spanish science and technology. In addition, scientific dissemination is carried out through articles in the press and other media.
Video: Javier Carmona
PhD, Associate Editor, Nature Medicine, NY
“I thought that science was the only thing I knew how to do. Instead, when you take the plunge, you realize that you have many more virtues than you initially thought, which are applicable in many professional facets”.
Recently, new platforms dedicated to crowdfunding scientific projects have been developed. This system allows the financing of scientific projects thanks to the search for donations from individuals and companies through the Internet. Crowdsourcing/crowdfunding or scientific micropatronage favours the approach of science to society, by making it easier to get involved in the promotion of research, being part of a scientific project.
Crowdsourcing / Crowdfounding
Science education is concerned with transmitting scientific knowledge and the scientific method to students who are not part of the scientific community. Teaching can take place both in high schools and at university level, as well as in courses within science camps. In addition, there is currently a high supply (and demand) for e-learning, or on-line courses, which facilitate distance learning through electronic means.
The popularization of science is the set of activities that interpret and make scientific knowledge accessible to society. It can be done in any of the formats that currently exist in the media: documentaries, television programmes, popular science magazines, articles in the science section of general newspapers, specialised blogs or podcasts. They also carry out scientific communication or dissemination work in public institutions and companies, as well as in science museums.
The scientific policy is included within the public policies carried out by the state administration and affects the strategies and funds for scientific research, technological development and innovation of the country and therefore its development and progress. Science policy is cross-cutting and includes all sectors and disciplines of knowledge, from the natural sciences to the social sciences.
Science policy considers science as a public good that benefits the citizenry as a whole; its ultimate goal is therefore to introduce and apply relevant knowledge in an appropriate manner in society.
The department of the General State Administration in charge of directing the Government’s policy on science, technology and innovation policy in Spain is the Secretary of State for Research, Development and Innovation, which reports to the Economics Office.
It is also responsible for scientific and technical research, development and innovation, including the management of international relations in this area and the representation of Spain in programmes, forums and organisations of the European Union and internationally.
Video: María José López Barragán
PhD, Quality Assessment Lead, FDA, DC
“The biggest advantage of working at the FDA is the satisfaction of a job that has such a huge impact on ensuring patient safety. No one should be afraid to leave the FDA because there is a huge amount of work where having the scientific knowledge or analytical mindset is crucial.
Research, Development and Innovation
Scientific managers, researchers and regulators participate in the design of actions aimed at the promotion and coordination of the R&D&I process, from the generation of ideas to their incorporation into the market in the form of new products and/or processes, improving the quality of life, the welfare of citizens and contributing to economic development.
Public actions in R&D&I, due to their cross-cutting nature, must be supported and reinforced through sectoral policies. The strategy therefore includes the contributions of the different units of the General State Administration, social agents, public research centres and universities, technology centres and interface units, business associations, existing technology platforms and experts from the national and international scientific, technical and business community, with the participation of the Autonomous Communities in the definition of the established articulation and coordination mechanisms.
Work is therefore carried out in many different areas: human resources and career development, regulation, taxation, technology transfer, patents, intellectual property, infrastructure mapping or advocacy for issues relevant to society.
Science, understood as the promotion of knowledge and global progress, is based on a new international scenario, in which the world’s most powerful universities and research centres compete with each other to attract the best students, scientists and academics of all nationalities.
Public policies in Spain are adapting to this new scenario where the global scientific society is made up of networks of researchers, both real and virtual, which acquire the value of international research engines. Therefore, the communities of Spanish scientists outside our borders are emerging as a new agent, key to the improvement of our science, technology and innovation system. These networks are also a powerful mechanism for scientific relations between the different countries and facilitate a common relationship space as part of a joint Scientific Diplomacy agenda.
Other sectors such as scientific development cooperation are part of the relations with third countries in the field of scientific and technical research, development and innovation.
Scientific managers, researchers and regulators join international initiatives to benefit from large-scale, cutting-edge, multidisciplinary research, the generation of knowledge relevant to citizens and technology-based products for future industrial exploitation.