Biotechnology is one of the fastest growing industries. Over the past five years, the Global Biotechnology industry1 has grown by 5.1 percent to reach revenue of $338 Bn in 2018. Further, the number of businesses has grown by 5.2 percent and the number of employees has increased by 5.3 percent.
One of the major drivers of this unprecedented growth has been technology and the availability of more advanced software and tools, enabling the research and development done in the field.
In an interaction with People Matters, Andrew Hessel, CEO at Humane Genomics Inc. shares, “The thing that’s changing is that life science which was to be much more of an artistic endeavor is now becoming more digital. Today there is an entire digital infrastructure that people can access to do work that was only possible a decade or two ago with the resources of the university or funds from the government or a biotech company.”
The emergence of AI & ML in the Biotechnology Industry
Biotechnology, which involves building living cells or drugs to combat diseases like cancer and other viral diseases has lately witnessed an emergence of regenerative medicine and genetics in diagnostics. Further, biologics are predicted to comprise more than a quarter of the pharmaceutical market by 2020 and the global personalized medicine market is forecasted to reach $2.4 trillion in 2022.
Many companies are unleashing machine learning to understand individual cancer cases, while recommending clinical trials and fueling the global biotechnology market with tech-based solutions to reach $727.1 Bn by 2025.
Hessel shares, “Going forward, there will be more robotics. We will slowly move from the liquid handling robots to a more chip-based world. The industry will witness a revolution in the hardware, software and data analysis and design.”
To unleash the potential of machine learning and other technologies, companies need the appropriate skills and people who will help them in putting these aspirations into action. This creates more demand for talent in the biotech industry and also calls for a need to upskill the current workforce as per the new requirements.
Talent implications of the advancing Biotechnology Industry
As technology changes the way research and development and other work is approached in life sciences, jobs and tasks are increasingly being redesigned to use more essential human skills, and are augmented by technology (augmentation).
Hessel says, “Putting all biological theory into action for creating the right solutions means working amidst high constraints. Hence, people will always be part of the process because we need that level of capability and creativity in such situations.”
To ensure their growth, companies in the biotech industry have to hence strike a balance between technologies and human insight.
However, while tech advancements are being made in biotech, the challenge for many life sciences and health care organizations is the slow rate of adopting new technologies. Deloitte’s report suggests that a major threat to life science organizations is that too few leaders understand the impact advanced technologies have, or will have in the future, without seeing these applications at work. The lack of tech awareness is why organizations in this industry need talent that does have a background in STEM and all the theoretical knowledge required to understand the core problems, but also an agile mindset.
Besides new digital and analytical skills that will be more in demand, companies will also look out for skills such as curiosity, imagination, creativity, and social and emotional intelligence.
While companies will compete with each other for the scarce talent in the market, they would also increase their focus on upskilling their current staff. The companies in biotech have to prepare their talent to operate at the highest levels of thinking and, more often, make complex decisions. Not only for technologies, but the biotech sector also has to prepare talent even for the changing work environments.
Given the scarcity of talent and how niche the sector is, the way forward for organizations in this space is to widen their horizons and hire from other related sectors too.
Skill transferability to enhance the scope for both talent and business in Biotech
Besides a strong academic background, flexibility and building transferable skills will help the talent in this fast-changing industry to adapt to new roles and increase their scope of the job.
Hessel shares an example of electric engineering and explains the scope of skill transferability in the industry. He says, “If you are designing an electronic chip using a particular language and now, let’s say the same language has been reported to design biological circuits. Then you can take anyone who can make electronic chips and without going through much training, they can make a biological circuit.”
Earlier life sciences required and included more scientists who generally worked as reverse engineers and figured out how things work and identified the causes of different problems or made certain discoveries. However, now the time has changed. The emergence of tech and the demand for new and robust solutions and medicines have created the need for more engineers in the industry. Even the scientists from the academic side are expected to build solutions to combat diseases.
Hessel mentions, “Today, a scientist working in the lab has the tools for production too. So we are seeing a new generation of scientists/entrepreneurs who in fact tend to be younger and have a digital mindset.” He further adds that many academic scientists are also increasingly entering this workforce to enhance their career and grow both financially and intellectually.
More academicians working with corporates, governments or independently to find remedies to combat diseases; scientists developing an engineering mindset; and companies skilling their workforce to harness technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence are some trends defining the biotechnology industry currently. These trends will further continue to fuel the growth of the industry towards being one of the efficient and prosperous sectors.
1. The Global Biotechnology industry consists of human health technologies, industrial technologies, agricultural technologies, animal and marine health and bioinformatics, environmental technologies and others.
Image source: Reinvent