Science and Talent

By Smita Saha, Vice President-HR, AstraZeneca Pharma India


Smita Saha, Vice President-HR, AstraZeneca Pharma India

Biopharmaceuticals is arguably amongst the most sophisticated achievements of modern science. The paradigm change in cancer treatment is perhaps the best example of this sophistication and its potential to change people’s lives. Immunotherapy: a promising therapeutic approach can harness the patient’s own immune system to help fight cancer. Scientists are working to understand how cancer evades the immune system and identify approaches that enhance the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. Recent data demonstrates that immune-mediated therapies can produce durable remissions and the possibility of a dramatic improvement in survival for cancer patients. Targeted treatments such as immunotherapy and other such disruptive innovations in the biopharmaceutical world are reshaping the industry and its needs today. It comes with huge operational and technological challenges which are very different from conventional pharma. For example, an industry report by Mckinsey highlights that large-scale biotech-manufacturing facilities require $ 200 million to $ 500 million or more to build, in comparison to similar scale of small molecule facilities that may cost just $ 30 million to $ 100 million. These biotech facilities are costly to run, with long process durations, low yields, expensive raw materials, and, not least, the need for a team of highly skilled experts to operate them.

The  high cost of discovery and development, the complexity in manufacturing and supply chain, the quality and compliance assurance process and above all, the thin line of keeping these innovations accessible and affordable for the patient is continuously challenging the operating model of an organization. While the opportunity is immense, the challenges also require a different management style, a different mindset, a different culture. This is where management consulting comes in to help organizations navigate through various internal and external factors, develop winning strategies. I would like to however, talk specifically about consulting value-add when it comes to people, which is clearly, the strongest asset and greatest source for competitive advantage for a science and knowledge-led industry like the biopharmaceuticals.


Building a culture that promotes scientific curiosity is agile and high-performing, and which attracts, develops and retains great people requires a number of factors to come together to ultimately deliver business results. The Human Resources function plays an important role here in shaping and developing talent strategy for their scientific and non-scientific workforce. Findings by PWC in a report have thrown some interesting findings on getting the talent formula right in the biopharma industry. 51 percent of top executives report that hiring has become more difficult. It highlights that HR must be tightly integrated to R&D organizational decision making and a strategic function in all cases. Performance incentives should combine "soft" and "hard" metrics and scientists want career paths that recognize and reward their passion and commitment to science.


The government has helped in solving some of the industry issues such as the enhanced budget allocations toNIPERs in the country. This is giving industry-ready talent to companies. However, the onus to a large extent lies on the organization to focus on leadership development, diversity and strengthening talent strategies.


• Leadership development: In a high-performing organization, developing a strong leadership culture that is capable of handling challenges in a rapidly evolving environment is critical. And, if you put science at the center of everything you do, the kind of decision making skills an executive requires becomes very different too.  Mentoring programs, business coaching, exchange programs and cross functional development opportunities can be ways to develop enterprise leadership skills.


• Gender Diversity: Having a diverse workforce that accurately represents the communities in which we work is important. Workplace diversity and inclusion is today a big challenge across industries. Specifically in the pharmaceutical industry, the sales job has daily in-city travel and sometimes out of city travel. In addition to the obvious infrastructure issues, other practical challenges exist. E.g. finding clean toilets or safety issues. So we see fewer women in these sales job roles which in turn reduce the pipeline for management and leadership roles. Therefore, organizations need to work hard to ensure their board and leadership teams are diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity and culture. There is a need to focus on building leadership and management capability to build and lead diverse teams, strengthen fairness and transparency.


• Strengthening talent strategies: A recent report published by Deloitte on Talent Management says 79 percent of Indian organizations surveyed exhibit low talent management maturity and are missing out on the substantial financial, business and talent benefits of higher maturity. 29 percent of all the organizations surveyed globally have matured talent strategies and processes in place verses 21 percent of surveyed organizations in India. It is therefore imperative to build an inclusive talent system aligned to the desired strategic outcomes; one that attracts and retains the most skilled and talented individuals to help in developing new treatments and medicines.


In all these areas, organizations appreciate the consultant’s contributions in nurturing a strong culture of innovation and enterprise that can have a positive impact across the organization. Ultimately by focusing on its people, an organization is able to discover, develop and deliver the advancements the world needs in complex and difficult diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, COPD and asthma.


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