Rapid Expansion and Startups Spell a Fight for Biopharma Talent in Massachusetts

Greater Boston Area

Despite the massive financing from venture capitalists that poured into Massachusetts in 2021, Bay State biopharma companies are struggling to find enough talent to fill the number of available jobs.

For job seekers in Massachusetts, it’s become something of a buyer’s market. With the plethora of available positions, job seekers can afford to shop around for the best fit. On the other hand, employers have to be creative in offering incentives to attract top talent. A new report from the Boston Globe noted that some employers in the Bay State are concerned that this strain on talent supply will inhibit growth and innovation.

Michael Gilman, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Arrakis Therapeutics in Waltham, Mass., told the Globe that the hiring market is more competitive than in previous years. Part of that dearth of talent is likely because of the number of startups in Massachusetts that have hit the streets in the past few years, due in large part to the significant amounts of available VC funding.

“The proliferation of new companies has created somewhat of a supply and demand mismatch in the marketplace for skilled managers,” Adam Koppel, M.D., Ph.D., managing director of Bain Capital Life Sciences, told the Globe.

The latest VC-funding report from MassBio notes that approximately 85,000 people work in the state’s life sciences sector, a significant 55% growth since 2008. That number is predicted to grow significantly over the next decade. Last year, MassBio predicted another 40,000 life sciences jobs will be created in the state over the next 10 years.

Citing multiple job boards, the Journal reported that life sciences companies in Massachusetts have hired for more than 2,600 positions over the past six months. Most of those are located in the heart of Gene Town, Cambridge, Mass. Companies that were recruiting the most aggressively during that time frame are some of the largest biopharma employers in the state, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Moderna, Inc. and Takeda Pharmaceutical. Flagship Pioneering, the VC backer of Moderna, has also been competing for talent to fill the multiple companies it has launched over the past year. Some of those Flagship-backed startups include Alltrna, the first transfer RNA (tRNA) platform company, and Inzen Therapeutics, which was formed to develop medications based on a new pathway called Thanokine Biology.

Employee turnover is also a significant challenge for Massachusetts-based life sciences companies. As expected, when companies offer large compensation and incentive packages, employees already working in the industry would consider a change in employment. The Journal noted that approximately 16.5% of life sciences employees in the state voluntarily left their jobs last year. For 2021, that was a 13% increase over 2018. That kind of transition is “high enough to affect a company’s effort to grow,” the Globe said.

“One of my companies realized they had fallen behind in some positions by more than 10 percent,” Tony Mullin, a biotech human resources executive, told the Globe. “They offered $130,000 and were losing candidates because they were getting $145,000 or $150,000 from other companies.”

Changes in working conditions forced by the COVID-19 pandemic have also played a role in giving employees more power of choice, particularly those who are not bound to a research lab. Companies offer more remote positions to fill those needed gaps.

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