What Restructuring at Big Pharma Companies Means for Analytical Scientists


On April 25, Bristol Meyers Squibb (BMS) announced in an earnings call with investors that it planned to cut $1.5 billion in costs by the end of 2025. This includes laying off more than 2,000 employees, the company said.

“Our focus remains on strengthening the company's long-term growth profile,” Christopher Boerner, chief executive officer and board chair of BMS, said in a press release. “As a part of our continued evolution, we're executing a strategic productivity initiative that will allow us to be more agile, drive efficiency across the company, and prioritize investing in opportunities where we see the greatest potential to get the most promising medicines to patients as quickly as possible."

©  Tada Images - stock.adobe.com

© Tada Images - stock.adobe.com

The move comes amid a slew of layoffs over the last year from Big Pharma companies like Pfizer, Genentech, Sanofi, and GlaxoSmithKline. Downsizing among Big Pharma is worrisome for analytical scientists, who have traditionally sought roles at these companies in lieu of academic laboratories. Roughly half of Spectroscopy’s readership works in the bio/pharma industry, for example.

Still, analytical scientists are feeling relatively positive about the job market—although it is not without challenges. In Spectroscopy’s 2024 salary survey, 64% of respondents said they felt the job market was “excellent” or “good,” compared to 28% who indicated that they did not feel secure in their jobs. About 21% of respondents said their organizations downsized or restructured related to an economic recession over the last year, and 19% said their companies downsized or restructured for a reason other than an economic recession.

But anecdotal evidence suggests that some analytical laboratories are still struggling to retain workers. Fewer technicians are specializing in techniques like spectroscopy or chromatography, and it can be costly both from a time, and financial perspective, to regularly retrain new technicians.

“With that higher turnover that we are seeing in the lab, if you look, there are some interesting studies where it talks about how many linear feet per lab technician exists today versus in the past,” John Luck, chief operating officer at instrument vendor PerkinElmer, previously told Spectroscopy. “Technicians today are expected to have a broader range of capabilities, in how to operate the instruments.”

Retention Troubles

Big restructuring plans can add on additional retention challenges—something that Big Pharma companies already struggle with. Pharma companies want scientists who also have a feel for patient centered medicine, which can be difficult to find, Sonia Fiorenza, vice president, engagement strategies and expert services, at workforce communications company Firstup, wrote in Pharmaceutical Executive.

“Pharma recruitment is uniquely challenging,” she wrote. “When I worked at biotech giant Amgen, a day didn’t go by when we didn’t focus on our mission ‘to serve patients’ and our No. 1 value to ‘be science-based.’ This combination is certainly unique to the industry and very tough to find.”

It is possible that restructuring and layoffs at Big Pharma could amplify some of the smaller retention issues analytical laboratories are already facing. Layoffs, for example, can put burden on existing staff members to pick up additional work, often with no additional pay, which can lead to low morale and encourage workers to look elsewhere for roles.

Data shows that morale among the youngest laboratory technicians is already low. Technicians with 0-5 years of experience report the highest levels of dissatisfaction in medical laboratories, according to data presented in a webinar from Lighthouse Lab Services.

Analytical laboratory supervisors need to start thinking more critically about ways to retain lab workers long-term. Supervisors should consider investing in training for managers and staff, and developing clear career trajectories for workers, said Tara Luellen, vice president of Lab Director Services at Lighthouse Lab Services in a webinar. It’s also important to keep an eye on the job market to ensure your compensation packages and growth opportunities are in-line with competitors.

“What are your competitors offering them in terms of salary, growth, career trajectory?” Luellen said. “You have to stay competitive, or you will see your top talent jump to your competitors.”

Skill development is also important, she said. The more laboratories invest in the long-term growth of their workers, the more likely they will stay for the long-haul. “They’re going to return that to you in terms of staying and valuing you as an employer,” Luellen said.

Improving retention among analytical laboratories won’t be an easy fix and will likely require a strong collaboration between technical workers and laboratory leaders. But the more laboratories can work to keep their existing staff, the better it will be for both the science, and the business.

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