Life Science Industry Sectors
The main sectors in the life sciences are biotechnology (human, environmental, industrial, animal, and plant), pharma, and medical technology. Costs and time to commercialization vary greatly by product sector, with pharma taking the longest and having the greatest costs (Shimasaki, 2014). The main subcategories and their percent of the companies in each are as follows (Biotech Gate, 2021):
- AgroBio: 4%
- Bioinformatics and Bioelectronics: 4%
- Contract Research and Manufacturing: 12%
- Cosmetics: 3%
- Diagnostics and Analytical Services: 18%
- Drug Delivery: 4%
- Environment: 1%
- Food and Nutraceuticals: 7%
- Genomics and Proteomics: 7%
- Industrial Biotechnology: 2%
- Other Services and Suppliers: 17%
- Therapeutics: 20%
- Veterinary: 3%
Early Career Development Awards
If you are still early in your career in the life sciences, especially if you are still in school, be sure to check out these NIH awards:
- R15 awards – A good place for a young scientist to start within academia, these awards support smaller research projects at educational institutions for scientists who have not had major NIH support.
- K awards – Career development awards for junior investigators, of various types, including one for making a transition to career independence.
- National Research Service Awards (NRSA) Fellowships F – These awards support scientists’ training in pre- and postdoctoral fellowships. They are paid back through 12 months of health-related biomedical, behavioral, and/or clinical research or teaching.
- Training T grants – These related rewards are given to an academic institution which then recruits scientists for predoctoral and postdoctoral research training in shortage areas that meet health-related national research needs.
- Loan Repayment Programs – NIH program for early stage investigators that repays up to $50,000 per year of MD and PhD educational debt for some highly qualified researchers. Requires commitment to engage in research relevant to the NIH mission.
Programs – More details on the T, F, K, Loan Repayment NIH programs described above and others.
Career Path – NIH resource describing NIH programs and potential funding at four stages in a typical scientist’s career:
- Graduate/Clinical Doctorate
- Early Career
- Established Investigator
Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Promotion, and Tenure (Carter RG, Mundorff K, Risien J, et al. Science. September 17, 2021;373(6561):1312–1314. doi:10.1126/science.abj2098) – Could entrepreneurship harm chances for promotion and tenure in an academic career? Read the abstract for an article discussing how this may still be the case in some institutions
Career Paths to Top Positions from Women Biotechnology, Medical Technology, and Pharma Company Founders and Leaders
The most common career paths observed among annual lists of the top women in these fields fall into several categories (in order from most to least common):
They moved up through the ranks.
This is the most common path to a leadership role in biotechnology. Some women work up the ladder at one or two companies they did not found and eventually take the top position.
They developed a wide base of experience.
Similar to path #1, these women moved from job to job, holding many different positions and learned many aspects of the industry or even different industries before taking a leadership role at a company they did not found.
They went from an academic or clinical career to founding a biotechnology or biomedical company.
- Academic Founders: Some women found a biotech/biomedical company while working in academia. Afterwards, they may leave academia, but many women stay and work part-time with the company.
- Clinical Founders: Many products in the life sciences are pharmacological or medical devices and are developed by clinicians to improve clinical care. This is a common career pathway for physicians and nurses. Many sell their company or license the technology to a large, established business. Others continue their clinical careers and keep involved with their biotech company as a side hustle.
Non-scientists entered biotechnology from another field.
This is a fairly common path to an executive position in biotechnology; however, it is not a focus of biostartupadvice.com.
They commercialized undergraduate or graduate life science work.
A smaller group of women take this route either by themselves or with partners. It is rare for graduate students or postdocs to found a company immediately after they leave their position. Instead, those with ideas that might be developed into products are more often recruited by industry, which then develops and markets them.
They worked in startups first (intrapreneurs).
Another route to learning how to launch a bio startup is to work in one. If you are involved in the early stages, you can learn a lot about all aspects of the startup process. You can also move around to different jobs within a company or move between different startups to learn different aspects of the business.
Biotech Gate. Industry Sectors Covered. Biotech Gate – Business development solution for the life sciences industry. 2021.
Shimasaki C. Biotechnology Entrepreneurship. Starting, Managing, and Leading Biotech Companies. Chapter 9. Understanding Biotechnology Sectors. pp. 113–138. Elsevier; 2014. doi:10.1016/C2012-0-02297-1.