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2006 Top employer survey: It all starts with science

This Advertising Feature has been commissioned, edited, and produced by the Science/AAAS Custom Publishing Office

This year's survey of top employers in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries has a familiar winner but plenty of shifting among other places in the top 20. The leading companies highlight a consistent theme: the importance of strong basic science as the platform on which to build reputations and commercial success.

Showing the winning consistency of a Rocky Marciano or an Annika Sorenstam, Genentech, Inc., once more takes top place in the annual survey sponsored by Science's Office of Publishing and Member Services. The Northern California company has now gained the No. 1 position in each of the five years that the survey has run.

Plenty of movement has occurred among the lower placements. Boehringer Ingelheim rises to second place this year, after finishing eighth in 2005. Roche Group also climbs six places, from ninth to third. GlaxoSmithKline squeezes into the top 10, after placing 11th last year. Rounding out the top 10, in fourth to ninth place, are Amgen, Inc., AstraZeneca PLC, Genzyme Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly and Company, and Novartis Pharma.

The remainder of the top 20 also saw some marked changes this year. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals moves up from 19th position in 2005 to 11th in the present survey. And both Schering-Plough Corporation and Bayer make their first appearance in the top 20.

Two Key Themes

Each highly placed company has unique reasons for its success. But interviews with representatives of selected members of the top 20 reveal two key themes. Almost all the firms regard basic science as the foundation for their efforts. "We stick with what got us here – that is, having a strong focus on the science," explains Richard Scheller, executive vice president of research at Genentech.

For two other firms, increasing emphasis on science has paid dividends in terms of corporate reputation. "Our commitment to build up R&D cannot have gone unnoticed," says Roger Perlmutter, executive vice president, research and development at Amgen. "Our R&D has tripled in size over the past five years." Schering-Plough has a similar experience. "We set out our strategic plan for long-term high performance in 2003," says Tom Koestler, the company's executive vice president, who is also president of the Schering-Plough Research Institute. "A key component was to make investment in long-term science and technology."

Alongside top-notch science, top employers emphasize top-notch scientists. "We try to provide a working environment for our employees where they are allowed to make decisions, where they can challenge assumptions, and where they find the freedom to implement innovations," says Hans-Joachim Geppert, head of corporate division human resources at Boehringer Ingelheim. "We rely heavily on all the good people working in our organization," adds Gottlieb Keller, member of the corporate executive board and head of corporate services and human resources at F. Hoffmann-La Roche. Those "good people" also help to draw in the best and brightest recruits. Kath Yates, vice president of development and human resources at AstraZeneca, puts it best. "Talent," she says, "attracts talent."

Survey takers' feelings about the pharmaceutical, biopharma, and biotech industries also changed between last year and this. This year's respondents still note several factors that harm the industry's reputation. But they also see cause for hope in new products, therapies, and research undertaken by the industry.

One Person, One Vote

Senn-Delaney Culture Diagnostics & Measurement carried out the web-based survey between May 2 and June 4 of this year. The firm issued invitations to researchers in the United States and the European Union who were registered with AAAS or IBC Life Sciences and who identified themselves as working in biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies. All potential respondents received introductory and reminder messages via e-mail. The messages contained all necessary information about access to the survey's website. To ensure fairness, the site had a one person, one vote feature.

A total of 656 scientists participated. Almost one-third of those worked outside the United States – primarily in Western Europe. Males outnumbered females, making up 57.5 percent of the sample. Two-thirds of survey takers were at least 35 years old, and two-thirds had Ph.D., M.D., or M.D.-Ph.D. degrees.

Roughly three-quarters of respondents work in private industry, with 47 percent employed by biotechnology companies, 33 percent in pharmas, and the remaining 20 percent in biopharmas. Overall, 37 percent of the sample works for companies with at least 5,000 employees and 51 percent for firms that employ fewer than 1,000 individuals. While 46 percent report that they have more than 10 years of work experience, almost four out of five believe that they have not yet reached their career peak. And just under half the respondents report themselves as likely to seek a new job within the next year.

The Senn-Delaney team also asked respondents what relationship they had with the companies they chose as best. Slightly under half of the sample had a current or previous relationship with their top choice, through direct employment, consulting, or scientific collaboration.

Best, Average, and Worst

To carry out the survey, Senn-Delaney first asked respondents to choose the companies that they regarded as having the best reputations as employers in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology field, as well as those firms that they regarded as average employers and the worst employers in their experience. The survey next called on respondents to rate the companies they chose on the basis of 42 specific characteristics, such as providing job security, being a good financial investment, and being located where the individual respondent wanted to live.

Survey takers were also asked their opinions of the industry as a whole, based on events of the previous 18 months that, respondents believed, had had the greatest impact on the industry's reputation. Another question focused on the types of action that public and private institutions can take to improve the industry's reputation. Finally, the survey asked individuals to provide details about their own work and personal dynamics.

Senn-Delaney then used a mathematical process to rank each company rated in the study, based on the answers to the survey's first two items. The survey firm first identified the characteristics that most actively distinguished the best, average, and worst employers that respondents chose. Senn-Delaney then applied a statistical process that included frequency analysis, stepwise regression, and discriminant analysis. That led to a unique ranking score for each company rated. For statistical reasons, only companies that received rankings from at least 14 respondents were eligible to become part of the top 20 best employers.

Three Tiers of Companies

As in previous years, the ranking scores of the top 10 companies fitted neatly into three tiers. Last year, Genentech stood alone at the top. In this year's survey, however, Boehringer Ingelheim joins that company at the highest level, with a ranking of 90 to 100. The second tier, with scores between 80 and 89, includes, in order, Roche, Amgen, AstraZeneca, and Genzyme. And completing the top 10 in a third tier, with scores of 70 to 79, the survey identifies Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Novartis, and GlaxoSmithKline.

The half dozen most important driving characteristics identified by respondents varied little from last year's selection. Most important, as in 2005, was "being an innovative leader in the industry." In the next place, again mirroring last year, comes "treats employees with respect." "Having work and personal values aligned," "loyal employees," and "a clear vision toward the future" once more appear in the top six driving characteristics, although in a slightly different order. And in this year's survey, "being socially responsible" replaces "does important quality research" in the leading six.

Not surprisingly, many of the top performers scored highly on the major drivers. Genentech, for example, continues to show significant advantage over the remainder of the top 10 on all six driving characteristics. Roche, in third place, has a strong showing on three drivers: innovation, values, and vision. Fourth placed Amgen also scores highly on three items: innovation, loyal employees, and vision. Further down the top 10, Johnson and Johnson and Lilly both have high scores on being socially responsible, and Novartis rates highly on vision.

Genentech's Secret

What factors continue to keep Genentech at the top of the table in the views of respondents to the survey? "I've continually thought about maintaining the balance between our basic research and our translational work, and making sure that, as the company grows and there's a need to move more molecules into the clinic, we don't lose our emphasis on basic science," Scheller explains. "One way we do that is through our large postdoctoral program. Postdocs account for about 10 percent of our scientists in research. We aim to keep them embedded in basic research. We have basic scientists next to translational scientists and embedded postdocs. The constant influx of postdocs brings new ideas, youth, and tremendous enthusiasm into the organization."

Genentech's postdocs pay off in more tangible ways. "Their goal is to make basic discoveries and to publish important research papers," Scheller notes. "This often results in our finding novel targets rather than waiting to read in the literature about the targets that others find. It would be easy, but shortsighted, not to do so much of this basic discovery work. The future is bright if it results in a translational project 10–15 years from now."

The company's focus on academics extends to its hiring for permanent jobs. "We rely more on academe rather than hiring from other companies," Scheller says. "We're able to attract people from academe because of our emphasis on basic discovery. We can recruit scientists from some of the best universities in the world who might not previously have thought of going into industry."

Scheller recognizes that rival firms have similar ambitions and capabilities. "I've never thought that there's anything other than terrific science going on in other companies," he says. "Competition is good in the industry and keeps us on our toes. In the end, competition is best for patients."

Science and Scientists

Other top performers recognize the critical importance of basic science to the mission of helping patients – and the equally important goal of attracting top-notch recruits. "Since we all share our common belief that innovation is the key to sustainable success, we do everything to foster a spirit of innovation and cross-fertilization of ideas," Boehringer Ingelheim's Geppert says. "We do this across our research and development sites, and in cooperation with academic and scientific institutions. This extends into areas of basic research, for example, through our close link with the Institute for Molecular Pathology in Vienna, Austria. Our long-term investment in this world class institution with more than 200 employees has opened invaluable opportunities for scientific exchange and cross-talk which, although not directly translated into drug development projects, has greatly contributed to our research advances for more than 15 years."

"Roche has a business strategy that builds on innovation and growth," Keller asserts. "Letting the scientific community and the public know how we work in R&D, how we share knowledge within the company and with our partners in the innovation network, and how we develop people helped a lot to attract new talent. As a result, we have improved our position as an employer of choice in many countries."

Roche recognizes the value of good employees. "We will continue the way we have started, and focus on attracting and recruiting good people who can help the company grow and prosper," Keller says. As an inducement, the Roche Connect program enables everyone in the firm to buy the company's nonvoting equity securities at a substantial discount. "Also, we want to be innovative," Keller continues. "Roche was one of the first companies in our industry to introduce a really simple syndication feed for upcoming positions that automatically notified an interested person about upcoming jobs. This year we also worked on full accessibility for disabled people."

Consistent Commitment

Amgen's Perlmutter points to the consistency that has seen the company place regularly in the high five in the survey. "We're extremely consistent in our commitment to our mission," he says. "Our mission is to serve patients; there's no ambiguity in it. We will use innovative science to improve patients' lives. That's a very attractive thing for scientists. When they're looking at opportunities, they see that we have maintained that commitment."

Equally attractive to scientists is the fact that opportunities at Amgen have grown considerably. "During this year we have embarked on the numerically largest expansion in R&D in our history," Perlmutter says. "We have expanded in San Francisco, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Seattle, as well as in London. We will end this year with more than 6,000 people in R&D."

Another consistent performer takes a similar view. "We are proud to continue to be a science-driven company," says Jenni Hardy, AstraZeneca's vice president of human resources for discovery. "We are committed to excellence in how we do research in science. For our new CEO, David Brennan, the agenda of our reputation is at the forefront. The quality of our pipeline drives reputation and we need outstanding employees to strengthen the pipeline."

The company continually aims to help those employees to reach their full potential. "We have an emphasis on projects and ensuring that we're as fast and flexible as possible in getting medicines to the market," Hardy says. "We have worked to ensure that those project teams have fewer hurdles to hump over. We have empowered team leaders with clearer accountability."

AstraZeneca also makes the effort to listen to its employees. Every two years, the company runs a survey of all its employees, to ascertain "where they feel we're doing well and where we can do better," in Hardy's words. "We're aiming for an 85 percent response rate in the current survey." Her colleague Yates pinpoints the overall message. "At the heart of it is being a successful company," she says, "creating conditions in which scientific creativity and expertise can flourish."

Value for Patients

The criticality of basic science echoes throughout the top 10. "We've been continually successful, over time, in developing new drugs," says Richard Gregory, head of research at Genzyme. "We're always trying to bring drugs with a real value for patients. That idea permeates all the way back to early discovery in the laboratory."

Like many other companies in the industry, Genzyme relies on its employees to talk about their job satisfaction outside the lab. "We try to work with our own employees to guarantee our continued success," Gregory says. "We try to remain competitive in maintaining talent in the R&D area. We have a lot of employees and they talk to people outside. The image of Genzyme is widely known. There is a perception of us as a company with a very strong value system."

Ginger Gregory, head of human resources at the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, makes the point just as directly. "The primary reason why we should be viewed highly is that we're doing great science," she says. "I believe that, when scientists look at Novartis as a potential employer, they see a company with a great pipeline and an innovative research organization that is focused on helping patients."

Novartis puts great store on the abilities of its scientists. "Internally we've had an impact on employees with a focus around talent – hiring the best and giving talented employees the chance to benefit and grow and pursue new things," Gregory continues. "We emphasize pursuing interesting things which will lead to new treatments for patients. We also make efforts to highlight the scientific and clinical success of projects with everyone in the organization – illustrating how the team works together."

Jump in Productivity

Companies that have advanced in this year's top 20 have their own take on the value of basic science. "Increasingly, we're being seen as having had a jump in R&D productivity in both the late and early stages of our pipeline," points out Bruce Schneider, executive vice president and chief of operations at Wyeth Research.

Investments of this type have had a noticeable impact on the company's reputation during recent years. "Our name has gotten into the press more widely than has been the case historically," Schneider says. "We have had some consistently strong year-on-year operating results in the past several years. We're becoming increasingly acknowledged as a strong biotechnology player; roughly one third of our revenues are associated with biotech products. We have a pipeline fairly rich in possibilities. We also have a relatively low exposure to patent loss – less than that of some of our competitors. For all these reasons, we're being seen as a good place to work. People are coming to us for job opportunities – a refreshing change from the past."

Having earned fresh prestige, Wyeth aims to retain its reputation. "We're trying to stay the course, but that means continually changing," Schneider explains. "We've had an extensive internal challenge that has led to a company-wide excellence program to make us more efficient and do more with less. In R&D we're trying to push hard for strong science and greater productivity. We're interacting with regulatory agencies to explore ways to drastically reduce drug development timelines. In the clinical area, for example, we're trying to collapse phases 1 and 2, and eventually to collapse phases 2 and 3, which would easily lead to shortened timelines and improved efficiency. We're also expanding our reach and modifying our approaches to geographies outside the United States and Europe. In short, we're trying to fundamentally change the way we and regulatory agencies look at global drug development."

A Science-Driven Company

Koestler echoes that sentiment. "It is clearly understood at the very top level of Schering-Plough that we're a science-driven company – that R&D is a critical component of our future success," he says. "We set out our strategic plan for long-term high performance in 2003. A key component was to make investments in long-term science and technology. Today we have compounds that are now far into phase 2 trials. They include an antagonist for HIV infection, a protease inhibitor for hepatitis C, and a thrombin receptor antagonist for acute coronary syndrome and secondary prevention. All three have received fast track status from the United States Food and Drug Administration."

Schering-Plough has also developed significant collaborations in recent years. The company is working on a treatment for autoimmune disease including, but not limited to, arthritis with Johnson & Johnson, and has a partnership with Novartis for treatments of asthma and COPD. "We've been recognized as a good partner," Koestler says. "And we've had a relatively good track record for regulatory success over the past two years, with drugs such as Asmanex, Zetia, and Vytorin."

The company has also started to expand its capacities by acquisition. "In 2005 we acquired Neogenesis in Cambridge, Massachusetts," Koestler relates. "That brought us key expertise in proprietary technology. It gave us ALIS [automated ligand identification system], which allows us to screen nearly 3 million compounds a day. It also gave us medicinal chemistry resources. And it gives us a presence in Cambridge, near to academic and industrial centers."

The Key Drivers

Of course, devotion to basic science alone does not account for the high reputations of companies that made the survey's top 20. Respondents to the survey also took into consideration corporate performance on the key drivers that they identified.

Again, Genentech provides the exemplar for the industry, showing strong performance on all six major drivers. "Those issues reflect our corporate mission," Scheller says. "Our executive committee spends a lot of time discussing these issues, putting together a long-range plan for the company – currently Horizon 2010 – directed toward different areas." The plan gives the company's research department, for example, the task of moving 20 new molecules into development during the period 2005 to 2010. "We've taken great pains to promote this vision broadly across the company," Scheller says.

Genentech has taken a particular step in terms of social responsibility. The company has put increased emphasis on the activities of its Genentech Foundation. "In the last year, the foundation has become more organized, with greater support from the company," Scheller says. "The foundation now supports science education, patient groups, and communities in which we operate."

Boehringer Ingelheim believes that its solid performance on the key drivers stems from the fact that it is a private, family-owned company. "Our vision and strategy focus on the long-term development of the corporation and not on short-term effects," Geppert explains. "Last year we explained to all our employees worldwide our ‘lead and learn' philosophy, which involves working together and delivering value through innovation."

Roche's approach emphasizes the driving characteristics for which survey respondents regarded the company as particularly effective. "We have developed a clear business strategy built on our values that focuses our efforts on innovation and growth," Keller explains. "Our governance model is based on the belief that, through the decentralized creation of the best ideas, autonomy of decision making, and using innovative tools and technologies, we can best sustain a consistent delivery of new, clinically differentiated medicines that really make a difference in patients' lives. Amongst our peers, Roche has an excellent product pipeline. We believe in innovation and this seems to be shared by many people interested in working for us. Our culture is very focused on the individual contribution. Respect for the individual is one of our company values."

Coherent Principles

Amgen attributes its high scores on the characteristics of innovative leadership, loyal employees, and clear vision to its corporate policies. "We have a very coherent set of principles with respect to both Amgen itself and the R&D organization," Perlmutter points out. "We have a mission to serve patients, an aspiration to do that better than anyone in the world, and an ambition to be science-based in all our deliberations. We also have a set of leadership attributes aligned with people who have scientists in mind." The company particularly emphasizes innovation in its products. "We are testing pathways that haven't been tried before, in 90 percent of the molecules that we have brought to the clinic," Perlmutter continues.

AstraZeneca agrees with survey takers who peg social responsibility as a particularly critical factor in its operations. "We're very proud of the fact that we're an ethical organization and that our stakeholders want to develop a relationship with us," Hardy says. "We have a number of principles that frame the corporate responsibility – the standard we expect. We are giving this a higher profile, such as including a special supplement in our annual report." Yates points to AstraZeneca's work in the developing world. "TB is the single largest cause of adult death from infectious disease in the world," she notes. "We are the only pharmaceutical company with a research program in India totally dedicated to TB."

Genzyme's strong reputation for innovative leadership and clear vision plays out in its emphasis on patients. "We make drugs from the start that have a dramatic effect on patients' lives," Richard Gregory says. "We're also a pretty innovative company. We have a huge array of technology platforms. We're working on proteins and antibodies, gene therapies, and small molecules."

The company also puts serious effort into maintaining its R&D talent. "We're known as being a very family-friendly company, in terms of job sharing and leaves – just being a company that takes the employees' lives outside the company into consideration," Gregory continues. "We have an extremely low turnover rate. Our employees are extremely loyal and tend to stay with us for a long time." The company has recently obtained recognition beyond the current survey. "We made the list of Fortune's 100 best companies to work for," Gregory reports.

Clear Corporate Vision

Ginger Gregory at Novartis makes similar points about the value of having a clear corporate vision and treating employees with respect. Respectful treatment of employees starts as soon as recruits come through the door. "Once we've spent time and energy recruiting talent, we want to help our associates be successful both scientifically and professionally," she says. "We provide them with the tools they need, such as mentoring and other programs to help them understand various career paths and opportunities in the company. One example is a sabbatical program that allows people to leave their role and go into another disease or study another technology for six months or longer."

For Wyeth, social responsibility appears as a major driver in both the survey and its corporate policy. "Social responsibility has become much more talked about in the last couple of years than in the past," Schneider says. "For example, we are working with the World Health Organization to develop Moxidectin, a new product to treat river blindness in Africa. We have programs to make our key product lines available to people who can't afford them. We also try to be good corporate citizens in the communities in which we operate."

Respondents pegged innovation and loyal employees as key drivers that helped Schering-Plough to crack the top 20. Koestler agrees. "Science is the DNA of our culture," he says. "We have a culture of innovation in which traditional ways are challenged. We aim to meet unmet medical needs." Employees' loyalty stems in part from the company's diversity. "We have 46 percent of our work force as women and minorities, including 25 percent in our U. S. work force," Koestler explains. " Working Mother magazine selected us as one of the best companies for working mothers, and Fortune magazine selected us as one of the 50 best companies for diversity."

Negative Impacts

What events do survey takers think have had the greatest impact on the reputation of the pharma/biotech industry? As they did last year, respondents pointed to several negatives. Notably they highlighted recalls of drugs that had previously received approval from the U.S. FDA and other regulatory bodies. Respondents particularly mentioned the continuing fallout from the saga over the recall of Vioxx. High profile failures of clinical trials also cast a negative light on the industry, in the view of survey takers. In this instance, they mentioned the collapse of TeGenero Ag's fateful small-scale trial of its drug TGN1412.

Not surprisingly, insiders recognize the nature of the problems and their potential for doing harm to the industry. "We and all members of the industry are concerned about these issues, because the inefficiency of the drug development process, reflecting our ignorance of biology and medicine, is a great burden," says Amgen's Perlmutter. "Success rates haven't improved in three decades."

Industry representatives point out that some risk inevitably accompanies drug development. "As a society, we need to acknowledge that all medications have side effects," AstraZeneca's Yates asserts. "We're continually making sure that we're taking the right amount of risk," Genentech's Scheller adds. "We don't want to be so conservative in our approach that we don't try risky projects that could lead to entirely new therapeutics. So we expect some of our trials to fail. If all trials didn't fail, we wouldn't be taking enough risk." Geppert of Boehringer Ingelheim echoes that sentiment. "Without research and without companies willing to take the risk and invest in research, there is no progress and no realistic expectation for new therapies that are badly needed," he says.

Overcoming the Negative Aura

Nevertheless, top employers in the survey have developed their own strategies for dealing with the negative aura that surrounds the industry as a result of high-profile failures. Genentech, for example, is undertaking two major efforts to reduce the chances of difficulties with molecules that have reached the stage of late clinical trials and of drugs that have actually received regulatory approval. "Whenever possible, we try to do a very rigorous placebo control phase 2 study," Scheller says. "We look for activity of our molecules in phase 2, and on numerous occasions we generate statistically significant data with relatively small numbers of patients, which gives us reasonable confidence that the program will be successful in phase 3 with a larger group of patients. More important, we have developed diagnostics to identify patients who will benefit from the drug and eliminate patients from the trials who may not benefit. This was done years ago with Herceptin [Genentech's treatment for metastatic breast cancer]."

Amgen has taken a similarly proactive approach. "We are very interested in getting better predictive information," Perlmutter says. "We have built a substantial medical sciences group, consisting in part of physicians, cross-trained in research, who will ask what markers in people will tell us what treatments will work. The science is moving down the pipeline. Application of scientific principles to a greater extent can only benefit us."

AstraZeneca emphasizes the need to pay close attention to issues surrounding the likely success of chemical entities as they make their way along the drug pipeline. "First of all, we are continuing to ensure that we have the best resources," Hardy says. "The second thing is having very high standards and monitoring our own review processes to minimize the risks. Part of it is education – ensuring that we all understand the risk/benefit equation better."

Genzyme, meanwhile, is studying the possibility of using biomarkers and other ways of getting drugs into patients. "We and others are thinking about how to reinvent the early clinical trial process," Richard Gregory adds. "We prefer that things fail early, as opposed to failing later in the process." And Novartis is encouraging more, and faster, go–no go decisions. "We want people to make good decisions earlier in the process," Ginger Gregory says.

Plenty of Positives

Respondents don't paint an entirely bleak picture, however. They see plenty of positive impact in new products and other developments in the industry. Items worthy of mention in this context include new drugs for cancer, new therapies for rare diseases, progress in HIV medications, and stem cell research.

Top companies in the survey are responsible for several recent advances. The U.S. FDA recently approved Genentech's Lucentis for treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration and Genzyme's Myozyme for treating Pompe disease, a rare neuromuscular condition. Last year, Roche received approval of the anti-angiogenesis drug Avastin. Boehringer Ingelheim is actively involved in research related to such conditions as cardiovascular, metabolic and respiratory diseases, cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, and diseases mediated by the immune system. "And we are actively involved in cooperation with pharma companies, university institutions, private laboratories, and technology providers," Geppert says.

Survey takers also provided their recommendations for actions that the industry can take to improve its reputation. Openness and honesty head the list. Among respondents' comments: "Inform the public;" "Be honest;" "Be more forthcoming;" "Be open and clear." Other recommended actions include more research, especially collaborative work, and more funding for that research; practicing integrity and high ethics; and controlling costs in such a way as to reduce the prices of drugs.

Despite their cautionary comments, survey takers took a generally rosy view of their own experience in the pharma/biotech industry. As the main advantages, many mentioned the opportunity to impact the world by changing peoples' lives and the ability to participate in cutting-edge science on the forefront of drug development. Other advantages of working in the field include salary and benefits packages, and the job security that the industry provides. Just as important, perhaps, respondents mentioned no specific disadvantage of working in the industry.

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