India is increasingly a dominant destination for global pharmaceutical companies looking to outsource early-stage drug discovery.
The spillover effect of this contagion has also spread to local players. Prompted by the introduction of new patent laws in 2005, Indian companies such as Nicholas Piramal, Cipla, Dr Reddy's Laboratories and Ranbaxy have risen to the forefront of the life sciences world with discovery programs of their own. Some of them have even gone on to acquire overseas companies. Growing market sophistication in India has since led to the development of specialist service providers in contract research and manufacturing services, medicinal chemistry, toxicology and other niche areas.
The country boasts a vast pool of trained manpower, significant cost advantages and an increasingly favorable patent regime that supports innovation. While many of these growth supplements have put India’s technology sector on the world map, the pharmaceutical industry seems to suffer one malaise – the ability to attract and retain the leadership that will help them capture all the opportunities before them.
“For the longest time, working in the pharmaceutical industry has been a profession of chance rather than of choice. The job of a medical sales representative in the Indian culture for example, has in the past not been viewed as favorably as that of retail management or clinical development,” explains Aparna Sharma, Human Resources Director at UCB India Private Ltd. “The perspective was that those in the industry tended to lack ambition. We need to correct these stereotypes.”
“Finding the right people is my biggest challenge,” says Sandeep Gupta, chairman and managing director, Eli Lilly India.
“It takes more time than ever to fill the positions available and attrition is a cause for concern across all levels. At the junior ranks, it can be as high as 40 to 45 per cent. At the senior level, traditionally, executives rose through the ranks and there was little movement across industries
“In the current environment, with the industry losing its brightest people to banks, technology firms and HR consultancies for example, there is a serious danger of leadership gaps at the very senior level.”
Candidates are more selective
Where candidates were once willing to overlook short-term inconveniences for the sake of building stable long-terms careers, the competition has meant that candidates are now selective. The IT industry for instance, has successfully translated its drive to scale the innovation ladder into a brand image that resonates with both customers and prospective employees, and is now a destination of choice.
The Indian life sciences industry on the other hand, has failed to create similar buzz.
The problem with the Indian pharmaceutical industry may actually lie in the disconnect that exists between product and corporate brands. With products being anchors of revenue, companies have tended to invest heavily to create distinct identities for them.
But products in the pharmaceutical industry have limited brand life spans, compared with corporate brands.
Pharmaceutical companies could do well to adopt some best practices from other industries. One example would be to engage the mass media to tell the world about how they live their brand values. Technology leaders such as Cisco and Infosys have invested heavily in cutting-edge campuses and work facilities for their staff, and have taken steps to ensure that this is widely publicized in the media. For an industry that touts itself as one that cares about humankind, pharmaceutical players must demonstrate that they also care for their employees.
All this will hopefully change soon, as industry players rise up to the challenge of addressing the industry’s image issues.
Says Ms Sharma of UCB India, “Our industry is a sleeping giant that has just awakened. Now, is the right time and environment to lead it in the right direction, to make it as attractive as sunrise industries such as BPO or IT /ITES (business process outsourcing or information technology enabled services). It will take consistent belief and effort by everyone in our industry to propel it towards becoming an industry that is known and respected for its work and merit.”