Statisticians (and statistical programmers) in the pharmaceutical industry are key players in all areas of drug research and development from the initial identification of a chemical right through to the manufacturing and commercialisation of pharmaceutical products.
The pharmaceutical industry has come to realise how important statisticians are, and as a result the opportunities to apply statistical skills are increasing all the time. For example, statisticians are playing leading roles in the development of areas such as pharmacology, biological and process modelling, health economics, personalised healthcare, real world evidence and cost-effectiveness modelling.
All in all, there is plenty of scope within the pharmaceutical industry for statisticians to have impact in a wide variety of areas, make a real difference and expand their roles.
Pharmaceutical statisticians spend a lot of time working with people from different disciplines, including doctors, scientists, production managers and marketing teams. They also have to work with government agencies in many different geographical locations, all round the world.
Pharmaceutical statisticians carry out and have the responsibility for a wide range of activities. These often begin with the design of scientifically sound experiments or trials ensuring that these will efficiently generate the required data, there will then be the analysis of the collected data followed by the vital step of arriving at correct interpretations of the data analyses ensuring that the correct decisions are made. The results then have to be presented to senior managers and regulatory authorities as necessary.
Take a look at our profile of pharmaceutical statistician Emma Simmons to learn more.
Typically employers will insist on an MSc or PhD in Statistics or containing a significant statistical component. Beyond this employers will be looking for a variety of personal capabilities: the capability to work both individually and within teams, to be able to communicate statistical concepts and influence colleagues with other expertises and to think strategically and make a wider contribution to the employer beyond a purely statistical input.
Starting salaries for statisticians in the pharmaceutical industry are highly competitive. As an individual’s career develops and they take on increasing levels of responsibility, or develop specialist skills, their salaries will correspondingly increase. Most companies operate a Market Related Pay scheme to ensure that the pay of their staff is comparable to statisticians performing comparable roles at other companies. Job adverts will give an idea of the typical starting salaries as well as potential salaries for experienced statisticians.
Statistics enjoys a status comparable with other scientific disciplines in the pharmaceutical industry. The salaries and benefits for statisticians are very competitive with statistical posts in other industries. Range of typical starting salaries: £25,000 – £40,000.
Put simply, you will be expected to assist the process of developing medicines which will deliver benefits to patients. Exactly what this involves will depend upon the particular role that you have, but typically you will be providing statistical input within a multi-disciplinary team.
In the initial years of your career you will be closely guided by your line manager, but as you develop and gain more experience you will be expected to work more independently and pro-actively. In more senior positions you will be expected to lead and take responsibility for the statistical input into a drug project or business area or for the delivery of a group of statisticians.
The pharmaceutical industry is made up of small local and also very large national and international companies. Some have manufacturing and marketing facilities, others concentrate solely on research and development. Most of these companies employ statisticians sometimes in very large groups of perhaps 20 or 30 statisticians.
Contract Research Organisations (CROs) employ statisticians too. CROs provide research and development services to pharmaceutical companies. They often work in tandem with large manufacturing pharmaceutical companies to obtain product approval from regulatory authorities all round the world. Statisticians working in CROs tend to have exposure to more therapeutic areas and styles of summarising data but are less involved in major decisions.
Regulatory authorities also employ their own statisticians, typically known as statistical assessors. They are responsible for scrutiny of the statistical content of submissions for regulatory approval of a drug after its development through all the stages of clinical trials.
A good source of information on vacancies is the Statistics in the Pharmaceutical Industry website where many positions in the pharmaceutical industry are advertised. Most of the pharmaceutical companies and CROs have career sections on their websites. You can register on many of these, so that if a position matching your requirements becomes available you will be alerted by email or text.
Statisticians and statistical programmers generally start their careers working as parts of teams under more experienced statisticians but they soon take on key roles within important cross-functional project teams themselves:
- Line management responsibility including developing more junior staff.
- Technical expert role, developing new approaches/thinking in key areas.
- Responsibility for a critically important business programme.
These career paths are not mutually exclusive and senior level appointments would be expected to have experience in the range of these activities. Progression is dependent upon the capabilities and impact demonstrated by the individual. A talented individual who is able to effectively utilise their skills may expect to rapidly increase the levels of responsibilities that they assume.
Companies have different career structures. These can allow you to further your career through higher-level statistical work or through management assignments. (Indeed, some pharmaceutical statisticians become very senior general managers of their companies. Many companies are international, so there are opportunities for temporary or permanent employment abroad.
Some statisticians have also found that a background in statistics is an ideal background to develop their career in other areas, e.g. project management or regulatory affairs. An advantage of the large size of pharmaceutical companies is the increased opportunity to make this type of career development.
A statistician in the pharmaceutical industry has the opportunity to make a real difference to the process of discovering, developing and commercialising new medicines, which in turn give huge benefits to patients’ lives. There is a wide variety of potential work, both in terms of the technical statistical challenges and the areas of the business which you may get to experience. The large size of most pharmaceutical companies also give opportunities either to expand your experience by working in other areas or by working internationally in other countries.
Like any other career, individuals will only get out what they put in, and success will be reliant on dedicated work and application of your skills. But for those with the right skills and attitude, the pharmaceutical industry provides a great opportunity for a career that is rewarding in many different ways.