Pros and Cons of Working for Big Pharma Companies and Contract Research Organizations (CROs)

5 minutes

Most people know what a Pharmaceutical company is and does – research, develop, manufacture ...

Most people know what a Pharmaceutical company is and does – research, develop, manufacture and market drugs in the context of healthcare. People are probably less familiar with Contract Research Organisations (CRO’s), they typically provide support to Pharmaceutical companies to assist in running, analysing and submitting regulatory filings. In recent years, the lines between pharma companies and CRO’s has blurred and CRO’s have become more actively involved in research activities. Pharma companies adjust their outsourcing processes to develop strategic partnerships and functional outsourcing where a CRO takes over a whole function, serving as a company’s statistical analysis department, for example.

Now, let's take a look at some pros and cons of working for big pharma companies and CROs. It's important to keep in mind that whether these are pros or cons will depend on your personal viewpoint and what you're looking for in a career. So, let's dive in!

Big Pharma: Pros

1.   Science and Technology

As part of the hunt for new drugs and therapeutics pharmaceutical companies need to be innovative and promote scientific excellence and they work on cutting edge of technology.

2.   Environment

Many big pharma companies are renowned for having an excellent local and global team environment, which focus on company goals and objectives. The same thing can be said for many CRO’s, however.

3.   Job security

Generally speaking, big pharma companies provide a stable employment area, more so than CRO’s who are dependent on their client base. Pharma companies can however be hit by changes in regulations, mergers and acquisition, faltering programs or changes in outsourcing strategies.

4.   Salary

Big pharma companies offer excellent salary and compensation packages including company cars, stock options and generous bonuses. CRO’s are also competitive but typically don’t pay better than pharma companies.

Big Pharma: Cons

1.   Culture

Big pharma companies are generally seen as being conservative, and the larger the company becomes, the more conservative the culture becomes in terms of work.

2.   Pace

The pace in a big pharma is likely to be slower than at a CRO, which can be seen as a positive. That being said, there is still a lot of pressure and you can feel that work is not moving fast enough.

3.   Lack of variety

Within a big pharma your skills will be developed in a specific area and you are likely to be working in a department or team with the same specialist skills, which again could be seen as a positive or negative.

4.   Size

They are generally big, global companies which can have some pros, but there are also negatives. There is likely to be many layers of management and the decision makers are often people that you have never met or worked with.

CRO: Pros

1.   Variety

At a CRO you will often move from project to project working on different therapeutic areas and phases. You will not become an expert within a specific area, but you will develop a broader skillset and flexibility. You will also have the opportunity to develop your business development skills as you are likely to be liaising directly with clients.

2.   Training

Within a CRO you are likely to be provided regular in-house training aimed at expanding your technical skills, therapeutic area knowledge, as well as your soft skills related to the business side of CRO work.

3.   Home-based working

Although there are some opportunities within big pharma companies for home-based working, CRO’s are often more flexible when it comes to working patterns and offering home-based roles.

4.   Career progression

There is good potential for moving into a managerial role earlier within a CRO as there are more opportunities to manage small projects and clients all the way through to managing global teams and departments. Within big pharma opportunities for promotion and internal movement can be limited due to the size of some pharma giants.

CRO: Cons

1.   Routine

Many big pharma companies want to keep control over their products and technological developments, meaning that CRO work can sometimes be more routine. However, CRO workers have to be able to adapt to new corporate cultures when client companies change.

2.   Extra hours

The main focus of a CRO is on profit and new business rather than finding a cure for a specific disease. This can result in a high-pressured working environment where average employee working hours are higher than in big pharma companies.

3.   Deadlines

Client satisfaction is key to the work of a CRO, there is a sense of accountability towards client delivery which is different to reporting to internal management within a pharma company. There are pressures to deliver on time to the client so transparency in working, speed and efficiency are key within a CRO.

4.   Job instability

This hasn’t necessarily been the case in recent years as an increasing number of studies are being outsourced to CRO’s, but if a pharma company ends a project with a CRO and moves the work elsewhere, CRO’s can be left struggling for clients and new projects. However, many pharma companies have long-term relationships with CRO’s.

Both CRO’s and big pharma companies offer rewarding and lucrative careers as well as mobility. It is more and more common to see employees move from big pharma to CRO’s and vice versa, so don’t feel like you have to choose one or the other, it’s easy to try them both and see what fits your skillset best. 

Our team has in-house ex-industry experts. Get in touch with us to get professional guidance towards to role that suits your needs the best.

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