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The biopharma industry had a lull in job opening growth from late 2022 and into early 2023. At that time, some early stage companies struggled to secure funding, while larger firms adopted a more cautious posture, according to recent research from the global real-estate firm JLL. Madeline Holmes, a senior research analyst at the company, noted, “Job Openings was something that we looked into as a metric of potential future growth.”

While biopharma layoffs remain a common occurrence, a turnaround could be underway — at least for bigger well-heeled players. The appetite for life sciences talent has ramped up since March of this year. June 2023 marked the sixth highest number of biopharma job openings in any month on record, in line with peaks in 2022. Year-over-year, June postings rose 11%.

Holmes provided some geographical context, noting that Massachusetts saw the most biopharma job postings in the first half of 2023 with 17,732, followed by California with 17,316.

The top companies posting jobs included Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Icon, Pfizer and Takeda.

Why biopharma turnaround stands out

The biopharma job growth data stands out when looking across sectors. Elsewhere, JLL had noticed “a bit of a pullback,” said Amber Schiada, JLL research director. “This trend in the biopharma industry is counter to what we’re seeing across larger parts of the job openings across industries.”

JLL analysts see the recent spike in biopharma postings as a leading indicator of industry growth. Such data could signal expanded real estate needs for lab space going forward if the hiring trend continues, Holmes noted.

Biopharma job openings

A tale of two biopharma industries

The growth trend, however, is not universal. JLL’s analysis mirrors what Jefferies analyst Michael Yee described earlier this year as a “filtering of the haves and have notes.” In an interview with WSJ, Yee described a survival of the fittest dynamic in the industry, juxtaposing capital-rich companies with “great assets and pipelines” with “bleaker prospects.”

Schiada observed a similar dynamic, “If you think about the larger companies versus the startups and how they’re driven and the capital sources they rely on, there are marked differences,” she said. The latter relies on venture capital backing, which is down. Consequently, startups are either preserving capital or, as it runs dry, making cuts. “On the flip side, a lot of these larger pharma companies have been hungry to acquire and obtain new intellectual property.” Such large companies see cash-strapped startups as opportunities. They can either “scoop up top talent or acquire and merge with some of these companies,” Schiada siad.