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Coronavirus pandemic | Demand for API specialists, regulatory experts rises in pharma sector

There is a dearth of quality talent in India even as pharma firms are ramping up to meet demand due to the coronavirus outbreak

May 14, 2020 / 09:01 AM IST

A Delhi-based hiring firm has received a requirement of 15 API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient) talent across four drug firms and is struggling to find talent.

“The only way is to poach from existing firms, with companies looking for people on an immediate basis. There is a requirement for both regulatory talent and drug development,” he added.

Amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, pharma industry is among the few sectors still hiring talent as it races to find a cure to the ailment while managing existing drug demand.

Here, roles in regulatory affairs and API are the most popular said hiring consultants. API refers to the active ingredient used in a pharmaceutical drug. This ingredient is like the backbone of the drug and is the key to pain relief or cure for an ailment.

Human resource consultants told Moneycontrol that there are 2,800 roles across pharma companies that need to be filled urgently. These include API experts, regulatory affairs experts as well as sales/marketing staff specialising in digital distribution.

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For regulatory roles, a Pune-based HR consultant told Moneycontrol, there are 700 vacancies.

This consultant explained that these roles are for pharma companies who want to play an active role in managing COVID-19 outbreak and do not want any regulatory hurdles, be it in India or elsewhere.

A senior pharma executive at a large Indian drug maker told Moneycontrol that there is demand for talent in areas such as developing complex injectable products, technology transfer, senior quality assurance people and drug discovery.

“Complex injectable product development is an area where pharma companies are shelling out huge money to lure talent,” he added.

For instance, a senior manager in complex injectable development for US and Europe markets charges about Rs 1-1.2 crore per annum. Companies are poaching them by giving 40-50 percent hike in salaries.

Similarly, the executive said there is a dearth of talent in R&D. The demand here is high for people who understand product development, clinical trials, and regulatory requirements.

Also read: Live updates from COVID-19 outbreak in India

But retention is tougher, because foreign companies and research organisations pay at least 30-40 percent more salaries. Considering the lockdown and the restriction on travel for the time being, HR consultants are of the view that quality talent will stay back in India and will be available for critical roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, an R&D professional with three to five years' work experience in India may earn between Rs 12 lakh and 18 lakh per year in a mid-sized pharma company. However, the salary for this professional in the United States could be as high as Rs 55 lakh per annum.

Jayant Tagore, Managing Director of Synthokem Labs, which manufactures APIs and intermediates, said demand is only for talent with right experience and skills.

Tagore complains that the fresh graduates coming out of pharmacy colleges are out of sync with industry requirements.

"It takes at least two years for these people to make meaningful contribution, but once they get the requisite experience, they will leave the company for a higher pay package," Tagore said.

The attrition will be problematic for MSMEs more than big companies, he added.

India churns out over 2,25,000 pharmacy and allied science graduates, but many are unemployable. Hiring consultants attributed that to the expectation-reality mismatch, with attrition rates, especially at the shop-floor level, close to 20 percent.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
M Saraswathy
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: May 14, 2020 06:00 am

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