By Chandler Harris
Science and technology
often go hand in hand, but nowhere is that more evident than in biotechnology.
More than ever, the field’s research and innovation is being driven by tech’s increasing
power. Because of this, IT professionals are in high demand to create programs,
algorithms and generally make sense of the vast stores of data being created,
aggregated and mined.
“We’ve been talking about the intersection of IT and
life sciences, but I feel now that message is hitting home,” says Kevin Davies, chief editor of Bio-IT World, a biotechnology industry
magazine. “The main reason is the volume of data that life science groups,
academic research and biotechnology companies produce has exploded.”
Jobs in Biotech
U.S. employment in bioscience reached 1.42 million in 2008, an
increase of 19,000 jobs since 2007, according to BIO.org. Southern California, and particularly San Diego, saw a 5 percent growth in
biotechnology jobs in 2009, with many of these positions technology-related, according
to Joe Panetta, president and chief
executive of the trade association BIOCOM.
“IT skills apply across the board with
biotechnology,” Panetta says. “There’s so much more IT in
biotechnology today than 10 to 15 years ago because of advances in software
programs, databases of information, and a wealth of information that has become
available over the last few years.”
Biotechnology companies are keen to find IT
professionals with a science background, especially software engineers who can
create algorithms and programs to make use of the scientific data being
collected, Panetta observes. Also, the predictive and analytical realms, such
as bioinformatics – the application of computer science in molecular biology – is
a growing area utilizing technology.
The biotechnology and life sciences sectors pay higher
salaries than the average private-sector job, with an average annual wage of
about $71,000, according to Bio.org and Battelle.
Pharmaceuticals, IT professionals are needed to create and manage tools
related to data capturing, data analysis and predictive analysis. They should
have a solid understanding of the biotechnology industry and FDA regulations.
“Now it’s about using knowledge more
effectively, computational intelligence and making it real-time – all that has
driven growth in IT in biotechnology,” says Ken
Grady, senior director of IT at Novaris.
Technology is helping pharmaceutical companies
mine research data and utilize computational science to make better and safer
predictions for the development and advocacy of new drugs, Panetta says. The
convergence of biotechnology and IT has also enabled scientists to detect
disease more accurately through diagnostics combined with informational
Southern California‘s concentration of technology and biotechnology companies has
spurred a number of technology companies to produce innovative products,
including wireless health devices, such as “smart IV pumps” and “smart
band aids” that transmit individual health information to smartphones and
Other trends include the use of cloud computing
to store and manage scientific data, as well as cyber security to secure it. There’s
also increasing growth in industrial biotechnology and biofuel development,
where technical expertise in agricultural and crop management systems is in
another center for biotechnology research and development, computer software
engineers that build system software is the second-fastest growing job in the field
behind medical scientists, with 27.7 percent job growth predicted from 2006 to
2014, according to the University of
Massachusetts Donahue Institute. The region also expects an ongoing demand
for computer systems analysts and computer software engineers for applications.
The Janelia Farm Research campus at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md.,
has one of the world’s fastest computers – and complementary IT staff – for its
biotechnology research. HHMI needs IT professionals to help
develop software to automate processes, identify features, mine data and create software
and algorithms for such things as 3D imagery of complex brain structures.
“One of the things I would say is that the
biotech research community is embracing the idea that computer scientists are
an integral part of a team,” says Vijay
Samalam, director of scientific computing at Janelia Farm.
Chandler Harris writes about
business and technology from the San