Employment Opportunities in the Life Sciences Industry – Part 1

This is a summary of Part 1 findings. Click here to view the complete Part 1 findings.

According to a report published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, two developments within life sciences research over the past 50 years, the molecular and cellular biology revolution and the genomics revolution, have resulted in the convergence of life sciences with engineering and physics. As a result, the life sciences industry presents abundant opportunities for engineers, spanning across a diverse group of industries, including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, genetics and genomics, translational medicine, and more.

Even in recent periods marked by a global recession, the life sciences industry continued to generate jobs at a rate that greatly outpaced the national average. In periods where there have been a slight decline in life sciences employment, that decrease has been small in comparison to job losses in other industries such as finance and telecom.

In order to look at the current state of the life sciences industry in the United States, the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes were used since key economic indicators are published based on these codes. There are no NAICS codes specifically for the life sciences industry. However, there are many NAICS sectors and subsectors that are involved in the life sciences industry. To analyze the state of the life sciences industry, data for the following four main sectors were reviewed in the period from 2010 to 2012: Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing, Medical Equipment and Supplies Manufacturing, Scientific Research and Development Services, Medical and Diagnostics Laboratories.

National employment in the life sciences industry (as defined by four sectors above) totaled 1.9 million in 2012, with jobs offered at 75,039 individual business establishments across the United States in 2012.

The scientific research and development services sector was clearly the largest of the four life sciences sectors. It accounted for 58% (1.1 million workers) of the total employment in the life sciences industry in 2012. The 1.1 million workers greatly surpass employment within the remaining three sectors.

The medical and diagnostic laboratories sector comprised just 12% (over 200,000 workers) of the total employment in the life sciences industry in 2012. Although it was the smallest sector in terms of employment, the medical and diagnostic laboratories sector experienced the largest percent of employment growth since 2010 with a 4% increase.

The medical equipment and supplies manufacturing sector was the second largest employer within the industry, employing over 300,000 workers in 2012. Employment in this sector was fairly consistent from 2010 to 2012. The pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing sector was the only sector to experience a decrease in employment from 2010 to 2012 (down 3% to 270,000 workers).

Although the NAICS provides valuable, high-level employment data and allows for comparative analysis across different types of business establishments within the United States, the life sciences industry spans a diverse set of businesses. In addition, relevant NAICS sectors are broad and may include business establishments that are not applicable to the field of life sciences. As such, other sources were utilized to look at the growth indicators across the following fields: genetics and genomics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, translational medicine and computational biology. Below is a summary of the analysis.

The genetic testing market is experiencing rapid growth. In 2011, the genetics and genomics clinical testing market size was estimated to be $5.9 billion. The industry was also responsible for generating 116,000 U.S. jobs and $16.5 billion in national economic output.

Biotechnology has demonstrated growth between 2006 and 2010, both within the U.S. and around the world. The number of firms dedicated to biotechnology increased 8% in the United States from 2,744 firms in 2006 to 2,952 firms in 2010. Furthermore, the United States leads the biotechnology industry and has the largest number of firms, highest R&D spending and most contributions to biotechnology patent applications, when compared to other countries around the world.

The nanotechnology industry has grown exponentially over the past two decades. Between 2000 and 2008, employment in nanotechnology-related domains in the United States increased from 25,000 to 150,000. As of 2008, there were an estimated 400,000 employees within the industry around the globe. Similar to biotechnology, the United States had the greatest number of nanotechnology firms and contributed the highest percentage of nanotechnology patent applications between 2008 and 2010.

While employment trends and statistics surrounding translational medicine are limited, the number of Web of Science (WoS) papers in translational medical research grew from five papers in 1993 to approximately 1,500 papers in 2011. In addition, “biomarker” and “genomics” in disease research and application, such as cancer and diabetes, are the mainstream topics in translational medical research around the world.

Job prospects within the U.S. bioinformatics (computational biology) industry have shown indicators of growth in recent years, especially as pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries increasingly capitalize on new opportunities in drug discovery. A total of 34,000 employees were categorized as bioinformatics scientists in the United States in 2012.

Globally, the life sciences industry is expected to accelerate among key, emerging markets. Fueled by trends like aging populations, growing middle classes, chronic illness, and increased government spending, demand is expected to grow across the life sciences industry in countries like China, India and Brazil. Over the next several years, these countries are expected to grow in research and development spending, increase market revenue and work towards more innovation.