Biotechnology/Medical Devices: Research

Many non-academic (“industry”) research career options exist within the fields of drug development and medical-device development. Careers within the biotechnology and medical device fields are expected to grow faster than average. The challenge to these industries lies in strict regulatory requirements and the funding to bring new products to market.

Biotechnology Research

Discovery research, perhaps the most direct route from academic training into industrial research/biotechnology, offers career tracks throughout research and management. Unlike government research, which serves to drive policy, industry research is motivated by enterprise to develop useful products for the marketplace or to create entirely new markets based on an innovative technology.

Building on basic science, biotechnology companies use applied research to develop and commercialize cutting-edge products and technologies. Within therapeutic biotechnology, product development moves from discovery research to preclinical studies, into clinical development and regulatory affairs, and finally on to commercial operations (marketing, sales, and technical support). The process from conception to production can be a lengthy one, and legal and regulatory pressures, along with the public’s perception of emerging technologies, can influence the development and marketability of products and services.

Product development of instruments, reagents, diagnostics and platform technologies in nontherapeutic biotechnology is often a faster and less expensive process, as clinical trials are not required. The motivation behind product innovation is driven by market research, the expansion of an existing product line, or extant technical gaps. Components of the nontherapeutic development process include research/product development; manufacturing; and marketing, sales, and technical support. Industry research is largely collaborative, and project leaders often manage the process to completion.

Medical Device Research

The closely related and broad field of medical devices includes the development of healthcare products and procedures that diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease by means other than or in addition to pharmaceuticals or biologics. This field is an exciting place for researchers and biomedical engineers interested in bridging knowledge from many technical sources, as they conduct research or develop new medical products and procedures.

Product development within the medical device field begins with engineering and product design, undergoes clinical development/trials and regulatory affairs, and moves to sales and marketing.

In addition to scientific skills and training, it may be helpful to have an understanding of regulatory issues, safety standards, and project management. Medical device researchers may work in a single setting or in multiple diverse settings, including hospitals, laboratories, manufacturing, and business.

Desired Skills for Biotechnology and Medical Device Research

  • Content: Familiarity with the diseases targeted and techniques used within the biotech/medical device organization. While general scientific skill sets are important, you may need to “market” these toward each organization’s needs.
  • Analytical: The ability to analyze the needs of patients and customers, and to design appropriate experiments and solutions.
  • Communication: Listening to and seeking out others’ ideas, and incorporating them into the problem-solving process. Expressing oneself clearly.
  • Team Player: Contributing individual skill sets to come up with a proposed solution or plan of action.

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