What’s the Difference Between Pharma/Biotech and CRO Employment?


Our postings for pharmaceutical and biotech jobs may include employment opportunities with contact research organizations (CROs). Though the jobs often qualify as pharmaceutical and biotech jobs from a technical standpoint, the industry draws a clear distinction between CROs and companies of the other two types.

Is it better to work for a CRO? How closely do CROs work with pharmaceutical and biotech companies? These two questions, and others, may or may not be important to you in your search for a new job. But the differences between Pharma/Biotech and CRO jobs is worth looking into if you are particular about your employment choices.

More About CROs

Warman O’Brien describes CROs as support organizations. They provide support to pharmaceutical companies in terms of regulatory filings. Warman O’Brien says CROs typically run, analyze, and submit filings. They also say CROs are gradually becoming more involved in drug research.

A CRO job involving activities exclusively related to government regulation should require less training in pharmaceutical science and more in government and regulatory frameworks. Still, a working knowledge of pharma and biotech comes in handy.

When a CRO job involves research, you are talking a whole different ballgame. Pharmaceutical research requires more knowledge in the scientific arena. Depending on the tasks a CRO job involves, there could be quite a bit of science to deal with.

The Daily Work

Different types of work between the two fields translates into different daily tasks. Direct pharmaceutical and biotech work is highly scientific. In pharma specifically, you are looking at jobs directly related to developing new drugs and therapeutics. You’re looking at utilizing cutting-edge pharmaceutical technology.

Biotech and pharmaceutical jobs can lead to areas of specialty. For example, a worker may start out being involved in two or three different projects over the first few years of employment. But showing an aptitude for one particular project could lead to that person eventually specializing in that class of drugs or therapeutics.

On the other hand, CRO jobs usually involve moving from one project to the next over the course of one’s career. Rather than specializing in just one therapy or pharmaceutical, CRO workers gain exposure to a full menu of opportunities determined by the clients their employers serve.

Work Environment

Warman O’Brien says that the two work environments can be quite different. They say that pharmaceutical companies tend to be more conservative by nature. They also tend to become more conservative as they grow. How this plays out in terms of diversity and other areas of concern to the modern workforce is not clear.

Does this mean that CRO companies are less conservative? Not necessarily. However, CROs exist as outsourcing partners. They don’t have a vested interest in being more or less conservative. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find a CRO with a more liberal company culture.

In both cases, employers tend to push the team mentality quite heavily. Pharma and biotech are two industries that rely on collaboration to get things done. So if you are into a teamwork environment, both CRO and Pharma/Biotech employment would probably be attractive.

Whatever Works for You

Despite there being some overlap between Pharma/Biotech and CRO employment, there are enough differences to make jobs in both somewhat unique. There is no right or wrong in terms of your job search. Take a look at every opportunity and then choose the one that works for you.

Rest assured that there are plenty of CRO, biotech, and pharmaceutical jobs out there. You just have to find them. Hopefully, pharmadiversity.com will be a big step in that direction.


Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.

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