Biotech field in bloom

Daily News Editor
Published October 2, 2007

For every human ailment that could possibly be imagined, someone somewhere is in the process of developing a cure - or at least a temporary solution.

The cornucopia of health complaints plaguing the country at least means robust health in one area: the biotech industry.

With advancements in health care hinging on the development of new technologies, the biotech field is growing larger, said Lynne Sebille-White, assistant director of the University's Career Center.

"Any kind of industry that deals with health care and serving the needs of the aging will continue to grow," she said. This is even more true as the baby boomers generation approaches retirement.

Along with concentrators in physics, chemistry, engineering and computer technology, biotech firms are also creating new positions in business, human resources, public relations, sales, marketing and advertising, Sebille-White said.

In Michigan, many hope biomedical research will play an important role in diversifying the state economy by weaning its focus away from the sinking automotive industry.

But success is more of a gamble than a sure thing for some biotech industries. Sebille-White said that while there are areas where the pharmaceutical industry is pushing the growth of biotechnology, many companies have been forced to downsize because of lawsuits.

"Just look at Pfizer," she said.

Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical company, cut 2,100 jobs in January when it shut down its research center in Ann Arbor.

Many biotechnology companies are also hampered by long waiting periods for drug patents acquired through the Food and Drug Administration.

"If something goes awry on the final stages, it can really impact a company," Sebille-White said.

But life is a gamble, and for those who know what they're doing, the benefits of involvement in the biotech industry outweigh the costs.

"The scientists who work in those fields are really established and are taking calculated risks," Sebille-White said. "Yet you can't predict what's going to happen in the lab."

A quality biotech companies like in applicants' resumés is hands-on research experience. Sebille-White said the University's Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program is a place to start, but graduate school is the path for people aspiring to upper-level research positions.