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Pharmaceutical Experts Give Job Seekers Advice

Pharmaceutical Experts Give Job Seekers Advice

The Philadelphia Inquirer

With unprecedented layoffs in the once-cushy pharmaceutical sector — about 59,000 job cuts have been announced so far this year — workers in that industry are furiously revamping resumes and considering career makeovers.

And 130 of them swarmed a recent seminar at the Wharton School to network and learn how to find opportunities amid the wreckage at large pharmaceutical companies.

“The economy stinks, and we have to reinvent ourselves,” said Margaret Rassmussen, who lost her job at a Malvern, Pa., biotech company but now consults for it. She came to the seminar to network and get advice on whether to look for another job or expand her consulting business.

Keynote speaker Chris Cashman, chief executive of Protez Pharmaceuticals in Malvern, has been in situations like Rasmussen’s. For decades, he worked at big drug companies. Finally, his division was sold, and the acquiring chief executive told him and other employees, “I can’t feed all of you.”

Eventually, he left the new employer, Pfizer Inc., and Cashman used his severance package to “do a little soul-searching.” He decided to build a small biotech company and got a job as head of a start-up, Message Pharmaceuticals, which was based in Malvern. A venture investor in that firm seemed determined to seize the company’s intellectual property, he said.

He went to the company’s board, which told him, “Welcome to biotech. This is where it really gets fun,” Cashman said, and clapped his hands.

Cashman secured $1.2 million to pay the investor, who simply wired it back.

He was forced to sell the company, but the tale of his gargantuan battle with a venture investor reinforced his theme: “At the end of the day, you have to find a way.”

After he left Message, he became chief executive of Protez Pharmaceuticals in 2003 and needed investors. Some of the biggest venture capital funds in the country didn’t believe in Protez’s focus on developing treatments for drug-resistant bacteria because larger pharmaceutical companies were abandoning those products.

He found other investors, including BTG P.L.C., Ben Franklin Technology Partners and BioAdvance Greenhouse. He and other speakers said research areas that big drug companies are abandoning may prove fertile ground for small firms, which can thrive with a product that sells only $200 million yearly. At a large company, successful products may bring in $1 billion or more in yearly sales.

Last year, Cashman sold Protez for $400 million to Novartis.

“There isn’t any security anymore,” Cashman said, “but I’ll guarantee you, there are lots and lots of opportunities.”