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Life-sciences firms cast wide net to fill openings

Matt King, director of quality assurance and regulatory affairs at InfoBionic in Lowell, says he gets calls every week trying to pry him away from his job, which shows how many life-sciences employers are looking for workers.
Matt King, director of quality assurance and regulatory affairs at InfoBionic in Lowell, says he gets calls every week trying to pry him away from his job, which shows how many life-sciences employers are looking for workers.(Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)

Recruiters want to pry Matt King from his job at a Lowell medical device startup. Every week, he gets about 15 inquiries via phone, e-mail, or LinkedIn about whether he wants to work at another company.

“I get calls from all over the country,” said King, director of quality assurance and regulatory affairs at InfoBionic Inc., developer of a mobile patient-monitoring device. “It’s been pretty active.”

And it’s been active for thousands of other workers and employers within the state’s red-hot life-sciences sector, which includes biotech, pharmaceutical, medical device, and other companies with products and services aimed at the medical market.

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A scan of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s online jobs board shows heavy demand for chemists, biologists, research associates, engineers, and other scientifically and mathematically inclined professionals. But Peter Abair, director of economic development and global affairs at the industry association, said that the maturing life-sciences sector increasingly needs other types of workers — from sales to advertising to regulatory affairs — as more products move from research-and-development stages to full commercialization.

“For every job in the lab, there’s another job outside that setting to support them,” he said.

Here are some of the high-demand fields within the life-sciences industry:

Bioinformatics

Specialists within bioinformatics sift through reams of digital research data, searching for trends and problems that might arise during the R&D stage of a product’s life. Entry-level positions require college degrees in the sciences, ideally coupled with strong computer and mathematics skills, and can pay anywhere from $60,000 to $70,000 a year.

But pay goes up dramatically for those with industry experience and with a master’s or doctoral degree; salaries at those levels can range from $90,000 to $150,000.

Quality assurance

Quality assurance specialists, like InfoBionic’s King, basically oversee overall scientific compliance with regulatory standards set by the US Food and Drug Administration.

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Quality assurance officers usually require a degree in the sciences and ideally a degree, or solid experience, in regulatory affairs. In King’s case, he has a bachelor of science degree in biology and a master’s degree in regulatory affairs.

The pay for quality assurance officers can range from $85,000 to $140,000, depending on the field of expertise and level of experience.

Note: Quality control officers are also in high demand. They’re the ones who directly oversee specific manufacturing and R&D processes, and often have similar education backgrounds as quality assurance officers. But their pay is a little lower: $50,000 to $120,000.

Pharmacovigilance

Specialists in pharmacovigilance help collect, detect, and monitor possible adverse effects with various drug products. They’re also casually referred to as drug-safety specialists.

The posts usually require a pharmacy doctorate, and their pay can range from $90,000 to $120,000. “Pharmacy is not just working at CVS anymore,” said Dave Melville, chief executive of the Bowdoin Group, a Wellesley staffing agency that focuses on the life sciences, financial, and information-technology sectors.

Note: There’s also increasing demand for college grads with bachelor’s degrees in pharmacy for lower-level research positions; no salary estimates were available.

Medical device engineering

Mechanical and electrical engineers are in high demand at many medical-device companies, where they’re needed to design everything from artificial joints to new medical instruments.

Greg Denon, assistant dean of student affairs at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said recent grads hired by medical-device companies for entry-level jobs are starting at $55,000 to $60,000. Engineering degrees also are needed for many quality-control manufacturing and R&D positions within the medical-device sector, Denon said.

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Melville said his company is constantly on the prowl for qualified candidates for all types of jobs at all levels as it tries to meet the demand of its life-sciences clients. “The entire industry is just so robust right now in Massachusetts,” he said.


Jay Fitzgerald can be reached at jayfitzmedia@gmail.com.