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All the Krage: Pharma team manager Becky talks cell and gene therapy

Becky Krage manages Investigo’s Cell and Gene Therapy team in New York. In a whirlwind first year-and-a-half with the company, the Lead Consultant, who hails from Winona in Minnesota, has carved out her niche and grown her own team, which currently stands at three. Now the lady who puts the ‘win’ into Winona tells us more about the challenges and opportunities in her market, as well as her hopes for pharma (and the Minnesota Vikings) over the year ahead.

You work in an incredibly niche market. What started you off in cell and gene therapy?

I was doing quality assurance recruitment at my previous company, working on the commercial side of the drug development process rather than the pre-clinical, discovery stage. On the commercial side, the drugs have already been sold and gone through clinical trials. There was occasionally a quality assurance position with a gene therapy company, where it’s hard to find candidates with experience.

When I came to Investigo, it was a jobs-driven market rather than a candidate-driven market, and it was therefore hard to get the clients. So my focus was on building a function in the therapeutic area. It spiralled so much more outside the quality assurance sector and I started building functions within the sector.

It was very much outside what I was used to from my education. I had to get used to the big players in the market, get to know the company sizes and the terminology. Gene therapy’s really niche and my knowledge grew as I got to know it better. In fact, it’s such a niche area that I’m turning away business.

Boston’s a huge hub – you’ve got MIT, Harvard, the University of Massachusetts Medical Department – so I’ve built up a local presence there. It’s all about personal branding. I started small, but now I know everyone. It’s important to name drop, know who’s hiring, who’s got financing, who’s lost their financing, who’s got a drug that didn’t pass.

At the end of the day, people need medicine. It’s expected that there’ll be more FDA funding for biotechs when the current crisis is over.

How are you balancing your recruitment duties with line management?

I pass business down as much as possible. Victoria (Wallace, Consultant in our New York office) focuses on processing and development, so I don’t do that anymore. When someone takes on clinical operations and clinical development, I’ll stop doing that too. It’s a learning curve of managing people. Labs are shutting down and are obviously not hiring people for the front line, so you need to shift and recruit more strategic roles.

What are the big trends you’re seeing in your market?

 I firmly believe things will pick up. The money invested in gene therapy won’t slow down anytime soon; R&D for businesses researching a cure for cancer, for example. With high manufacturing costs, drugs sell for upwards of $2m, which your average person obviously can’t afford. These are legalised and supported by government funding to make them affordable. Our busiest time is normally during June and July, so we’ll see how the next few months pan out. I’m excited to see what happens.

What will be the major challenges for employers in the year ahead?

There’ll be a major ramp-up phase for a lot of people. We’ll be prioritising certain positions and delivering to demand, having more focus on the candidate stuff until people get the green light and start hiring.

Companies are reluctant to meet PhD students, who normally have to do a presentation. So we offer a temporary solution – try before you buy. We have to be creative in the options we present to our clients so we’re not taking our foot off the gas. It’s important being ready to deliver and having enough candidates in your network to do that.

What skills do professionals need in this market?

Molecular biology or cloning; hands-on AAV experience on the design, construction, optimisation or manufacturing of new drugs; assay development; rare diseases. They’ll usually need a PhD, and industry experience if they’ve been out of post-doc for a while.

What are your hopes for the Vikings when the NFL starts up again?

That’s a heartbreaker since they just traded Stefon Diggs to Buffalo! But OBVIOUSLY I want them to win the Super Bowl (even though we won’t this year!)