Drug firms woo top scientists

Updated: Nov 29 2004, 05:30am hrs
A hiring binge by big pharmaceutical companies that have muscled into the Boston area is generating hot competition for top research scientists, who are being stalked by recruiters and are mulling over multiple job offers.

Drug companies that have built gleaming new research centers - Novartis AG, Merck & Co., and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LLP - are aggressively recruiting from Boston-area biotechs and academic research centers as they gear up to find the next generation of treatments. As a result, phones are ringing in Cambridge. Company websites list scores of jobs.

Salaries, typically higher in the pharmaceutical industry than they are in biotechnology, are rising. Scientists with doctorates can expect to start at $80,000 to $90,000, executives and consultants said. Competition could heat up more as California embarks on a $3 billion stem-cell research program.

The number of Massachusetts jobs in scientific research and development grew 5.4 percent from September 2003 to September 2004, mostly because of stronger hiring in research for new medicines. That is much better than the overall economy. In the same period, the total number of nonfarm jobs in Massachusetts shrank by 0.2 percent.

It puts more pressure on the recruiting process, said Jeff Hanke, vice president for cancer research at AstraZenecas research and development lab in Waltham. When were going for someone were highly interested in, they have also talked to Merck, they have also talked to Novartis and some other biotechs in the area.