Pharmaceutical companies can be categorized as Brand-Name pharmas, which are originators of new branded products, and Generic Drugs pharmas. Some of the innovating original companies are small, academic spin-offs and some of them are really huge corporations acquiring more and more competitors or undergoing mergers. Some of both the original and the generic companies are specialized in chemicals or biologics or in a particular therapeutic area, some of them deal with everything. But all of them need educated experts and sometimes they do open junior positions and hire graduates. Modern therapies more and more incline to new biotechnologies advancing the cell, tissue and gene therapies or producing therapeutic antibodies and complex proteins. The main difference from the traditional pharmaceuticals is that the biotech products are derived from living organisms. For these companies we use the terms pharmaceutical and biotech interchangeably.
Human medicines and medical devices, their testing, development and manufacture, are heavily regulated on the national as well as regional or even multinational level (ICH countries, EEA, European Union). Regulatory bodies called Competent Authorities are governmental and also non-governmental (self-regulatory) institutions which has power to create and enforce the pharma industry regulations and standards. They are main operational counterparts of the companies involved in research, development, manufacture, distribution and marketing of the medical products. They also lead the process of marketing authorizations of those products, maintenance of the authorizations and providing scientific advice to the developers. In some countries they offer lower salaries than the commercial sector and you will not learn the business portion when working for them. On the other hand, the character of work can be very professional, meaningful and having a big impact on the sector. You will also have extraordinary chance to learn the legislation in a great detail and grow as a professional with deep technical understanding of the chosen area. In comparison to the commercial sector you will have much better work-life balance. To name a few institutions as examples: American FDA, European EMA, Australian TGA or Canadian Health Canada.
These two types of companies generally known under the acronyms CRO and CMO are actually representing a larger workforce in the pharma business than the pharmaceutical companies. They provide contract services to the pharma firms that are either too small or for strategical reasons don't have their own facilities and resources to conduct certain activities. The services encompass active substance manufacturing (API - Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient), product packaging, batch release, clinical trials, medical writing and a lot more. Working environment and organization of the work very differ from that in the pharma firms mainly due to their orientation towards clients and handling many different products. It is probably an ideal starting place for graduates. There they can learn about the complexity of the industry and specialize in something. In the pharmaceutical companies you will have your hands on something called 'product life cycle'. In other words, the CRO/CMO positions deal with same problems on many levels for many various products. While in the pharma companies you would be dealing with a broader range of problems relating to one or a few products, a program or portfolio.
Although medical devices are not medicines, and they are regulated differently, they are usually considered a part of the pharma business as a wider category. This is mainly because of their relation to the combined therapeutic approaches. They typically serve for similar or related purposes as medicines and some of them are manufactured as integral parts of the pharmaceutical products. Big CROs usually provide services for development of both medicines and devices.
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