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19th May 2020

Recruiting AI / ML Talent into Life Sciences – Why is it so hard?

Last month, Benevolent AI, a London Based leader in the development and application of artificial intelligence for scientific innovation announced that a potential treatment for Covid19 had entered clinical testing.

Through the use of AI, their platform was able to search existing medicines which could quickly be moved into clinical trials, with other companies and institutions looking to follow suit – AI and Machine Learning are going to completely change the Life Sciences Industry as we know it.

However, with many companies now looking to invest in AI Technologies, perhaps the biggest challenge is in hiring the right staff to be able to carry out these transformations, but why is that?

Put simply, this arises from the fact that drug discovery and healthcare are the complex areas of knowledge requiring years of theoretical training and practical experience to understand how to model them in the ML/AI-driven fashion – in essence, it is impossible to effectively apply ML/AI skills without some domain expertise.

At the same time, ML/AI in itself is a complex domain of knowledge, which require very strong foundations in things such as probability theory and statistics – skills which typically are not taught within Life Sciences Degrees.

You also have the Major Tech companies, your Amazon’s, Google’s, Microsoft’s etc, who are increasingly looking to expand into the Life Sciences Sector. So what you have now, is that not only are the top Pharma Companies competing with each other and other Life Science Start-up’s, but they are now also fighting with Global Tech Giants.

So – How do you hire in such a competitive market?

1) The creation of Digital Innovation Centres, and the idea of “Intrapreneurship”. Whilst Pharma companies have previously been fairly conservative – they must now adopt a much more agile approach and encourage disruption from within. Creating Business Incubators will become a very important element of an AI-talent acquisition strategy.

2) Hiring a Strong Leader – Seems a pretty simple idea, however, these leaders will have such an important role to play. In order to create and grow great AI teams within Life Sciences, there will need to be a culture of communication and collaboration – multi-disciplinary teams where a Dual-Expertise is needed in order to thrive, and at the head of this, a great leader is needed to weave it all together.

3) Look to Academia – According to a recent report, 43 of the top 100 “Leaders in AI” are still in Academia. In order to grow a great AI team, you are going to need to hire people who have good contacts both within the business world and academia. Rather than lose PHD Level Candidates to the “Tech” world, Life Science Companies must engage with them at an earlier stage if they are to grow successful teams.

4) Work with a Specialised Recruitment Agency. Whilst it might not sound surprising to hear a Recruiter advocate the use of a Recruitment Agency – there is real value working with a true market specialist – they have access to the top talent in the Industry. It would also be worth reconsidering releasing these roles exclusively to your PSL – These are all new and emerging technologies, which often require a new way of thinking, and require headhunting and relationship building and not relying on an outdated “Database” of candidates.

AI and Machine Learning are going to transform the Life Sciences Industry Completely over the next few years, and in order to maintain your competitive advantage, you need to be thinking about how you are going to be implementing AI Technologies, and more importantly, how you are going to find the talent to do so.

 

By Ciaran Hickey

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