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Pharma R&D heads call the shots

P B Jayakumar  |  Mumbai 

As the domestic pharmaceutical invest greater resources in new drug development, research professionals have emerged the new elite, commanding astronomical salaries. In many cases, their pay packets are higher than those of other department heads, with flexible terms.
The average expenditure of pharmaceutical on research and development has increased four times in the last five years. circles say a good share of the R&D expenses is on manpower, especially the heads of R&D.
"There are at least 20 R&D heads with leading pharmaceutical and clinical research organisations (CROs) in India earning salaries of over Rs 1 crore a year," says Vikram Bharadwaj, managing director of Redileon, a manpower recruiting agency.
Many manage to get pretty much what they wish for. Some demand "flexible working options", like operating from the US for six months every year, or a two-way US-India ticket for the family every year and so on.
"Most companies agree to their terms, which shows the worth of such people with talent, stature and experience of 15-25 years, mainly with multinational pharmaceutical companies," says a senior executive of a leading pharmaceutical company.
The demand for top R&D talent is evident in the flurry of movements, which is beginning to resemble the notorious attrition in business process outsourcing.
"I would say the top-level scientists in India are paid the same as, or only about 10 per cent less than, the US standards. My R&D spend on salaries increased by 87 per cent last year," says Venkat Jasti, vice-chairman and CEO of Suven Life Sciences, which has employed over 200 scientists.
But the most sought after are the R&D heads. According to Ranbaxy Laboratories' 2006 annual report, Lalit Kumar Arora, director, financial services, had a gross remuneration of Rs 29,76,401, while S C Agarwal, vice-president, global direct taxation, was paid Rs 1,01,82,880. Pradip Kumar Bhatnagar, vice-president, new drug discovery research, had a gross remuneration of Rs 1,23,57,708.
"The R&D leader requires skills other than scientific knowledge, such as knowledge of clinical trial norms and regulatory affairs. Above all, the ability to manage a relatively large team of 150 to 250 scientists requires good managerial and coordination skills," says R D Joshi, director of Interlink, a pharmaceutical management consultancy.
Their status gets underlined if you look at the emoluments even a level below. Even the second-in-command earns no more than Rs 30-40 lakh a year.
There are about 80 to 90 second-in-line R&D chiefs, whose qualifications and experience are not very inferior to those of their bosses, working in Indian pharmaceutical companies. Most full-fledged R&D sets-ups, typically with 200-250 scientists, will have four to five such professionals.
The middle-level R&D managers, with an experience of 3-8 years, earn no more than Rs 12-20 lakh a year. "We get about 200 to 300 CVs in a day, related to the pharmaceutical and out of these, 30-40 applications a week are of ambitious, middle-level R&D managers trying to go up the ladder," says Bharadwaj.

First Published: Wed, June 13 2007. 00:00 IST