Becoming a Pharma/Biotech Business Analyst

By Carol Scalice, President, IIBA Pharma/Biotech Special Interest Group
“I want to be a business analyst in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry—what do I need to know? What skills do I need to have?” As President of the Pharma/Biotech Special Interest Group at International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), I hear that question a lot. As in other industries, we constantly debate over whether it is better to have experience and knowledge with science and the pharmaceutical industry or core BA skills. The answer is one we hear so often in our field…it depends!  
Many people don’t realize that biopharma is a broad and diverse business. You can be doing business analysis with biologists and chemists working in a lab, regulators who are very business focused, statisticians crunching numbers, or sales and marketing people out promoting your products, just to name a few. These different areas require different skills and knowledge in order to be successful.  
For example, many times when you work with scientists you have to know to avoid the dreaded word “process,” and the less formal you can be with your stakeholders is usually better. Generally, some knowledge of biology or chemistry is extremely helpful. 
Somewhat on the opposite side of the spectrum, when working with regulators you need to be very focused on the rules, understanding policies and regulations at a detailed level. That space also often requires more formality to your business analysis practices because clinical trials are large and complex, as well as heavily regulated because you need to be very cautious about patient safety as you are essentially testing your drug on people to prove it is really safe and produces the desired effect.  
In all cases, strong business analysis skills and knowing when to tailor your methods and interpersonal approach for different audiences is important. Because so much of our industry is regulated, you have to be able to quickly switch between large, complex, validated systems and small, unregulated systems that are used to drive innovation and experiment with new concepts and discovery methodologies. You need to be able to quickly get in and assess the degree of rigor and regulatory rules that must be applied in order for you to successfully interpret, understand and solve a problem in a manner that is both efficient and safe for patients.
For those coming into the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the pharmaceutical industry as a whole and what it takes to get a new drug to the market, from concept all the way through loss of exclusivity when a patent expires.  
Become familiar with business analysis in different software delivery frameworks like waterfall, Scrum or Kanban so that you can make decisions about the right approach for a given project.  
To learn more about how business analysis is applied in the pharmaceutical industry, I also recommend that you join the IIBA® Pharma/Biotech Special Interest Group and listen to webinars from your fellow business analysts on how they were able to apply their BA skills and what core knowledge and competencies they needed across many different areas of the industry.  Joining the community is a great way to grow your network when you are looking to break into a new domain! To learn more about the Pharma/Biotech Special Interest Group, visit or contact us at