From The Editor | January 15, 2024

Pharmaceutical Scientists' Salaries in 2023

By Ben Comer, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader

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Last October, the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) released its annual salary survey, which measures the earnings of individuals working in pharmaceutical sciences in the U.S., both in academia and industry. I expected the survey to reflect the harsh funding environment, layoffs, and inflation rate that impacted so many people working in the preceding 12 months. In fact, salaries were up among industry scientists as well as academic scientists (AAPS members) – mean annual base salary from principle, full-time employment in the U.S. as of June 1 (the date of the survey cut off) was $190,100, a 6.7% increase from 2022 ($178,100). Pharmaceutical scientists outside of the U.S. had average base salaries that are just 56% of their U.S. counterparts.

To learn more about the trend in salary among pharmaceutical scientists, I spoke with 2024 AAPS president, and chief development officer at Larimar Therapeutics, Gopi Shankar, who noted a shift from academia to industry. “There is a lot more entrepreneurship going on, and a lot more small companies” than there used to be, says Shankar. “A lot of the burden of promoting new science is not just occurring in academia anymore, it’s happening in the industry as well.”

That is all good news. What remains distressing in the AAPS survey data is the gap between male and female scientist salaries – median salaries are 22% higher for males, at $194,500, than they are for females, at $159,00. The biopharmaceutical industry is certainly not unique in paying men more than women on average, but I guess I was hoping that the field of science, in its cold, logical, and meticulous approach to discovering truth and generating innovation, would have found a way to make income more equitable between the people doing all the discovering and development.

The AAPS is working toward that goal, says Shankar. “We have a women in pharmaceutical sciences community for sharing experiences, with the goal of advancing women and advancing pharmaceutical science.” Shankar noted the persistent problem of promotion for females in the STEM sciences, something “societies in general, globally, are trying to understand and improve upon.”

The issue makes for a good New Year’s resolution for company leaders in the life sciences industry: an increasing number of states are already requiring businesses to post salary ranges in their job listings, and companies could build upon that requirement to better enforce equal payment for equal work, regardless of sex. As Katalin Karikó, a 2023 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine – who was demoted by the University of Pennsylvania in the 1990s – has said, it’s the system that is to blame, not individuals. But individuals in power have a responsibility to make a difference. Now is the time!