Non-academic careers for neuromuscular professionals

Dr. Petra Kaufmann

Dr. Petra Kaufmann, physician-scientist, rare diseases expert and neurologist working to develop transformative therapies for patients in need. Petra is the Chief Medical Officer at Affinia Therapeutics.


The neuromuscular field has seen the advent of transformational therapies in recent decades. This has shaped the WMS as a society and has also changed its annual congress.   Early on, the neuromuscular professionals making up the WMS have largely come from academic and clinical environments.  Recently, the number of neuromuscular professionals working in industry has increased, and research presented at the annual WMS congress is often the result of industry collaborations.  This trend has the potential to accelerate the translation of academic progress into better treatment for patients burdened by neuromuscular disease.  As a result, there is increasing interest in industry careers.  

What are some of the drivers for transitions into industry?

  • Impact: Success in industry is measured in the development of new treatments, unlike academia where success is measured in the advancement of science reflected in publications and funding.  Therefore, researchers with focus on translation and direct patient impact may want to consider an industry career.
  • Scope: As a clinician, one has the privilege of making a difference for one patient at a time. As a physician in industry, one has the opportunity to make a difference for many patients who benefit from a new treatment.
  • Resources: In academia, research resources may be mismatched to the scope of work because of limited public or private funding.  In industry, there is often more robust support for research and drug development.
  • Innovation: The relatively conservative peer review and public funding frameworks are less nimble than private sector investments to support cutting-edge, high risk, and truly innovative research directions.
  • Teamwork: The academic currency of first- or last author publications incentivizes individual contributions.  In industry, success depends to a greater extent on the collective achievement of teams and is measured based on the outcome of a collaboration.
  • Expertise: To implement translational and clinical research, academic investigators often have to be generalists covering a range of skills for which an industry environment provides multidisciplinary teams of experts specializing, for example, in regulatory, clinical development or operational aspects.

What are some of the challenges when considering a transition to industry?

  • Mindset: To find a rewarding career in industry requires the ability to shift away from a mindset of recognition as published author and respected academic leader.  Many professional organizations allow for their leaders and academic speakers to have complex and substantial financial relationships with multiple industry partners, but exclude industry employees from such roles, despite of the inherently clear and transparent nature of full-time industry employment.
  • Relocation: Increasingly, industry positions are location-independent because much of the work can be done remotely.  However, on-site work is still required for many attractive positions, and advisable for someone wishing to transition into industry for the first time.  Therefore, certain areas are particularly suited for industry careers, such as Boston, San Francisco, Basel or a few other biopharmaceutical “hubs”.   
  • Patient care: For physicians, industry employers may welcome continued clinical work on a limited basis.  However, it is unlikely that the demands of an industry career would leave sufficient time for substantial patient care opportunities.
  • Academic research:  For scientists, industry success depends on creativity and strong science.  However, research conducted in industry often has to be immediately relevant to achieving a development goal so that there is less room for academic exploration or a broader scientific scope than directly necessary.
  • Independence: In academia, there is a degree of freedom to choose one’s research topic or particular line of investigation as long as funding can be procured.  In industry, one has to be open to shift to different areas as the broader company goals evolve.
  • Continuity: There is greater professional mobility in industry where people often change positions every few years, or where organizations often re-structure.  Therefore, there is less continuity in terms of colleagues, roles and assignments.

What are some of the career options in industry?

  • Company size/stage: Generally, early-stage biotech companies will be more agile and have smaller teams.  Large pharmaceutical companies will offer more stability and security and will have larger teams and the need for more governance.
  • Physician and clinical roles: There are currently a great need for neuromuscular professionals in industry, often in the following roles:
    • Translational Medicine/Early Development: Bringing new therapeutics from the laboratory to Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials.
    • Clinical Development: Designing and implementing clinical trials (Phase 3 and 4) to test new therapeutics.
    • Medical Affairs: Communication with experts, medical education, research grants, symposia.
  • Scientist roles are numerous and include:
    • Non-clinical research: In vitro or animal studies to evaluate the potential efficacy and safety of a new therapeutic.
    • Translational science: Biomarker, assay and endpoint development.

How can you learn more if you are interested in a transition to industry?

  • Networking is very important to meet people in different careers in industry.  Your connections can also help identify opportunities and make introductions.
  • Mentors can be very valuable.  Just like in academia, they can help you think about your interests, strength, skills and development plan.
  • Preparing for a transition can include:
    • Revising your academic CV by creating a more focused resume with emphasis on skills (including teamwork/management) and accomplishments rather than on publications and grants.
    • Working with professional recruiters who can help you navigate the industry landscape, and who can connect you with opportunities that best fit your interests.
    • Acquiring skills and experience applicable to drug development, such as taking a course in clinical research methodology, or participating in a trial as site investigator.

Are there other non-clinical or non-academic careers beyond industry?

Additional ways for neuromuscular professionals to contribute to the ecosystem of therapy development for the benefit of patients include:

  • Regulatory roles, reviewing clinical trial and marketing authorization applications at a health authority such as EMA or FDA.
  • Non-profit roles, assisting patient organizations in their research, policy, and outreach efforts.
  • Government roles, contributing to organizations like the NIH to advance biomedical research through strategic funding and support.

This article is presented by the

Education & Development Opportunities Committee.

Published on 4 June 2021.


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