By the time Cyrus Arman completed his Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Southern California  in Los Angeles in 2010, he knew he wanted a job in competitive intelligence (CI). As a student, Arman did consultancy work for a friend who was launching a gene therapy company called Eos Neuroscience . During the consultancy gig, Arman worked with the company’s chief operating officer, Alan Horsager, studying the company’s competitive landscape.
Arman first worked to gain a thorough understanding of the medical conditions Eos was hoping to target, and then to identify the standard treatment strategies for those diseases. The next step was to search the scientific literature to find out which academic groups were studying similar approaches to treatment for the same indications. Finally, Arman looked at intellectual property issues to determine whether the company had a clear path to protecting the research with patents. With all that information in hand, Arman helped figure out what experiments were needed both for proof of concept and for grant applications.
Arman’s first job after graduation was with a technical and business-development consultancy for early-stage biotech companies called CMA Consultants  in Los Angeles, California. In that job, he got a taste of how research can be turned into commercial applications. Then, a little more than a year ago, he joined CI consultancy firm Deallus Group .
Although he received basic CI training on the job, there are a lot of things that “you learn through trial and error,” he says. “You soon discover tactics and tools that work for you.” For example, Arman learned that before approaching science opinion leaders to discuss their work and the different treatment strategies being developed, he should familiarize himself with their research. This can be daunting, Arman writes in an e-mail, because often you have just a few days to become an expert on a range of diseases, including symptoms, standards of care, and compounds in the drug-development pipeline.
Arman also engages with financial analysts because a lot of the information that goes into making investment recommendations also goes into designing a competitive business strategy. So Arman needs to be able to speak financial analysts’ language. His strong sense for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, combined with business acumen, helps him make sense of the information provided by business analysts and the factors driving the monetization of products.
Arman’s early experience in CI was key, he says. He advises aspiring CI professionals to “try and find an internship in a firm, large or small. You need to find something that ... would differentiate you from other Ph.D.s.”
Martha Matteo spent a good part of her career establishing competitive technical intelligence (CTI) at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc , in Ridgefield, Connecticut. She left a position as an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston  to take a job in the research and development laboratory of Union Carbide Corporation. Five years later, in 1980, she joined Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals as a senior principal biochemist focusing on the biochemical pathways leading to autoimmune disease. Eight years into the job, Matteo felt that her “peripheral vision was becoming sharper than [her] tunnel vision,” she says, particularly since she had started evaluating new research directions and in-licensing opportunities for the company. She was offered the opportunity to leave the lab and get the company’s CTI activity -- then dubbed "competitive technical assessment" -- up and running.
Eventually, Matteo became director of knowledge management and R&D planning. In that senior role, she spent much of her time overseeing and performing CTI. She was responsible for understanding the environment the company was operating in and anticipating how that environment could impact the success of the products the company was planning to develop. She and her teams monitored regulatory issues and advances in technology. She liaised with senior decision-makers to discuss her results and inform the company's business strategy. Two years after she set up the U.S. operation, she was asked to help establish CTI at the corporate headquarters in Germany, then across the whole company.
Matteo is one of few people who have been able to grow with their CI position. She is active in the global CI community; she is a fellow and past president of Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals  (SCIP). She is retired from Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals but she still works as a CI consultant and mentors younger CI professionals, such as Natalya Nikitina of our next profile.
“I discovered competitive intelligence by accident,” recalls Natalya Nikitina, who obtained a Ph.D. in evolutionary development biology from the University of Cape Town  in South Africa, then continued with a postdoc in the same field at the California Institute of Technology  (Caltech) in Pasadena. At Caltech, Nikitina took a 3-day CI course with Jay Paap, president of management consultancy firm Paap Associates Inc. of Newton, Massachusetts. She liked -- and continues to like -- what she learned. “The most exciting part is to piece information together,” she says. “It is almost like you become a detective.”
Realizing that she wanted to combine her scientific interests with her taste for CI, Nikitina looked for a CI mentor. Paap recommended that she get in touch with Martha Matteo, who offered Nikitina the opportunity to do an internship with her. Today, Nikitina holds a senior lecturer position in genetics and development at the University of the Witwatersrand  in Johannesburg, South Africa, and does CI consultancy jobs on the side. Although her scientific knowledge is useful, “the most valuable skills that I acquired in my graduate work and that are applicable to CI are knowledge of how to find and interpret information, and how to approach a problem logically,” she writes in an e-mail. Nikitina also found her knowledge of a foreign language -- Russian -- valuable. “My specialized niche would be to help companies that are thinking of entering [the] Russian market and want to know what the competitor landscape is like.”
Sabine Louët is a freelance writer based in Dublin.