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There’s a Massive Pay Gap Between Pharma and Biotech Sales Reps

Lots of new therapies are headed for the market.Photograph by Agnieszka Wozniak—Caiaimage via Getty Images

Being a medical sales rep is a pretty sweet gig, salary-wise. But a new survey highlights huge pay gaps between different types of health product marketers, with biotech dominating the compensation game.

Pharmaceutical sales representatives earn the lowest average total compensation among all medical sales people, according to a survey of nearly 3,300 active medical sales employees. A lot of that has to do with commissions and bonuses—while pharmaceutical marketers earned the fourth largest average base salary out of the nine surveyed sectors, their bonuses were by far the lowest.

The survey highlights just how critical commissions are for medical sales reps, especially in high-cost fields such as surgical devices (which had the fourth-lowest base salary but by far the biggest average commissions/bonuses) and medical equipment.


medical sales rep salaries


But biotech was the clear winner in the salary wars, clocking a $165,000 total pay package that puts it at a 35% advantage over its pharmaceutical counterparts. Traditional pharmaceuticals typically deal in small-molecule chemical drugs while biotech tackles biologically-derived products and technologies. Despite recent market volatility, biotech has largely been booming over the past five years, driven by exciting new treatments such as cancer immunotherapies.

That might help explain the wage gap. “These complex [biotech] products are in demand and require smart, hard-working sales people to introduce them to the medical community,” wrote the study authors. “The level of complexity of most biotech products may explain why biotech employers offer higher base salaries and pay more in total compensation than employers in any other product niche.”

The survey also highlights other disparities stemming from age, experience, job title, and gender. Very roughly speaking, women in general earn 76 cents to a man’s dollar in the U.S. (there are notable caveats for this). That gap is a bit narrower in the overall medical sales rep industry—the survey finds that women professional in the field make 80% of what a man makes.

But there’s a bit more equanimity in both pharma and biotech sales. Women pharma reps make about 90% of what men earn, while women biotech reps make about 87%. Census bureau data have also shown that white males in the medical profession outpace women when it comes to salary.