The staff shortages are affecting firms from the bottom right to the top - the current head of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in India is a former Pfizer employee, as is the head of Johnson & Johnson, while BMS's top spot belongs to a former Eli Lilly employee.
To improve the talent drought, pharma firms and contract research organisations (CROs) need to start aggressively training new staff members now, delegates heard at the recent Association of Clinical Research professionals (ACRP) conference in Brussels.
"Training at all levels needs to be budgeted for and will allow for fast scale up as needed, however not many companies are doing this," said Dr Ajay Ganju, director, global clinical operations of Johnson & Johnson in India said at the conference.
"Start planning now for your future in India. Focus on a three to five year plan instead of a one year plan," he urged companies.
Dr Vasudeo Ginde, president and managing director of Indian-based CRO iGATE clinical research, couldn't agree more.
"Employers in India need to offer their clinical staff more than just a good salary. Providing correct training, support and management is also essential," he told Outsourcing-Pharma.com.
"Our staff are headhunted by rival firms every week, but we have only lost seven employees in nine years."
The problem is that most clinical research professionals in India are extremely well qualified, but lack in practical experience - most have less than two years experience and finding one with more than five years experience is a real challenge.
However, most global clinical trial sponsors are insisting that staff working on their projects have two or more years experience.
"In this industry, the cost of doing things wrong is very high," said Dr Ginde.
"No client is going to let you learn at their expense."
Looking to the future, iGATE clinical research is now scaling up its staff members from 75 to 120, putting them through an intensive six month training programme "in the classroom" after which point they will be functional.
After this they will undergo a further year and a half of "hands on" experience. Only then will they be ready to work independently, said Dr Ginde.
"We are not doing this because we have a large backlog of business, we are doing this because we know it takes two years for a new staff member to become globally functional and we want our staff members to be ready in time."
In the meantime, iGATE clinical research, like all the other companies operating here, has to do the best it can to satisfy its sponsors with the number of experienced staff it currently has.
"We recommend that sponsors use a mix of our experienced staff members with a mix of our less experienced staff members who can build up their skills while being under complete supervision," said Dr Ginde.
"With the pool of experience that we already have, we guarantee to still deliver a robust and high quality end result using this balance."