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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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May 9, 2005

Punching the Clock at Merck

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Posted by Derek

Man, is Merck's pick for new CEO ever getting some tepid reviews. I'm agnostic on the subject, but the coverage of Richard Clark's promotion range from resigned sighs to outright handwringing. In that latter category, see this article by Melissa David at

"When Merck crowned a new CEO last week, some disappointed investors saw fresh evidence of an entire industry that has yet to get its priorities straight.

Merck chose an insider without a background in medicine at a time when observers agree that the company desperately needs to focus on developing new drugs. Moreover, Merck made its selection even after its glory faded under a previous nondoctor, Ray Gilmartin.

Richard Clark, tapped last week to replace the embattled Gilmartin, is no master of drug research or even the marketing activities that, to the dismay of some, now seem to drive the industry. He has instead spent his 33 years at Merck concentrating on such areas as manufacturing and information technology."

You know, it's odd, but the chemists and biologists inside most drug companies even see the M.D.s as a little suspect, a bit insulated from the real world of research. Just goes to show what perspective can do. . .mind you, I'd rather have a medical type any day than someone from marketing. (No offense, guys, but we're different species and we both know it.)

Meanwhile, over at Forbes, Scott Gottlieb has a theory about why someone from the production end of the company is on top now: cost cutting. If we can't come up with the big-selling new drugs, then we can squeeze the overhead on what we have. His downer of a wrapup:

"This is one way to view Clark's ascendancy as Merck chief. The company is not preparing for a future filled with its own breakthrough research but, instead, for life as a regulated utility. It is a future where profits are increasingly set by price controls and cutting costs has become the best way to squeeze out extra income."

Well, that's just fine. From a scientist's standpoint, that sounds about as exciting as working the second shift down at the bottling plant. It's going to be up to us in the industry, particularly the R&D end of it, to try to keep this from happening. If we can actually get some new drugs, and whole new categories of drugs, for major unmet medical markets, perhaps we can escape this dystopia. There are a lot of technology bets being placed out there - here's hoping some of them pay off.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. Ward on May 10, 2005 7:35 PM writes...

I'm no great fan of Merk but it appears to me as an outsider that the industry funk is quite overdone in the press and in the stock market. I know the cost of drug discovery is very high but everywhere else on earth it appears that technology is acting to reduce such costs -more's law etc.- isn't some of the same thing going on in drug development?

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2. Over it. on May 11, 2005 2:34 AM writes...


The endless parade of hugely expensive, over-hyped technology that yields little-to-no benefit (except to the people who hype and sell it).

Who's not bored?

Drug discovery's best technology in the chemistry lab: round bottoms and Erlynmeyers, spin bars, separatory funnels, TLC plates, the rotovap, flash columns, heat guns, spatulas, tygon tubing, NMR spectrometers, the LCMS. You get the idea.

The only useful "new technology" I've seen in the last five years *might* be the microwave reactor.

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