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February 27, 2006
But At My Back I Always Hear. . .
I have an interesting article from Forbes to point out tonight: one of those lists of the best-selling drugs in the US, and a corresponding list of the fastest-growing ones.
A few things stand out. For one, five of the top ten drugs are showing declining sales. I suspect that this is close to the historical average, since some of these big sellers will always be things that are past their (gigantic) peak. Another striking feature is that the ten fastest-growing drugs include three antibodies and another protein. We small-molecule people tend to overlook these products because we're not the ones who do the research on them. But they're very big business indeed, and getting bigger every year. It would serve us organic chemists well, I think, to come up with ways that we can add something to the antibody field, because I think that we're going to want to be its friend.
And that brings up a conversation I was having with a colleague the other day. He was pointing out the huge amount of contract work that's being done in China and India these days. A lot of large and small companies are profitably outsourcing their chemical grunt work, and a lot of small firms outside the US are profitably taking it on. That got me to thinking again about a feeling that I just can't shake: that we medicinal chemists, individually and collectively, need to make sure that we are doing things that other people can't do for us.
Fifteen years ago, you could make a living banging out huge combichem libraries, but you can't do that any more. Ten years ago there were a lot of small outfits in the US that were doing custom synthesis, taking on all kinds of nickel-and-dime work, but if they've survived until now they've done it by branching out into things that the Indian and Chinese firms can't undercut them on. I think that the methyl-ethyl-butyl-futyl type of medicinal chemistry work is perhaps about to be loaded into the same hopper.
So, think about what you're doing for a living, fellow chemists. Is it something that someone easy to locate could do for a lot less money? It had better not be. Failing that, you'd better start to pick up some impressive new reasons to justify your paycheck.
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