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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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In the Pipeline

« Deception Begins at Home | Main | Technical Difficulties »

March 2, 2006

Procter and Gamble Throws in the Towel

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Posted by Derek

As mentioned in a comment thread here several days ago, P&G looks to be finally giving up on in-house drug development. 300 jobs are being cut at the Mason, OH site, and they're all from Drug Discovery. That'll pretty much do it - all that's left now is drug development for inlicensed compounds.

If you check P&G's pharmaceutical web site, though, you won't be able to tell that anything is going on. Still, the front-page mentions of career opportunities in Marketing and Brand Management are perhaps a tip-off to the company's priorities. The R&D page is particularly painful:

We are rapidly expanding our capabilities and capacities. We have internal capabilities in most areas of pharmaceutical discovery, development and marketing. We also are committed to expanding these capabilities, gaining access to the latest scientific knowledge, utilizing the latest in technology advancements through active partnering with academia, national laboratories, and biotechnology and other pharmaceutical companies.

Sure thing! Procter and Gamble has been messing around in the drug discovery area for many years now, with painfully little to show for their own efforts. Despite some good people, some of whom have been subsequent colleagues of mine at other companies, they've never made that much headway. Eye-rolling comments about shampoo and fabric softener are not uncommon from former employees.

P&G has done all sorts of deals with smaller companies, and I presume the more advanced of these will continue on their (merry?) way. But in the long run, you have to wonder. Discovery research has turned out to be too foreign for the company to deal with. And while development is different, it's a lot more like drug discovery than it's like the laundry detergent game. Who's to say that it won't eventually drive the brand managers crazy as well?

Comments (15) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Drug Industry History


1. tom bartlett on March 2, 2006 9:19 AM writes...

I have never been impressed with anything out of P&G Discovery, but, as we all know, Discovery is hard to do and hard to manage. I don't doubt they had some good people, and hope these people find a better place in this hostile economy.

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2. MikeT on March 2, 2006 9:22 AM writes...

So, Derek,
Do you see this as a lay off at one company because of internal problems or as a forerunner for the rest of the industry.
There just doesn't seem to be any good news coming out of pharma these days. I wanted to get into the pharma industry as a synthetic chemist since college, but it really doesn't seem like a good idea anymore as far as job availability and security.
By the way, anyone see the Women in Science link on delicious? I thought it was overly depressive and I have to believe I have more control over my destiny than that.

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3. Jack Friday on March 3, 2006 4:00 AM writes...

It's not so much the R%D layoffs that foretell the huge changes for Big Pharma, its the sales force layoffs.

Take a look at CafePharma. These have now started, both overtly and covertly.

GSK seem to be only one bucking the trend and are investing significantly more in R&D.

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4. Dave H on March 3, 2006 3:43 PM writes...

P&GP likely gave up in disgust. After 7 years of efficacy and safety trials, FDA hit them hard with a demand for 5 additional years of safety on Intrinsa (Transdermal Testosterone for female sexual dysfunction). FDA seems quite ready to go into CYA mode these days.

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5. Dustin James on March 3, 2006 3:51 PM writes...

I'm sorry to hear about this. I worked at Norwich Eaton Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Norwich, NY, from 1984 to 1988, my first job out of graduate school, in process development. NEPI (the company that developed OTCs like Norwich aspirin, Chloroseptic and Pepto Bismol and the ethical antiinfective nitrofurantoin for urinary tract infections) had been bought by P&G a few years before and the "procterization" of NEPI was well underway. One of our most disliked tasks was to write a bi-weekly report (BWR) covering our work. It seemed to focus our work on the short-term rather than the long term. I was not a model employee, as it took me a year or so to adapt to the "make it at any cost in a short period of time" mentality of kilo stage process development versus wanting to know mechanisms and the like. However, I eventually got with the program and realized that a company that focused on making paper towels and potato chips probably did not have the corporate mentality to make ethical pharmaceuticals.

Some of you may not realize that the Peterson olefination was developed by a P&G chemist. So there were/are a lot of really good people there. And they would have a chemistry colloquium every year in Cincy that we could fly to on the company Lear (that's when I learned not to drink a big glass of tea right before getting on a Learjet) to present papers and posters. Plus, a large group of parents with babies got to test the new super absorbant Pampers at no cost! (we had to bag and tag every dirty diaper produced so the product would not "leak" out). And Norwich had a great Newcomers club in which we made lots of wonderful friends and had great times (you could keep your beer and wine cold on the back porch during winter!)

But I decided to leave for a specialty chemical company in early 1988 and shortly thereafter P&G decided to move all discovery chemists to Cinncinati to the new building from which they are now apparantly being kicked out. From what I understand that really put the housing market in Norwich in the dumpster for a while.

Anyway, if any present/former NEPI/P&G coworkers are reading this, drop me a line. I have mostly good memories about Norwich (seeing the Astros lose game six of the playoffs to the eventual World Champion Mets in 1986 was an especially painful time) and I would love to hear from you.


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6. Drew on March 3, 2006 4:19 PM writes...

P & G's run of things reminds me quite a bit of Kodak's disastrous acquisition of Sterling and Winthrop in the late 80's (early 90's?). The assumption that pharma is an easy bussiness area to move into has been tested again and again, all with the same results.

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7. Derek Lowe on March 3, 2006 4:45 PM writes...

You could not have paid a gang of saboteurs to do a worse job of running Sterling than Kodak did.

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8. PS on March 3, 2006 10:23 PM writes...

Well, 300 people working for 10+ years in a discovery unit and nothing to show for it - sounds like a colossal management failure.

Although I dont completely agree with an earlier poster regarding biweekly progress reports. I dont think that asking for some sort of written accountability in a large organization is necessarily a bad thing.

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9. Anonymous on March 4, 2006 11:45 AM writes...

From what I hear from friends there, management was a big issue. they never brought anyone in at a power level with experience in the industry. For a company with only 60-70 medchemists max, they did get a number projects into clinical trials. they already had a $1 billion plus drug plus a few others making good profit.
the buy it only model seems kind of tough if everyone else is already doing it to augment their pipelines

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10. Jan on March 4, 2006 5:39 PM writes...

Over the years many companies with chemical expertise have been attracted to the pharma field -and without exception have failed. This includes such companies as the now defunct Union Carbide, Kodak, 3M, Dow(rescued by the formation of Aventis- now Sanofi) and of course P&G. Any others I've forgotten?

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11. Derek Lowe on March 4, 2006 11:22 PM writes...

Well, there's DuPont - they did get some decent stuff on the market as DuPont Merck, but had some significant problems on their own.

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12. Jan on March 5, 2006 11:45 AM writes...

It is also interesting to reflect on how many drug companies there used to be- which have now almost all been amalgamated into a mere handful of giant enterprises. Probably even the names of such companies as Parke-Davis, Upjohn, Pharmacia, Ayerst, Geigy, Ciba, Sandoz, SmithKlineFrench, then SmithKlineBeecham, Miles Labs, Cyanamid, Mallincrodt, Irwin-Neisler etc to name but a few, do not even register any more in the minds of the majority of the populace and their contributions are long forgotten too.

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13. Anonymous on March 5, 2006 2:06 PM writes...

(article that Mike T was referring to above)

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14. Kim on March 5, 2006 9:04 PM writes...

BWRs! Yikes, it has been 10 years since I had to write one, thanks Dustin for making me quake at the keyboard!

I was at NEPI/P&G from 1990 to 1998 in Clinical Affairs and Drug Development, working in Norwich. One of their biggest problems during that time (and the comments above about lack of technically-skilled managers indicate that it hasn't changed) was the corporate inability to accept input from outside the company. The "Not Invented Here" syndrome was really painful to experience, especially coming into P&G after several years in real pharmaceutical R&D. You can pound your head on the wall for only so long before it finally sinks in that organizational and process changes will not happen if you are a very small part of a very big company whose interest was focused on consumer goods and not on drug development.

Happy to say that I survived! I bailed out after the third offer to move to Cinci, and am living "happily ever after" as a medical writer/editor.

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15. S Silverstein on March 6, 2006 10:46 AM writes...

It sounds like they had some good people in R&D, the operative word being "some." Likely the leaders were not in the "good people" group and impaired R&D through bureaucracy, 'process fanaticism' and methodological extremism that are death to creativity, and plain stupidity, as has been the case at other pharmas and in the healthcare delivery sector (e.g.,

Scot M. Silverstein, MD
(former Director of Published Information Resources & The Merck Index, Merck Research Labs)

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