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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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« Why Don't You Just. . . | Main | Hard Times: A Manifesto »

September 30, 2008

Various Drug Industry News, None of It All That Good

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Posted by Derek

Today brings the news of which areas Pfizer has decided to bail out of: obesity, most cardiovascular (it seems), anemia, osteoporosis and some osteoarthritis, liver disease, and muscle. They're concentrating on oncology, pain, Alzheimer's, and diabetes, which the company seems to have identified as the best intersection of their pipeline and the associated profits.

This will probably fuel speculation that the company is Imclone's mystery bidder - that name will supposedly be revealed at midnight on Wednesday, if I'm reading these reports correctly. If so, that makes me want to groan and roll my eyes. I'm waiting for Carl Icahn to tell everyone that they'll have to say the secret password to find out.

That news item linked to above also mentions that Pfizer has shed ten thousand employees since January of last year. Yikes. And on that subject, I hear from several sources that GlaxoSmithKline is cutting preclinical development hard today. People seem to have known that it was coming today, and roughly how bad it would be, but today is supposedly the day that names are read off the list. Good luck to people there. The contractions continue.

There's no longer any doubt, in case anyone was wondering, that this is the worst stretch for research employment at the big pharmaceutical companies in at least twenty years (to my certain knowledge) and very likely much longer than that, from what longer-serving colleagues tell me. Frankly, I'm not sure we've ever seen anything quite like this - which makes further prediction impossible. . .

Comments (53) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. anon on September 30, 2008 10:11 AM writes...

Good luck to all who are laid off. I found out that I was spared this morning, but the British portion of our CEDD was really hit hard.

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2. pharmagossip on September 30, 2008 10:12 AM writes...

Let's watch all those CV key opinion leaders now. Pfizer will be as popular as a fart in an elevator!

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3. Hap on September 30, 2008 10:14 AM writes...

I have to wonder where the people running Pfizer, GSK, etc., think drugs come from. If more successful drugs had come from overseas, the outsourcing push would make more sense. Some come from smaller companies, but getting rid of in-house research means that out-of-company drugs are likely to cost more for them to purchase. (In the long term, it might also limit their labor pool, but probably not for a while.) The cuts don't seem to be optimizations of resources but simple cost-cutting, which won't solve their empty pipelines. So why?

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4. Canuck Chemist on September 30, 2008 10:25 AM writes...

Hap, you've succinctly summed up the short-sightedness of current industry leaders in a single paragraph...good job. As far as I'm concerned, outsourcing key projects (rather than the simple stuff) will likely only hasten the failure of some of the big pharma monsters. They might as well call themselves marketing companies and sell off the research units completely.

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5. Sili on September 30, 2008 10:31 AM writes...

I wonder if you were in some sence 'lucky' to be fired when you did before this oversaturation of the market.

Hope your current job is safe.

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6. emjeff on September 30, 2008 10:34 AM writes...

Canuck, you've hit the nail on the head. Pharma is bailing out of the discovery business as fast as they can. I think that they believe that they can buy what they need from smaller companies. Of course, this is like a baseball team who just buys free agents. It might work in the short run, but it's expensive, and you may buy yourself quite a number of non-performers. I heard a futurist at ACCP in Philadelphia who predicted that the big pharma companies would end up just being marketing and distribution companies, since that's all they do well. I think that this may well turn out to be true.

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7. emjeff on September 30, 2008 10:38 AM writes...

Also (and this is a slight hijack), can we all agree that in the wake of the latest food scare in the People's Repubic of China, that the bloom is off the Chinese rose? Anyone who thinks they're going to get quality discovery, chemicals, etc., ouit of there is dreaming...

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8. c on September 30, 2008 10:45 AM writes...

At the risk of sounding callous, why do so many scientistis lack entrepreneurial sensibility. Buying drugs from small companies, which may even "cost more" (ref. 3), should be good news to people skilled in early drug development. Particularly those whose (scientific) skill set and value is built on 'discovery' and the implicit risk-taking therein.

Sure capital will be hard to come by at the moment, so start out with a low burn and get affiliated to your old professor, get access to all those academic programs your boss didn't seem to recognize the importance of. Etc. I know it's more difficult than this, but probably not as difficult as riding out the wave until big pharma begs you to all come back...

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9. Land of the spree on September 30, 2008 11:04 AM writes...

Just like Wall Street the drug companies seem to have grown too big for their shoes and overreached themselves. If nothing less that billion dollar drugs is going to satisfy them, then they will have to be ready to be doomed. Banking on just one or two drugs (like Pfizer did for Lipitor) for a quarter of your revenues and expecting that an equivalent drug will materialize to take their place when they go off patents is nothing short of disastrous and moronic. I hope that such experiences teach companies not to aim ludicrously high and to always invest in diverse portfolios and not monolithic expectations and philosophies.

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10. DrSnowboard on September 30, 2008 11:32 AM writes...

for emjeff:
So how much time and money invested do you think it takes to bring one compound/platform technology to a proof of concept stage sufficient for a small company to credibly expect to be bought out / bankrolled by a risk averse, pipeline hungry big pharma behemoth? How long for 2 compounds / successful PoC's?
Any offers / examples?

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11. Petros on September 30, 2008 11:46 AM writes...

Certainly the grimmest I can remember, even after the fallout from mergers such as GW

But the blockbusters are falling over the Patent Cliff

BTWForbes has posted Martin Mackay's memo

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12. emjeff on September 30, 2008 11:56 AM writes...

Dr. Snowboard;

Based on my current employer's (GSK) recent purchase of Sirtris, I'd say all you need is a somewhat plausible idea. I find the data on sirtuins very unconvincing...

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13. Hap on September 30, 2008 12:01 PM writes...

#6: A C+E News article on production outsourcing quoted the man running Hovione in which he thought that the drug companies would follow the model of the big car companies into design and marketing (and outsourcing parts, etc. to others). The companies performing by that model in the US are not faring well, however (the Big Three US carmakers) - it wasn't my impression (though I could be wrong) that other car companies did that. I don't know if the drug companies are trusted enough that someone better at selling can't displace them.

#7: I suspect lots of chemists are risk-averse - the schooling doesn't give much training for the business of drug development (or even the nuts and bolts) and takes enough time that opportunity costs are high. If you want to run a business, there are other fields where the costs of doing so (opportunity costs, development costs) are lower. I suspect some went into chemistry for job security, and those are the people who did not want to be running businesses. If the only jobs in pharmaceutical chemistry are starting your own business, there probably won't be too many drug chemists before long.

(I think c suggested entrepreneurship rather than emjeff).

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14. milkshake on September 30, 2008 12:04 PM writes...

The curent big pharma job situation is best understood in the biblical terms: "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth — men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air — for I am grieved that I have made them."

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15. Hap on September 30, 2008 12:10 PM writes...

The other problem with the "free agent" model of drug development (buy what you need) is it assumes that you have control over an inexhaustible resource. Boston, NY, Chicago, and LA have large populations with lots of money, the MLB economic system allows them to spend as much as they have (mostly), and the league rules limit the ability of others to poach fans from their market. The drug companies have patented products (and some generic/over-the-counter products) to generate revenue for them, and people's trust in them to inhibit another sales organization from profiting from their model. The patent problems, however, mean that their future revenue streams will likely be lower, while the recent problems (and cost issues) have compromised people's trust in drug companies. Appealing to salesman(person?)ship over knowledge and competence in medicine and drug development seems to move large drug companies into positions from which they can be displaced easily.

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16. Ex GSK on September 30, 2008 12:22 PM writes...

Up to 600 to go from pre-clin in GSK.

Some more same time next year if the track reocrd is to be maintanined.

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17. Cellbio on September 30, 2008 1:08 PM writes...

To c:

I like your call for entrepreneurial spirit. many scientist do lack this, but they can join the new efforts and work within their discipline and contribute to value creation. There are a few problems I have seen working in the space since leaving big pharma a year ago. Most of the problems stem from the lack of available funding. Credit markets are...well you know. VCs are tight with money, and likely to fund reformulations with a short horizon on return rather than discovery. One large firm that I know, closed a new fund, and are thinking of putting a lot of the money to work in PIPES rather than start-ups. SBIRs are looking like one of the few sources of money for early ventures. The other problem is: too many MBAs leading efforts in VCs and small companies, and taking the attitude that, of course they are key to success, but a "scientist" is a commodity, and outsourcing is viable business strategy. The sense of who is key in driving value is upside down, imo, and leads to underfunding of innovation. It is one thing to have entr. spirit, but another to convince others to invest.

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18. c on September 30, 2008 1:43 PM writes...

Cellbio: Not making any promises but feel free to send me an email directly, I work in VC:, I'll return the email from my work account.

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19. Cellbio on September 30, 2008 1:48 PM writes...

C, thanks a lot. I'll email you. I look forward to continuing the discussion.

And Derek, thanks for this blog!

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20. MTK on September 30, 2008 1:49 PM writes...

c(comment #8) has it right in my book.

Instead of depending on the largesse of others, we need to take control of our careers. Instead of bemoaning our situations, we need to look at it as an opportunity. Instead of yearning for the good old days, we need to accept the new realities and figure out ways to take advantage of those realities.

All of the above I mean in a collective sense as chemists, not necessarily in an individual sense. And I don't think "entrepreneurial sensibilities" means we all try to be entrepreneurs, but rather we take on some of the attributes; looking for opportunities, taking risks, and accepting the chance of failure. In other words, the very things we complain that management doesn't do, we really don't do very well, either. Particularly outside the lab.

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21. Hap on September 30, 2008 2:52 PM writes...

I don't know that I would complain that management doesn't do those things, because I'm not all that good at them, either. My complaint would be that the logic that the upper management of drug companies is applying to employees and investments isn't applied to itself - the salaries and bonuses of upper management are (in many cases) independent of their (or their companies') performance, and the people running companies seem to either have no idea where their products come from or are stubbornly ignorant of it. Their incentives and those of the companies they (ostensibly) represent differ - they are willing to take risks, but the beneficial outcomes may not benefit the company, but themselves. The stockholders (the people to whom management is supposed to be accountable) seem to have little power over them (recent attempts to limit pay and options).

In the above case, there should be advantage to be taken by people who do know where drugs come from and are willing to take risks likely to lead to better/more profitable ones. However, funding (in this case hard to get anyway) seems only to be obtainable under terms likely to not benefit those people (because later rounds of funding may limit or negate any equity they hold in the companies they start). The partition of benefits (particularly when funding is tight) is logical, but lowers the benefits of good outcomes to founders and initial investors, and probably more than it mitigates their risks.

Between the two options, the labor and entreprenurial markets begin to look like a rigged game that only the house (not you) wins.

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22. Wendy on September 30, 2008 3:04 PM writes...

MTK said-

"Instead of depending on the largesse of others, we need to take control of our careers. Instead of bemoaning our situations, we need to look at it as an opportunity. Instead of yearning for the good old days, we need to accept the new realities and figure out ways to take advantage of those realities."

That is the ridiculous banter you hear from all those selling what is a dying career model. Chemistry globally may live on but the US scientist is plagued by the massive influx of scientists from 3rd world countries.

Under the current conditions a five year halt of ALL visas provided to scientists should be enacted. Since MTK is full of the entrepreneurial spirit, I'm sure he'll have no problem creating a new, dynamic company in his own country.

It's time to stop leeching.

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23. jtk on September 30, 2008 3:14 PM writes...

Wendy, be careful what you wish for. It doesn't sound like you would enjoy moving 'over there' for work.

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24. Hap on September 30, 2008 3:26 PM writes...

The whiny part would be complaining about something I don't know how to change. Other than to prepare for possible unemployment, I don't really know what constructive to do to make anything work better. I don't want to tell people not to do something they might love because the business situation is not good, or keep people out of the country because they might lower my wages (or do my job better than I can). Doing my job is all I know to do. Doesn't make the situation not suck, though.

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25. RandDChemist on September 30, 2008 3:29 PM writes...

I certainly agree that people need to take ownership of their careers, since no one else will do it for them. Nothing is ever certain, no matter where one works. Risks are a part of the deal and the scientist needs to be prepared. People do need mentors and supervisors though.

That said, there are certain things outside of the control of the person within R&D of a big pharma outfit. Decisions are often made in big pharma based on politics, not rational science. Projects take on lives of their own and continue if someone in senior management likes it. People are often selfish and do not work as a team. That is because sometimes whomever made the compound gets the credit, not the person who had the idea. Both should get credit, if it is warranted.

The orgy that is marketing got way out of control, and people paid the price with their jobs. Some were CEO's, but their shiny parachutes will make sure their families can eat.

Big pharma forgot the concept of the baseload, either with OTC products, generics, or whatever to provide stable, growing income flow. Too many bought into the idea of the $1b+ blockbuster, it was a part of the company dogma and sold to everyone. It's a high risk gamble.

Companies want and need worker commitment, but with the dagger of a layoff over one's head, they will not do their best work.

The shareholder interest is often cited, but not truly adhered to in practice. Instead, short term gains are valued above long-term growth and risk management. Shareholders do not have true control.

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26. MTK on September 30, 2008 3:29 PM writes...


I appreciate the advice. One problem. I was born in the US and have lived my entire life the US.

You have made some bad assumptions based on limited information. Not a good trait for a scientist. An honest and critical self-evaluation may be a helpful.

Anyway, you've sort of proved my point. If we as a profession could somehow redirect the energy you expend in anger and bitterness to looking for new ways to use our skills and knowledge, we'd be a lot better off.

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27. TBSCL on September 30, 2008 3:55 PM writes...

"Under the current conditions a five year halt of ALL visas provided to scientists should be enacted"

Correct. That would surely ramp up the research productivity in this country by orders of magnitude. How about also denying visas to science students from abroad? It's a well-known fact that we already have thousands of top-notch students just dying to win Nobel Prizes.

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28. GSK dead man walking on September 30, 2008 4:27 PM writes...

GSK death toll on 9/30/2008:

~50% cut from Drug Metabolism PharacoKinetics
~50% cut from Drug Safety Assessment
~10% cut from Pharmaceutical Development

not sure of cuts in ChemDev, maybe ~10%

~300 cuts have not been disclosed, rumored that an entire site (Missag/Canada or Verona/Italy)may be shut down?? That's just a rumor, above numbers are facts.

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29. RDNerd on September 30, 2008 4:30 PM writes...

so here's a question - with these cuts in preclin, what's GSK going to do with existing compounds in preclin? Kill some? Delay some? Or will they simply transfer all the existing work to the CROs?

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30. MTK on September 30, 2008 4:39 PM writes...


Hhhmmm. Interesting numbers if true.

Don't want to read too much into it, but the imbalance would seem to give some indication of areas where GSK management believes (rightly or wrongly) it is getting good bang for the buck internally.

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31. RDNerd on September 30, 2008 4:45 PM writes...

GSK dead man walking:

do you know what % of tox is outsourced by GSK? does this new announcement change anything?

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32. CMC guy on September 30, 2008 4:51 PM writes...

#25 RandDChemist makes good points especially when you reflect that some of these "attitudes" started to take hold 10-15 years ago and we now see the outcomes. Those things plus M&A activities in past couple decades have created many organizations who lack identity (other than Marketing Profit Centers) and whose R&D focuses suffered.

c/Cellbio seem to promote "biotech" models which can be good places to land for many as generally do have stronger science base but tight funding indeed a problem. Also too many small companies can conduct discovery piece fairly well(?) but stumble badly when come to later drug development needed for approval.

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33. Dlib on September 30, 2008 5:33 PM writes...

Don't put your hopes in Biotech...Derek has had several posts regarding the success of the industry as a whole.

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34. Cellbio on September 30, 2008 5:52 PM writes...

Indeed CMC guy, you are right about "biotech", which now includes a growing chemistry contingent, being less likely to develop well and register products. I think what we are seeing in big pharma/biotech is a move away from R, with a belief that they can in-license later, and end up with development candidates more efficiently than through internal R. Accordingly, most new ventures these days plan for an early exit via partnering to big Pharma, often before Ph1. I haven't heard of anyone of late proposing to build a company from the ground that would encompass clinical, regulatory and sales. Leave all that to the big partner. I think this model will be challenged with real life experiences, but in the mean time, experienced drug company scientist can help these small ventures advance their pipelines. If you think small co's struggle with development, you should see the plans of academics with no experience. There is an opportunity for productive partnership btwn academic scientist and those with industry experienced.

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35. Canuck Chemist on September 30, 2008 7:29 PM writes...

To put a positive spin on things, the destruction of traditional big pharma departments could lead to some good cross-fertilization at smaller companies, be they biotech or CRO's. The current lack of long-term stability in biotech organizations could hamper overall progress, of course. For this reason the CRO model seems to have some appeal for discovery work. Imagine if someone could buy up the chemical sample collections from many of the big companies, combine them, and sell access to small CROs? That could even the playing field and perhaps give smaller companies a reasonable shot at developing productive leads...just a wacky idea...

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36. Spike on September 30, 2008 8:27 PM writes...

I'll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that your proposal was tongue in cheek. Your statement would only work if there was an oversupply of scientists and that overseas scientists were "taking" the jobs of US born scientists. Although that could concievably be the case in some disciplines it sure isn't the case in the DMPK arena. For the past two decades it has been very difficult to find US born PhDs to fill positions in DMPK groups. My experience has been that the majority of the PhD scientists in the DMPK groups are foreign born. The only other discipline that seems to have a high percentage of foreign born PhDs is Formulation Development.

If we were to follow your suggestion and put a 5 year moratorium on visas we could actually end up in worse shape than we are presently in. We would have large shortages of good staff in certain disciplines and may have to rely more on outsourcing (possibly to the countries where those scientists originated from). I'm sure that our shareholders (and that includes us) would rather have the best scientist available in a given position, regardless of where they were born.

Your "solution" assumes that the "foreign-born" scientists are working in visas. I wonder how many of the foreign-born scientists are working on visas and how many are green card holders or even citizens. What would you do with those people?

A foreign-born scientist who is a US citizen but isn't going anywhere.

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37. srp on September 30, 2008 8:43 PM writes...

It may be that vertically integrated pharmaceutical companies (discovery, development, testing, approval, marketing, sales, and distribution all inside one company) is no longer the best way to organize. The computer industry used to be composed of large, vertically integrated companies that did everything from design transistors to service customers' software. It isn't that way anymore. The auto business first went through a phase of increasing vertical integration into the 1970s and then began dis-integrating with a vengance.

Most of the executives making the moves that led to these changes probably didn't have a clear global view of the deep reasons for the shift in structure. They just reacted to the economic incentives that they could see. Perhaps the same is going on now in pharma, in which case we will see a lot of false moves and experimentation until a new productive structure emerges.

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38. Lu on September 30, 2008 8:57 PM writes...

#22 Wendy

"Under the current conditions a five year halt of ALL visas provided to scientists should be enacted."

Right! Let's ban those Australians from visiting US conferences!

BTW, 90% of big pharma companies don't hire foreign people on visas. They prefer US citizens or greencard holders.

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39. CMC guy on September 30, 2008 9:06 PM writes...

Cellbio I have been involved with academic collaborations which were "ugly" with lots of tension on how should do things.

I concur real life experiences is vital and a real worry I have is that with the current segregation trend of R vs D there will be fewer and fewer with depth and breadth of skills to manage/perform the translations therefore will get even messier than is now (causing failures that could have been avoided). Since much of D is already outsourced many are now getting only virtual and not actual hands on experiences where these modes are not equivalent to gain understanding. I likewise know that many small things can be done in R&D early on that will provide foundations for later on and when people wait (assume big partner will do) it will be costlier and harder to get done right (if at all). I don't advocate return to the Big model as is wasteful and expensive but at least there tends to be a few competent people/departments to drive project progress. I favor a mid-sized company/collective network that knows nearly all phases/disciplines.

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40. Lou on September 30, 2008 9:34 PM writes...


"I appreciate the advice. One problem. I was born in the US and have lived my entire life the US"

Who are you kidding MTK? Most of us know who you are and what country you hail from. Be proud of your heritage! You might be a little more considerate of your hosts.

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41. anonymous on September 30, 2008 9:57 PM writes...

FYI, GSK MDR announced cuts across the board, today.

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42. Feels the ax on September 30, 2008 10:02 PM writes...

The 650 annouunced today in Pre-clinical development are about 12% I think. Majority in US and then in Philadelphia in particular. No numbers posted for the Canadian locations.

Close of a pilot plant also announced. Rumor seems to suggest Upper Merion, Philadelphia.

Personally I'd be less concerned if economy were good, and pharma in particular wasn't going into complete meltdown in Philadelphia area. Seems all of big pharma is laying off. Could be a long time finding a new position.

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43. Cellbio on September 30, 2008 10:15 PM writes...


I totally agree with you. Your statement, "I likewise know that many small things can be done in R&D early on that will provide foundations for later on and when people wait (assume big partner will do) it will be costlier and harder to get done right (if at all)." says it all for me. How many times have I seen a "great drug" pitched by a small company, complete with some "key" data like rat tox, of course done with the orally available compound, with efficacy done with the most potent compound, deliverd IP, and selectivity done with the insoluble one, all of them "formulated" in DMSO. The pitch ends with optimism for quick success- "All we have to do is get these attributes together in one molecule". Yikes.

I like that you invoke the idea of a collective network. Not sure how this would work in terms of ownership/compensation, but I see many technologies that need professional drug scrubbing before declaring that a company should be formed. I went to an incubator building, small, dusty and equipped with old stuff, and the obvious thought came to me that buildings don't incubate technology, people do, and people with the right experience would do it best. One forward thinking investor was up for trying this model of incubating many assets within a setting of experienced talent in contrast to starting individual companies and paying for outsourcing of your portfolio companies research. We moved the idea forward until the market meltdowns, then funding for this was deemed too risky. Any deep pocket "In the Pipeline" readers out there want to start something great?

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44. MTK on September 30, 2008 10:50 PM writes...


Huh? If you sincerely doubt that I was born in the US and have lived here my whole life, then I'm not who you think I am.

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45. SFMedChem on October 1, 2008 1:24 AM writes...

Cellbio (#34) is talking sense. After my last layoff early this summer I had a choice between a spot at a big pharma or a new start-up being put together by scientists/academics I knew (from both my former company and others). The plan is to grow projects to an early exit around Phase 1 data, with some outsourcing for library building, etc. Seems like a common strategy with other start-ups I've talked to.

Pick your poison, right? Get laid off in a few years when funding dries up (if the projects don't work) or the company's bought out (if they do, though hopefully that's preventable)? Or worry about getting laid off in 2-3 months if the market turns south for the big pharma (there are already rumors at my potential company) and do it all over again?

At least at the start-up I get a chance to make a difference in keeping everything going.

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46. processchemist on October 1, 2008 2:41 AM writes...

From my european point of view (a bit too socialist for most yankees? :)), c is talking about a possible survival strategy. This makes sense, but...

charging ALL the R risks on small biotechs gathering most of the scientist around, while the Big Ones will take only MOST of the benefits is a wicked model. Engeenered to be unfair. I suppose it was what GSK CEO was talking about saying "diversify and deriskify".

The basic rule of capitalism is "you invest (risk) money, you get profits" , not "you let OTHERS risk their money, you get the profits" (I know, this last one WAS a popular model until last year, in Wall Street).

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47. anon on October 1, 2008 6:30 AM writes...

back to MTK (#20) quote: "Instead of depending on the largesse of others, we need to take control of our careers. Instead of bemoaning our situations, we need to look at it as an opportunity. Instead of yearning for the good old days, we need to accept the new realities and figure out ways to take advantage of those realities."

Ok, I am all for trying to better my situation, as I'm sure that most people would be. It seems like the only way to do this would be to be prepared to move to a different field if the axe comes down again and there are no chemistry jobs. This plan would likely involve further education, which my employer would not pay for. Getting student loans in this economy would be risky, IF the lenders would even be willing to give loans. Alot of big lenders have pulled out of the student loan market alltogether due to the wall street crisis. Another problem: alot of people are going to have the natural tendency to choose something that would enable them to use their chemistry background. How many other laid off chemists will flock to the same professions, especially given the substantial number of laid off chemists in the current market? Getting into a ton of debt and being unemployed again doesn't seem like that great of a plan. Of course, working at McDonald's isn't a great long term plan either.

My point is that the situation is not as easy as MTK suggests. I don't know what the answer is, so feel free to comment if my views are possibly mistaken.

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48. MTK on October 1, 2008 7:23 AM writes...


Agreed. Which is why I said that that statement you quoted was in a collective sense, not an individual sense.

Part of the problem is that many of us, particularly in organic chemistry, have a built-in bias that has come out of our training. There's academic job at Ph.D. granting institution #1, Big Pharma position #2, everything else is third rate. A lot of that is snobbery, but also a culture within our profession of being conservative. These jobs were the ones with highest job security. You got a job at oh, Lilly, you expected to stay there until retirement. You did well, they took care you of. Go to a startup? Are you crazy? You could be out looking for a job in five years?

Now compare that to modern biology. Go to a start-up? What's their idea? What are they trying to do? It's a different mindset. Obviously, it's a lot easier, when the science is still mushrooming to a certain degree and there are lots of jobs around, like in the 90's. But that culture persists. It's one where people accept the risk in exchange for the chance. We don't do that so well. Even the talk on this blog centers around what biotech doesn't do or its questionable value as an industry. (BTW, I always take the Woodward and Bernstein approach of "follow the money". If there wasn't some value there, VC's would have stopped putting money in years ago.)

How do we change this? I'm not even going to pretend that I have the answers to that, but more than anything it's going to take some real success stories where entrepreneurialship paid off. IT has Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, and Larry Ellison. Biology has Craig Venter and Herbert Boyer. Basically, modern man-myths who took ideas, assumed risks and turned them into successes. Who do we have? Maybe nanotechnology will supply those legendary figures. Maybe it's in energy.

Somehow we need to get out of the thought process that Big Pharma jobs are the "best" jobs to have.

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49. Dynamo on October 1, 2008 11:35 AM writes...

"Somehow we need to get out of the thought process that Big Pharma jobs are the "best" jobs to have."

This is a problem for americans because of the entitlement issues felt strongly by forigeners for American jobs. Foreign workers should get the axe first. Our govt is run by the same people who ruined our banking system. They want cheap labor, nothing more.

These nefarious (evil?) people are the current architects of the current job crisis for US citizens. Ship back the excess and we'll all be fine.

Best Regards,


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50. anon on October 1, 2008 11:43 AM writes...

"They want cheap labor, nothing more."

Not going to change anytime soon. If anything, this will get worse with the economic crisis. The Americans who still have jobs will be expected to work harder just to survive.

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51. Go Vote on October 1, 2008 11:49 AM writes...


To me, the choice between biotech vs. big pharma resembles the choice between change (Obama, risky) and McCain (experience).

Seems like the past Big Pharma paradigm is about to keel over at any time now....

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52. SRC on October 1, 2008 3:24 PM writes...

Go Vote, that's the stupidest thing I've ever read.

I salute your achievement.

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53. Mike on October 1, 2008 10:58 PM writes...

This is the blessing of modern turbo capitalism. Not just pharma but any complex industry is hard pressed to meet the financial markets' unrealistic expectations for timelines and margins of profit. It has already helped destroy lots of industries, particularly in the US and the UK, and will continue to do so. Hens and golden eggs and all that.

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