About this Author
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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October 1, 2008

Hard Times: A Manifesto

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Posted by Derek

The more I think about all the research layoffs that have been going on for the last year or two around the industry, the more I think that we really are seeing a change in the way drug discovery is being done.

Most of the jobs have been lost from the large companies. There have, of course, been shutdowns at the smaller ones, but I don’t think that those have been running at any different rate than usual. Startups and other smaller shops are always rearranging as their skills, finances, and luck dictate – that seems to be going on at the usual pace. But what’s different is the wave after wave of job cuts at the Pfizers, GSKs, AstraZenecas, J&Js – the big hitters (and big employers) of the industry. Even the companies that haven’t had major layoffs (Novartis comes to mind) aren’t exactly hiring heavily.

So what’s going on? My take is still that this is a shift – as far as the US end is concerned – from larger research outfits to smaller ones. After all, the drugs are going to have to come from somewhere, and the deal-making for small companies that have something promising has been intense. It just seems that the larger companies don’t think that they can do as much of this discovery work themselves – not, at least, at the prices that make sense.

Now, it’s true that a lot of chemistry has been outsourced to contractors in India and China, and that several firms have opened research divisions of their own overseas. That’s a cost-cutting move, too, certainly – but look at what this says about research here in the US. Everyone knows – including the people in Shanghai and Hyderabad – that the difficult, high-level research is still not being done there. That’ll change, as the human and physical infrastructure improves, but the bulk of the outsourced chemistry is methyl-ethyl-butyl-futile stuff. It’s “Hey, make me a library based on this scaffold structure” or “Hey, make me fifty grams of this intermediate”.

This kind of thing is definitely cheaper to do outside the country. It’s not always as timely as it should be, or as well-done – so it’s not as cheap as it always looks. But overall, on the average, you can bang out compounds for less money by outsourcing. That’s not going to change, either. The countries that furnish the services may change, as time goes on. But until the whole world is a high-wage environment (or, more horribly, until the only countries that aren’t are so benighted that no such work can be done there), ordinary chemistry is going to be done where it can be done for the least money.

So what’s left for us here in the US? The hard stuff. The risky stuff. The science that needs well-paid experienced people hovering over it the whole time. The cheaper, easier research is leaving – a lot of it has left already. We get to take on the stuff that can’t be outsourced.

And that’s why I think that there’s a shift to smaller firms. They’re traditionally the risk-takers in this business, and I think that’s going to be more true than ever. The larger companies, to me, seem to be trying to play it safer than ever. They have huge costs to meet, and don’t seem to think that they can devote as much of their resources to taking chances. We can argue about whether’s that’s wise (after all, you might think that larger companies with more cash might be the ones who could afford more risk). But that’s not how it’s been working – not for quite a while, when you think about it.

Here’s the hard part: the world does not owe any of us a high-paying research job. Neither the world, nor the US government or the US pharma industry owe us jobs of any kind. I wish that that weren’t true, but it most certainly is. Those of us trying to make a living through science and drug discovery are going to have to scramble for it. We’re going to have to prove our worth to those who are in a position to pay for us, and we’re going to have to try to make as many of our own opportunities as we can.

There are some things that can help us out in this period (see below), and there are some others that will do none of us any good at all. I know from some of the comments here that not all of you will agree with this, but as far as I’m concerned, here are some of the no-good-whatsoever moves:

1. Complaining about the Evil Suits Who Are Ruining the Industry. Look, I’ve been unemployed in this business, too. A merger pitched several hundred of us out into the market when our entire site was shut down. But I didn’t think that it was being done because upper management was enjoying it. They were, as far as I can tell, trying to keep the company going while having it make as much money as possible – the same behavior that had been paying my salary, actually. The constant drive to do those things is what’s paid all our salaries. Now, that doesn’t mean that upper management is always right. I didn’t say that they couldn’t be stupid (hey, I’ve sat through some of those presentations, too). I’m just saying that they’re not evil. Ranting about it is a pointless distraction from the business of keeping your job or getting another one. And besides, if they really are making a stupid mistake, that creates opportunities later on (see below).

2. Complaining about All Those Foreigners. I have even less time for this one. As far as outsourcing goes, I don’t see how I can tell chemists in China not to do the same work as American chemists for less money. (We should be making sure that we’re not doing the same work – see below). This is how economies grow, and how the world improves. I’m living in one of the greatest places in the world, and have been making a better living than most of the world’s population: I have no room to tell someone that they can’t try to reach for the same standard of living.

And as for foreign scientists working here, well, I think that one of the reasons I’ve been living in one of the greatest places in the world is that it’s been a haven for all sorts of bright, hard-working people. We’re not going to turn this into an immigration blog – there’s lots of room to argue about our current policies, particularly regarding unskilled laborers. But that’s not what we’re dealing with in the sciences. As far as I can see, we can use all the intelligent, creative, entrepreneurial people we can take, and we need to make sure that our country is the kind of place that people like that aspire to live in.

So if those don’t do any good, what does? Well, look at the situation. This is, as I’ve said before, a terrible time to be an ordinary chemist in this industry. That goes for the ordinary biologists, too. We’ve all got to demonstrate why we’re worth what we want to earn, and doing something that can be done for half the price somewhere else isn’t going to cut it.

So improve your skills. Learn new techniques, especially the ones that are just coming out and haven’t percolated down to the crank-it-out shops in the low-wage countries. Stay on top of the latest stuff, take on tough assignments. Keeping your head down in times like these will move you into the crowd that looks like it can be safely let go.

That’s one thing. Another one is the traditional advice given in all industries: keep in touch with everyone you know around the business. Use networking sites, keep current phone numbers, drop people an e-mail now and then. Getting laid off may well have had nothing to do with what you did – but finding a new job will have everything to do with it. If you don’t have any contacts around the business, large outfits and small, you’re going to have a harder time of it for sure.

And finally, here’s a more macro-scale suggestion. We medicinal chemists need to think more about being the source of startup companies ourselves. That’s harder to do if you’re part of a service group, or if you have that mentality. If your job is to crank out molecules, then you need to find a place that needs someone to do that. But if you’ve got a larger skill set, it may be large enough to get together with some other creative people and try to get some funding for ideas that no one else is doing. People still need medicines, and as long as we can still discover them here, it sure beats waiting for the phone to ring. If the bigger companies are in fact making a mistake by cutting research, what better revenge than to make them wish they hadn’t?

Comments (101) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. S on October 1, 2008 12:47 PM writes...

Touche, Derek. The comments from the previous post were starting to get old and stinky, especially about foreigners. Folks need to understand what this blog is about.

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2. Toluene on October 1, 2008 1:06 PM writes...

I lost my job at a major pharma in June in my third reorganization in 18 months. Outsourcing was the mantra of the day due to substantial cost savings and the ability to flexibly manage chemistry resources. Looks like this will be the model for the forseeable future--we just need to find a way to capitalize on this change.

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3. Todd on October 1, 2008 1:07 PM writes...

Here's the problem in a nutshell: the capital markets that ultimately keep food in our bellies and the roof over our heads operate on a quarter-to-quarter (or year-to-year) basis, while, barring some radical change in regulations, our line of work mandates decade-long timeline, with maybe half-as-long in diagnostics. Simply put, companies are leaving behind research simply for sheer survival. As great and important as research is, the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.

As a result of all of this, VC and private equity are going to be paying the bills henceforth, which generally implies smaller outfits (companies like Boehringer Ingelheim notwithstanding). Either we adapt or we move on with life. Besides, methinks the laid off plant workers of the world aren't going to have much sympathy for a group of what looks to them as over-educated whiny geeks.

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4. Boffin on October 1, 2008 1:15 PM writes...

Couldn't agree more. However, there should be ethics in how the whole process is conducted, rather than trumped up performance improvement plans to exit the "low achievers" at no cost. And while the world is changing, I do think it is fair to debate whether what is proposed will actually achieve the end goal of more drugs to treat patients. I fear like all the grand solutions of the past, whether HTS, combichem or biologics, outsourcing is just another way of hiding that the emperor has no clothes.

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5. Mark M on October 1, 2008 1:22 PM writes...

"So improve your skills."


And this had better include communication (verbal and written) in English.

I know I have harped on this before, but it really is not OK to put forth a resume or powerpoint presentation with grammatical and/or spelling errors. Find another pair of eyes to review your work before hitting send/save.

Hunting for a new job after being laid off is a major drag. But some things ARE within your control and should get your best effort.

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6. Hap on October 1, 2008 1:26 PM writes...

There isn't much to do - for us all we can do is adapt or leave the field and find something else we can do. For people entering, as long as the health of the field and of its jobs is honestly stated, they can choose to do what they wish.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander - we like the cheap goods we get by outsourcing manfacturing, so I guess we can't mourn much when it comes around to us. I still wonder what exactly we will be making in the long run, though.

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7. satan on October 1, 2008 1:31 PM writes...

Some of you still don't get it-

1. The guys who ran concentration camps or followed stalins orders were not evil, they were just following orders. Look at the results not the motivation.

2. What about doctors, lawyers.. Those shysters think they have it made for life.. Why not us? Are they any better than you?

The reason that third world countries are what they are is that everyone is looking out for themselves. This paradoxically destroys all the institutions necessary for a decent life. If a person believes that everyone else is going to screw him over, he might not contribute to society. That attitude leads you to societies where almost everyone lives in slums and there is no safety or opportunity. Do you really want to go there...

3. Outsourcing is a fact of life, but the true reason behind outsourcing in high tech is not significant cost advantages, as much as management doing it so they show fictional profits for their next bonuses.

Society and trust are easy to destoy but very hard to rebuild.

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8. Edward on October 1, 2008 1:35 PM writes...

"Here’s the hard part: the world does not owe any of us a high-paying research job"

Ahhh, the world is what you make of it. If your approach was taken,

1. We'd have no minimum wage. Because you're only worth what someone is willing to pay.

2. We'd have no social security or medicare. Because why would you want to help unproductive people that happen to construct their own society?

3. We'd have no laws regarding worker protection, because the market will protect us all. Must remain competitive with China after all.

4. We'd open all the borders (As WSJ columnist Jason Riley's new book "Let them in" suggests. The current 'flood the market' strategy used by the government is taking away the civil rights of the remaining workers.

All in all the libertarian ideals you espouse (when you're not writing really good med chem articles, which I do enjoy) are tiresome and will result in all of us living on a plantation fighting it out with the impoverished masses of the world for our next meal.

Free markets result in anarchy and oppression. Try to step back and see they are only a way to optimize profit, not create a society.

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9. Hap on October 1, 2008 1:40 PM writes...

The problem is that the ways to rebuild trust in business are beyond us - the stockholders have little control over the behavior of the businesses they own, people generally have little control over the behavior of their bosses, and anything we can do politically to guarantee our own jobs is probably counterproductive.

I don't like how I feel, don't have enough risk tolerance to start my own business, and think unoptimistically of the future of chemistry jobs, but there is little I can do to change the business structure substantively. The ways in which we can look out for ourselves (resumes, contacts, skills) don't require screwing other people and may lead to productive ideas in the future - if we can maintain trust in ourselves and compatriots, and do something useful, there might be something left when the business models run their courses.

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10. Boffin on October 1, 2008 1:48 PM writes...

Let me put this another way. The business models of the pharmaceutical industry, both big pharma and biotech are broken. So when the big "heave-ho" comes I'm not about to sink my own money into the abyss of drug R&D. There are too many fundamentals that are wrong. Society is not prepared to pay for incremental improvements on old therapies any more. Many diseases are being fragmented to the point that the market is too small to make a profit. Patent life and the chances of success have been eroded by a risk-averse approach to trials and testing. The big diseases that are left are either very, very risky (e.g. Alzheimer's) or localised in the developing world where I still see a big lack of payers on the immediate horizon. The current fixation on cutting costs is fine but it seems to me that the industry needs a huge leap in productivity well beyond what counting the pennies and outsourcing is going to deliver. A big help would be the recognition that patent life needs to be extended to generate a better rate of return for the industry. But while every other feature film has an "evil pharma company" as their villain, we're not going to get much public sympathy. What we need is a nice lethal epidemic in the first world that reminds everyone why it pays to have a pharma industry. A nice bout of flu anyone ? Until then, I think the only sane policy is to walk away from the industry until such time as society wakes up to the fact that it needs to pay for a drug discovery industry. I think I'll be too old by the time that happens.

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11. satan on October 1, 2008 1:48 PM writes...

About a year ago, I had said that big pharma management would destroy the companies they administered rather than restructure them into smaller completely independent units. Though I wrote that in the comments only a year or so ago, I had foreseen this for about 8 years.

The basis off my prediction was that MBAs behave like viruses. While that is the only way they can exist, and is therefore technically not malicious evil, it ends up killing the host. Hopefully by the time this financial crisis had bankrupted the world, we as a society will realize the folly of our ways, and not repeat it in the near future.

What many of you do not realize is that MBAs are merely the external manifestation if a far more dangerous disease- loss if contact with reality. If you allow shysters to run your society they will rape it and drive it in the ground. The majority of us were complacent or even encouraging them because we thought they could make money from nothing. Turns out, it was just a big fraud.

Ignore my typos, I am posting from an iPhone.

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12. processchemist on October 1, 2008 1:51 PM writes...


Most people use the words "free market" meaning "open shop model" (two different things, both born in the USA).

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13. Anon on October 1, 2008 2:24 PM writes...

Please spare my ignorance but I'm confused. I know several people who are interviewing for positions (recruiters have been visiting school) or have just attained positions at these very same companies that continue to have mass lay-offs. Am I wrong to assume that being fresh out of school you can still get a job? Is this just because companies want younger chemists who may be more up to speed on modern techniques? (Synthesis specifically) I still have several years to go but I hope there is a job at the end of the tunnel.

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14. tyrosine on October 1, 2008 2:46 PM writes...

Folks, what's happening to Pharma has already happened to the rest of the USA 20-30 years ago. Big companies are NOT the source of job creation and have not been for many years. Stats show that the Fortune 500 has been shedding jobs for 30 years. But the overall workforce is growing, how? It's the entrepreneurs and startups.

Wake up and enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit. I am.

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15. SteveM on October 1, 2008 3:04 PM writes...

Re: Post #13. The advantage of youth is not knowledge of modern techniques. It is strictly because they are cheaper.

Generally, I see nothing above about why the pipeline is so thin across the board. Even with cutbacks aggregate Pharma R&D budgets are huge. Yet where are the products commensurate with the investments?

I attended a Decision Analysis conference maybe 5 years ago and a guy from (then Squibb) got up and talked about the registration of 1 product that year given a $2B R&D budget. He knew then that that low productivity was unsustainable.

I stepped out of the lab 20 years ago to do other things. I know since then there has been an explosion of technology to reduce the end-to-end cycle time for the synthesis of compounds (e.g., NMR's no longer scanned by an operator.) and the QSAR stuff I know is fabulous and getting better all the time. So why exactly are not more disruptive products coming to market?

That's a big question that R&D has to ask itself regardless of what the MBA's do to wreck the business.

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16. Dana H. on October 1, 2008 3:11 PM writes...

"The guys who ran concentration camps ... were not evil, they were just following orders."

Uh, I think there were some trials at Nuremberg that concluded otherwise.

"Free markets result in anarchy and oppression."

Yes, free markets gave us the Industrial Revolution, that period of anarchy and oppression which brought an end to the golden age of feudalism. (Aside: do you ever get the sense that some people use certain words without having the slightest clue about what they mean?)

[Sorry for the digression, but both these claims were so preposterous that I just had to respond.]

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17. Anonymous BMS Researcher on October 1, 2008 3:26 PM writes...

To mangle a famous quotation:

First they took away security for the farm workers, but I did nothing because I was not a farm worker.

Then they took away security for the steel workers, but I did nothing because I was not a steel worker.


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18. Wavefunction on October 1, 2008 3:27 PM writes...

This is a great post; empathetic, insightful and wise.

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19. anon on October 1, 2008 3:34 PM writes...

Management is promoting that we outsource more than the current level, and disclosed that the (significantly) more expensive of the two outsourcing contractors is $30k total expense per FTE. A Chinese colleague said that this translates to about a $10k annual salary per FTE. I don't see how we can compete with this. You mention acquiring special skills, but presumably other people are capable of acquiring the same skill sets.

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20. milkshake on October 1, 2008 3:46 PM writes...

Large pharma companies are spending significant amounts of money (tens, even hundreds of millions USD) on non-profit academic institutes with active medchem programs - typically with first-look in-licencing option kind of deal.

Big pharma is looking for a new business model and I expect several major pharma companies will quit their in-house medchem research altogether, and focus on the development and sales. As long as there is huge money to be made in developing new drugs (ie no price controls on new medications) someone will try. Diabetes, cardiovascular, cancer, ophtalmology and neurodegeneration areas are full of unmet needs.

Its is the biology discovery that drives the progress in medchem. So if you are looking for a new job right now I would recommend going to companies that are famous for their biology strengh rather than chemistry. Also biology is what keeps the drug research in US - I am not sure how long this US advantage will last.

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21. satan on October 1, 2008 3:50 PM writes...

My take

I think that is very likely to be one of the end results of this debacle. There are going to be many pissed off people in a couple of years. Massive public loss of confidence leads to revenge, either through a populist dictator or through open or covert acts. At least that is what I have seen throughout history.

""16. Dana H. on October 1, 2008 3:11 PM writes...

"The guys who ran concentration camps ... were not evil, they were just following orders."

Uh, I think there were some trials at Nuremberg that concluded otherwise.""

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22. Merger on October 1, 2008 4:07 PM writes...

FYI Eli Lilly Is the mystery suitor for ImClone if you haven't already heard

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23. Derek on October 1, 2008 4:23 PM writes...

Echo the comment by Milkshake - Don't forget that there is a significant trend to academic screening and discovery centers, fueled by NIH and the RoadMap initiative but also by the universities themselves who don't want to be left out of the game. As is usual maybe the experience wasn't there to start off with but guess what - they are hiring from industry to pull in that experience without the usual learning lag (which is now another route for those people to look into as perhaps a bit more stable environment (for a while anyway))

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24. Hap on October 1, 2008 4:40 PM writes...

I don't think the management running pharma is evil in a human sense, but I think they're evil in the computer jargon sense - their goals are different from those of their companies and those of their (long-term) stockholders. If you receive stock grants reqardless of performance, increasing pay based on company size, and aren't going to be around in a year or so, what exactly should your incentives be? The fact that the behavior required to maximize profit based on these incentives does not appear to be beneficial to employees, companies, or shareholders is irrelevant to those deciding (though one might ask why the incentives persist). Recent market behavior might be analogous - the incentives of the people packaging mortgages and the people rating them were substantially different than those of the market. Their ability to make money based on those investments (and also to go broke based on those investments) doesn't imply that the behavior is not destructive of the market in the medium term. It is yet to see whether the current shifts in business model are productive for the industry as a whole or unproductive.

Financially, shifts of research to smaller companies makes sense because of the productivity and lower benefits and costs. How individual chemists will improve themselves in the environment would seem to be an open question because of the above factors. Eventually, everything will probably compensate - if labor becomes too cheap, people will switch fields and fewer people will enter the field and costs will rise. It may be too late for lots of people, though.

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25. satan on October 1, 2008 4:45 PM writes...

You mean- like a virus that has a goal other than helping the cells that it infects.

"24. Hap on October 1, 2008 4:40 PM writes...

I don't think the management running pharma is evil in a human sense, but I think they're evil in the computer jargon sense - their goals are different from those of their companies and those of their (long-term) stockholders."

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26. Great Molecular Crapshoot on October 1, 2008 5:07 PM writes...

From the inside Big Pharma can look remarkably like a centrally planned communist economy and we all know how that ended up.

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27. carbazole on October 1, 2008 5:14 PM writes...

So, I guess an implicit assumption here is that regardless of where the research is done, the marginal benefit of new therapies discovered is still going to outpace the marginal cost of their development (R&D, clinical, approval). How long will this be the case? Are we already seeing therapeutic areas where its not? It seems like CNS and oncology are a couple fields that should most likely stick around, but those also seem like the two toughest to figure out.

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28. CMC guy on October 1, 2008 5:55 PM writes...

Interesting piece and although is true complaining probably can get over the top the ability to vent, especially on a blog, can be satisfying in ways. I know I have been particular harsh on Management types (MBAs) because I seen so many that do not even attempt to understand R&D and thus as was stated earlier adopt a short term view to maximize profit. I do not view as evil and do know they are just following the herd business mentality that dominates US culture but wouldn't it be nice to hear a suit stand up and claim "we must take a long term view and drug development is a high risk venture" as more than a PR stance. Like everyone else their tendency is to take easy paths rather than go against flow. Scientists do share blame for current lack of productivity however most followed paths set down by Managers who were chasing Blockbusters or Me-too’s.

Good drug development is a multi-disciplinary activity so hard for chemists to stand alone. Whether is in discovery or development the chemistry, thus chemists, can often play more supportive roles to biology or clinical areas so really hard to be independent entrepreneurs. Is very true sentiment that Academics will need significant guidance if they wish to be more fully involved in drug development as most do not know how to spell FDA (not sure some medchems really know either).

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29. JD on October 1, 2008 7:05 PM writes...

Amazing. The first ever global depression will go down in history horribly misunderstood. What a pathetic bunch of ignorant fools we have become. Consumer junkie credit card morons. Say that reminds me.

Don’t believe one optimistic word from any public figure about the economy or humanity in general. They are all part of the problem. Its like a game of Monopoly. In America, the richest 1% now hold ALMOST 1/2 OF ALL UNITED STATES WEALTH. Unlike ‘lesser’ estimates, this includes all stocks, bonds, cash, offshore accounts, and material assets held by America’s richest 1%. Even that filthy pig Oprah acknowledged that it was at about 50% in 2006. Naturally, she put her own ‘humanitarian’ spin on it. Calling attention to her own ‘good will’. WHAT A DISGUSTING HYPOCRITE SLOB. THE RICHEST ONE PERCENT HAVE LITERALLY MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. Don’t fall for any of their ‘humanitarian’ CRAP. ITS A SHAM. THESE PEOPLE ARE CAUSING THE SAME PROBLEMS THEY PRETEND TO CARE ABOUT. Ask any professor of economics. Money does not grow on trees. The government can’t just print up more on a whim. At any given time, there is a relative limit to the wealth within ANY economy of ANY size. So when too much wealth accumulates at the top, the middle class slip further into debt and the lower class further into poverty. A similar rule applies worldwide. The world’s richest 1% now own over 40% of ALL WORLD WEALTH. This is EVEN AFTER you account for all of this ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS from celebrities and executives. ITS A SHAM. As they get richer and richer, less wealth is left circulating beneath them. This is the single greatest underlying cause for the current US recession. The middle class can no longer afford to sustain their share of the economy. Their wealth has been gradually transfered to the richest 1%. One way or another, we suffer because of their incredible greed. We are talking about TRILLIONS of dollars which have been transfered FROM US TO THEM. All over a period of about 27 years. Thats Reaganomics for you. The wealth does not ‘trickle down’ as we were told it would. It just accumulates at the top. Shrinking the middle class and expanding the lower class. Causing a domino effect of socio-economic problems. But the rich will never stop. They just keep getting richer. Leaving even less of the pie for the other 99% of us to share. At the same time, they throw back a few tax deductible crumbs and call themselves ‘humanitarians’. Cashing in on the PR and getting even richer the following year. IT CAN’T WORK THIS WAY. Their bogus efforts to make the world a better place can not possibly succeed. Any 'humanitarian' progress made in one area will be lost in another. EVERY SINGLE TIME. IT ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT WORK THIS WAY. This is going to end just like a game of Monopoly. The current US recession will drag on for years and lead into the worst US depression of all time. The richest 1% will live like royalty while the rest of us fight over jobs, food, and gasoline. So don’t fall for any of this PR CRAP from Hollywood, Pro Sports, and Wall Street PIGS. ITS A SHAM. Remember: They are filthy rich EVEN AFTER their tax deductible contributions. Greedy pigs. Now, we are headed for the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time. Crime, poverty, and suicide will skyrocket. SEND A “THANK YOU” NOTE TO YOUR FAVORITE MILLIONAIRE. ITS THEIR FAULT. I’m not discounting other factors like China, sub-prime, or gas prices. But all of those factors combined still pale in comparison to that HUGE transfer of wealth to the rich. Anyway, those other factors are all related and further aggrivated because of GREED. If it weren’t for the OBSCENE distribution of wealth within our country, there never would have been such a market for sub-prime to begin with. IF IT WEREN'T FOR THE OBSCENE, UNREASONABLE, AND UNJUST DISTRIBUTION OF UNITED STATES WEALTH, THERE NEVER WOULD HAVE BEEN SUCH A MARKET FOR SUB-PRIME AND THERE NEVER WOULD HAVE BEEN A COLLAPSE IN THE HOUSING MARKET. Sub-prime did not cause the problem. It only accelerated the outcome. Which by the way, was another trick whipped up by greedy bankers and executives. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. The credit industry has been ENDORSED by people like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGenerous, Dr Phil, and many other celebrities. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. In fact, they specifically endorsed Countrywide by name. The same Countrywide widely responsible for predatory adjustable rate sub-prime lending and the accelerated collapse of the housing market. ENDORSED BY OPRAH WINFREY, ELLEN DEGENEROUS, AND DR PHIL. Now, there are commercial ties between nearly every industry and every public figure. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. It also drives up the cost for nearly every product and service on the market. So don’t fall for their ‘good will’ BS. ITS A LIE. If you fall for it, then you’re a fool. If you see any real difference between the moral character of a celebrity, politician, attorney, or executive, then you’re a fool. No offense fellow citizens. But we have been mislead by nearly every public figure. We still are. Even now, they claim to be 'hurting' right along with the rest of us. As if gas prices actually effect the lifestyle of a millionaire. ITS A LIE. IN 2007, THE RICHEST 1% INCREASED THEIR AVERAGE BOTTOM LINE WEALTH AGAIN. On average, they are now worth over $4,000,000 each. Thats an all time high. As a group, they are now worth well over $17,000,000,000,000. THATS WELL OVER SEVENTEEN TRILLION DOLLARS. Another all time high. Which by the way, is much more than the entire middle and lower classes combined. Also more than enough to pay off our national debt, fund the Iraq war for twenty years, repair our infrastructure, and bail out the US housing market. Still think that our biggest problem is China? Think again. Its the 1% club. That means every big name celebrity, athlete, executive, entrepreneur, developer, banker, and lottery winner. Along with many attorneys, doctors, politicians, and bankers. If they are rich, then they are part of the problem. Their incredible wealth was not 'created', 'generated', grown in their back yard, or printed up on their command. It was transfered FROM US TO THEM. Directly and indirectly. Its become near impossible to spend a dollar without making some greedy pig even richer. Don't be fooled by the occasional loss of a millionaire's fortune. Overall, they just keep getting richer. They absolutely will not stop. Still, they have the nerve to pretend as if they care about ordinary people. ITS A LIE. NOTHING BUT CALCULATED PR CRAP. WAKE UP PEOPLE. THEIR GOAL IS TO WIN THE GAME. The 1% club will always say or do whatever it takes to get as rich as possible. Without the slightest regard for anything or anyone but themselves. Reaganomics. Their idea. Loans from China. Their idea. NAFTA. Their idea. Outsourcing. Their idea. Sub-prime. Their idea. High energy prices. Their idea. Oil 'futures'. Their idea. Obscene health care charges. Their idea. The commercial lobbyist. Their idea. The multi-million dollar lawsuit. Their idea. The multi-million dollar endorsement deal. Their idea. $200 cell phone bills. Their idea. $200 basketball shoes. Their idea. $30 late fees. Their idea. $30 NSF fees. Their idea. $20 DVDs. Their idea. Subliminal advertising. Their idea. Brainwash plots on TV. Their idea. Vioxx, and Celebrex. Their idea. Excessive medical testing. Their idea. The MASSIVE campaign to turn every American into a brainwashed, credit card, pharmaceutical, medical testing, love-sick, celebrity junkie. Their idea. All of the above drive up the cost of living, shrink the middle class, concentrate the world’s wealth and resources, create a dominoe effect of socio-economic problems, and wreak havok on society. All of which have been CREATED AND ENDORSED by celebrities, athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, attorneys, and politicians. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for any of their ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS. ITS A SHAM. NOTHING BUT TAX DEDUCTIBLE PR CRAP. In many cases, the 'charitable' contribution is almost entirely offset. Not to mention the opportunity to plug their name, image, product, and 'good will' all at once. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. These filthy pigs even have the nerve to throw a fit and spin up a misleading defense with regard to 'federal tax revenue'. ITS A SHAM. THEY SCREWED UP THE EQUATION TO BEGIN WITH. If the middle and lower classes had a greater share of the pie, they could easily cover a greater share of the federal tax revenue. They are held down in many ways because of greed. Wages remain stagnant for millions because the executives, celebrities, athletes, attorneys, and entrepreneurs, are paid millions. They over-sell, over-charge, under-pay, outsource, cut jobs, and benefits to increase their bottom line. As their profits rise, so do the stock values. Which are owned primarily by the richest 5%. As more United States wealth rises to the top, the middle and lower classes inevitably suffer. This reduces the potential tax reveue drawn from those brackets. At the same time, it wreaks havok on middle and lower class communities and increases the need for financial aid. Not to mention the spike in crime because of it. There is a dominoe effect to consider. IT CAN'T WORK THIS WAY. But our leaders refuse to acknowledge this. Instead they come up with one trick after another to milk the system and screw the majority. These decisions are heavily influensed by the 1% club. Every year, billions of federal tax dollars are diverted behind the scenes back to the rich and their respective industries. Loans from China have been necessary to compensate in part, for the red ink and multi-trillion dollar transfer of wealth to the rich. At the same time, the feds have been pushing more financial burden onto the states who push them lower onto the cities. Again, the hardship is felt more by the majority and less by the 1% club. The rich prefer to live in exclusive areas or upper class communities. They get the best of everything. Reliable city services, new schools, freshly paved roads, upscale parks, ect. The middle and lower class communities get little or nothing without a local tax increase. Which, they usually can't afford. So the red ink flows followed by service cuts and lay-offs. All because of the OBSCENE distribution of bottom line wealth in this country. Anyway, when you account for all federal, state, and local taxes, the middle class actually pay about the same rate as the rich. The devil is in the details. So when people forgive the rich for their incredible greed and then praise them for paying a greater share of the FEDERAL income taxes, its like nails on a chalk board. I can not accept any theory that our economy would suffer in any way with a more reasonable distribution of wealth. Afterall, it was more reasonable 30 years ago. Before Reaganomics came along. Before GREED became such an epidemic. Before we had an army of over-paid executives, bankers, celebrities, athletes, attorneys, doctors, investors, entrepreneurs, developers, and sold-out politicians to kiss their asses. As a nation, we were in much better shape. Strong middle class, free and clear assets, lower crime rate, more widespread prosperity, stable job market, lower deficit, ect. Our economy as a whole was much more stable and prosperous for the majority. WITHOUT LOANS FROM CHINA. Now, we have a more obscene distribution of bottom line wealth than ever before. We have a sold-out government, crumbling infrastructure, energy crisis, home forclosure epidemic, credit crunch, weak US dollar, 13 figure national deficit, and 12 figure annual shortfall. The cost of living is higher than ever before. Most people can't even afford basic health care. ALL BECAUSE OF GREED. I really don't blame the 2nd -5th percentiles in general. No economy could ever function without some reasonable scale of personal wealth and income. But it can't be allowed to run wild like a mad dog. ALBERT EINSTEIN TRIED TO MAKE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND. UNBRIDLED CAPITALISM ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT WORK. TOP HEAVY ECONOMIES ALWAYS COLLAPSE. Bottom line: The richest 1% will soon tank the largest economy in the world. It will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The American dream will be shattered. and thats just the beginning. Greed will eventually tank every major economy in the world. Causing millions to suffer and die. Oprah, Angelina, Brad, Bono, and Bill are not part of the solution. They are part of the problem. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MULTI-MILLIONAIRE HUMANITARIAN. EXTREME WEALTH MAKES WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. WITHOUT WORLD PROSPERITY, THERE WILL NEVER BE WORLD PEACE OR ANYTHING EVEN CLOSE. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL. Of course, the rich will throw a fit and call me a madman.. Of course, they will jump to small minded conclusions about 'jealousy', 'envy', or 'socialism'. Of course, their ignorant fans will do the same. You have to expect that. But I speak the truth. If you don’t believe me, then copy this entry and run it by any professor of economics or socio-economics. Then tell a friend. Call the local radio station. Re-post this entry or put it in your own words. Be one of the first to predict the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time and explain its cause. WE ARE IN BIG TROUBLE.

So what can we do about it? Well, not much. Unfortunately, we are stuck on a runaway train. The problem has gone unchecked for too many years. The US/global depression is comming thanks to the 1% club. It would take a massive effort by the vast majority to prevent it. Along with a voluntary sacrifice by the rich. THATS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. But if you believe in miracles, then spend your money as wisely as possible. Especially in middle and lower class communities. Check the Fortune 500 list and limit your support of high profit/low labor industries (Hollywood, pro sports, energy, credit, pharmaceutical, cable, satelite, internet advertising, cell phone, high fashion, jewelry, ect.). Cancel all but one credit card for emergencies only. If you need a cell phone, then do your homework and find the best deal on a local pre-pay. If you want home internet access, then use the least expensive provider, and share accounts whenever possible. If you need to search, then use the less popular search engines. They usually produce the same results anyway. Don't click on any internet ad. If you need the product or service, then look up the phone number or address and contact that business directly. Don't pay to see any blockbuster movie. Instead, wait a few months and rent the DVD from a local store or buy it USED. If you want to see a big name game or event, then watch it in a local bar, club, or at home on network TV. Don't buy any high end official merchendise and don't support the high end sponsors. If its endorsed by a big name celebrity, then don't buy it. If you can afford a new car, then make an exception for GM, Ford, and Dodge. If they don't increase their market share soon, then a lot more people are going to get screwed out of their pensions and/or benefits. Of course, you must know by now to avoid those big trucks and SUVs unless you truly need one for its intended purpose. Don't be ashamed to buy a foreign car if you prefer it. Afterall, those with the most fuel efficient vehicles consume a lot less foreign oil. Which accounts for a pretty big chunk of our trade deficit. Anyway, the global economy is worth supporting to some extent. Its the obscene profit margins, trade deficits, and BS from OPEC that get us into trouble. Otherwise, the global economy would be a good thing for everyone. Just keep in mind that the big 3 are struggling and they do produce a few smaller reliable cars. Don't frequent any high end department store or any business in a newly developed upper class community. By doing so, you make developers richer and draw support away from industrial areas and away from the middle class communities. Instead, support the local retailer and the less popular shopping centers. Especially in lower or middle class communities. If you can afford to buy a home, then do so. But go smaller and less expensive. Don't get yourself in too deep and don't buy into the newly developed condos or gated communities. Instead, find a modest home in a building or neighborhood at least 20 years old. If you live in one of the poorer states, then try to support its economy first and foremost. Be on the lookout for commercial brainwash plots on TV. They are written into nearly every scene of nearly every show. Most cater to network sponsors and parent companies. Especially commercial health care. Big business is fine on occasion depending on the profit margins and profit sharing. Do your homework. If you want to support any legitimate charity, then do so directly. Never support any celebrity foundation. They spend most of their funding on PR campaigns, travel, and high end accomodations for themselves. Instead, go to and look up a top rated charity to support your favorite cause. In general, support the little guy as much as possible and the big guy as little as possible. Do your part to reverse the transfer of wealth away from the rich and back to the middle and lower classes. Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer. Jobs will be lost either way. Innocent children will starve and die either way. But we need to support the largest group of workers with the most reasonable profit margins. We also need to support LEGITIMATE charities (Check that list at This is our only chance to limit the severity and/or duration of the comming US/global depression. In the meantime, don't listen to Bernanke, Paulson, Bartiromo, Orman, Dobbs, Kramer, OReiley, or any other public figure with regard to the economy. They are all plenty smart but I swear to you that they will lie right through their rotten teeth. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. These people work for big business. The 'experts' they cite also work for big business. They are all motivated by their desire to accumulate more wealth. THEY WILL LIE RIGHT THROUGH THEIR ROTTEN TEETH. So don't fall for their tricks. Instead, look at the big picture. The economic problems we face have been mounting for well over 20 years. All of them caused or aggrivated by a constant transfer of wealth from poorer to richer. Soon, it will cause the first ever GLOBAL DEPRESION. Its not brain surgery. Its simple math. Like I said, you are welcome to run this by any professor of economics or socio-economics. If thats not good enough, then look up what Einstein had to say about greed, extreme wealth, and its horrible concequences. I speak the truth. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL.

Its already underway. A massive campaign to divert our attention. Trump, Buffet, OReiley, Dobbs, Pickens, Norris, and several other well known filthy rich public figures have been running their mouths about the economy. Finally admitting a hint of severity after almost 2 years of denial. They even have the nerve to acknowledge the possibility of a US/global depression. Still, they refuse to acknowledge the single greatest underlying cause. Remember: Our national debt was way up BEFORE sub-prime. Consumer debt was way up BEFORE sub-prime. The cost of living was up BEFORE sub-prime. Wall Street profits were obscene BEFORE sub-prime. The middle class were loosing free and clear assets BEFORE sub-prime. Our infrastructure was in bad shape BEFORE sub-prime. Loans from China were taken out BEFORE sub-prime. The dollar was loosing value BEFORE sub-prime. So don't let these cowardly filthy rich public figures divert your attention or limit your range of thought. THE CURRENT ECONOMIC CRISIS WAS NOT CAUSED BY A SINGLE POLICY OR PROCEDURE. IT WAS CAUSED PRIMARILY BY A MASSIVE TRANSFER OF WEALTH FROM POOR TO RICH. OTHERWISE, THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN SUCH A MARKET FOR SUB-PRIME AND THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN A GLOBAL CREDIT CRUNCH. MONEY DOES NOT GROW ON TREES AND IT DOES NOT FLOAT AWAY. IT ONLY TRANSFERS FROM ONE PARTY TO ANOTHER. ALBERT EINSTEIN TRIED TO MAKE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL.

A word for those who respond with the usual 'I know more than you. Look how smart, knowledgable, and articulate I am' crap. Let me say this in advance. I don't claim to be an expert in this field. But I did go on record with these predictions long before any public figure uttered the word 'recession'. If you search long enough, you will find my early postings from '05' and '06'. Including the first draft of this rant. Since then, I've gone on record against people like Greenspan, Bernanke, and Paulson. So far, my predictions have been accurate. Like I said. This is not brain surgery. For the mostpart, its simple math. When you concentrate the world's wealth, you also concentrate its capital and shrink the middle class along with the potential market for every major industry. Homes go unsold. Bills go unpaid. Banks fail. More products go unsold. Jobs are lost. More banks fail. and so on. and so on. It happened 80 years ago. It will happen again. This time on a global scale. Throughout the cycle, the rich will tighten their grip. Concentrating the world's wealth and resources even further and ensuring the collapse of every major economy worldwide. Think it can't happen? Think again. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL.

Another thing. I don't want credit for any of this. Otherwise, I would have given my full name a long time ago. As far as I'm concerned, you can put this rant in your own words and take credit for all of it. I don't care. Just spread the word. Otherwise, the greatest injustice of all time will go down in history unchecked.

By the way. The bailout won't work. IT WON'T WORK. The plan fails to address the fundamental problem. The middle class don't need more credit. They need a reasonable share of the economic pie. They also need a lower cost of living and a chance to catch their breath. Most of all, they need to wake up and see the truth. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL.

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30. srp on October 1, 2008 8:15 PM writes...

The problem with threads of this sort is that they escalate in a spiral of increasing crackpottery. Gross unsupported generalizations about short-term vs. long-term motivations, MBAs, capitalism, etc. do not advance anyone's understanding.

Bluntly, if big pharma's vast expenditures on R&D were returning a bigger flow of profitable drugs these unfortunate cutbacks would not be happening. But people don't want to throw good money after bad. Managers react to these pressures.

The idea that markets don't value long-term value is crap. Just look at the P/E ratios of biotech companies over time--for most of them, everyone was betting on future hits and emphatically did not hold them to quarterly profit targets. Or think about the dot-com bubble, which was misguided but clearly not driven by contemporary earnings.

Every manager would like to brag about his huge staff of brilliant scientists who come up with breakthroughs (and how he astutely nurtures them). Unfortunately, such boasts would ring hollow today because the results haven't been there lately. Perhaps this is solely the fault of idiocy at the top--directors of R&D who somehow screw things up. But perhaps there is a fundamental problem with the methods of discovery and development in routine use by the scientists themselves.

Based on Derek's previous posts, here are some dogmas that could be questioned:

1) Rational drug design is the best way to find good treatments. We should try to target precisely one receptor with one molecule.
2) We need to understand the mechanism of action of a drug in order for it to be successful.
3) Drugs that are safe and effective in humans are likely to also be safe and effective in animal models. (We know that the converse is false, which is why we use rigorous human testing.)
4) The incentives of the FDA and patients are very well aligned.
5) The discovery of new therapeutic regimes using combinations of existing off-patent drugs does not deserve to be rewarded.

While the last two of these dogmas can only be addressed in a public-policy context, the first three could be challenged by any firm or research group.

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31. Shane on October 1, 2008 8:30 PM writes...

Has anyone paused to wonder why this is all happening now, and not at some other time in history? I find explanations that rely on the ethics and ideology of any group of people pretty flimsy. Why wasnt the "evil" of MBAs etc a problem up until now?

My take is that resource contraints have been constantly jacking up the cost of developing a drug. Regulatory hurdles have added to the problem as well. I think research science is particularly vulnerable to a deterioration in the free flow of global trade, which relies on access to cheap limitless energy to make it run. Our supply lines for chemicals, kits and consumables are extremely long. Our work relies on multiple steps, each step requiring chemicals and consumables from all over the world. How will we respond if the supply lines start to sputter out? Offshoring work will provide temporary relief but paint us into a corner if global trade completely collapses. What proportion of drugs used in the USA are even manufactured there anymore?

The number of scientist in the USSR fell by more than half during their central collapse. Is there a plan B for us other than becoming street sweepers?

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32. SteveM on October 1, 2008 9:06 PM writes...

I do believe things are starting to get a little off track...


P.S. Re: Street sweepers. I think the correct employment picture of doom is "waiters serving waiters".

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33. AD on October 1, 2008 9:15 PM writes...

Nice blog Derek.
I am a daily reader and a big fan, but this is the first time I am commenting.
I am an Indian, pursuing a PhD here in USA. However, I have a chemical industry background in my family back in India and have been a constant part of the chemical/pharma industry in India as well as in the USA.
Firstly, let me agree with you in saying that USA is the best place in the world for education, and for pursuing cutting edge science and technology - period. I am having a ball in my PhD, learning a whole lot and loving the science. Coming here for a PhD has been the best decision of my career - and I will always owe a whole lot to the American education system, and thus to America.
However, with all the out-sourcing and especially the downfall of the economy off late - I have been sensing the development of a resentment for the Indians and Chinese people from the Americans, in a huge way.
Which I think is all BS and hypocrisy of the first order. As you said, there is no stopping the outsourcing, and blaming the Indians or Chinese for it is utter nonsense. It is pure business firstly.
And if the people who pursue these kind of fake and nonsensical thought processes think they are suffering and undergoing tremendous hardships in their jobs and lives - PLEASE GO TO THESE DEVELOPING COUNTRIES (INDIA AND CHINA) AND SEE WHAT HARDSHIPS CAN REALLY BE LIKE. Imagine a 8 year old boy or girl selling glasses of water in train stations for the equivalent of 5 pennies each glass, you will find this in every station. Imagine hundreds of thousands of people commuting 6 hours a day for a 10 hour job every day, you will find these in every big city. The kind of standards of living that the average normal American enjoys every day of his life is a life that 70% of Indians and Chinese people dont EVER experience in their lives. Simple things that everybody takes for granted here like - good food, electricity, hot water, basic education - are luxuries in some parts of these countries, and are simply not available in some.
So please, suck it up. There is absolutely NO BASIS for blaming the foreigners for all this.
Again, I love America for the education it is providing to me, and I will try my best to give back. But resenting foreigners for trying to attain a fraction of the standard of living that people have taken for granted in this country is utter BS.
Thanks for the blog Derek, I could never have put it better.

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34. eugene on October 1, 2008 9:24 PM writes...

Wow JF, that's a long post. Er... you have to excuse me if I didn't read it fully, but if it's that long on this blog, I only read it if it's Derek's material and/or doesn't have suspicious use of all caps with poor paragraph break usage.

I was just wondering though, did you write this on a whim right now, or did you write this before and add a few salient details to make it blog appropriate? Also, did you type it somewhere else or all in the little post window that can sometimes kill your entire post after half an hour?

Not saying anything judgmental, I'm just... wow. Respect.

P.S. Finally, more people agree with me on the immigrant issue. It was getting a bit lonely fighting the 'deport all foreign scientists!' crowd with only a few people.

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35. Retread on October 1, 2008 9:50 PM writes...


Attaboy ! ! It takes an immigrant to really see this country for what it is. Thank God we have a lot of them. The guy from Nigeria and the girls from Haiti and Poland in the P-Chem class I'm auditing will get a lot from this country, but they are likely to give back even more (see "Auditing P-Chem" on the Skeptical Chymist).

For the rest:

Has the low lying fruit now been picked? Have there been a lot of blockbuster drugs since I left medicine 11/00 ? In my field (neurology), which I keep up with to some extent, there do not appear to have been. If true generally, perhaps that's why firms are cutting back.

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36. Ribeye on October 1, 2008 10:35 PM writes...

First off, I love the blog, this has always been a great source of information on an industry that is very hard to understand from an outsider's perspective.

Secondly, with Pharma outsourcing med chem, and generally shrinking their efforts in "exploratory" lead optimization, what careers paths are left for young synthetic chemists?

As an undergrad who is in love with synthesis, I have always looked forward to building a career in pharma, where synthesis is used to do very powerful things. But after this year we've had, I'm starting to second guess industry, and synthesis all together. Would it be more wise to go down the "synthetic biologics" and "chemical biology" path? What good is a doctorate in synthesis, when the market for small molecules is imploding on itself?

Or are there other (good) careers for a young organic chemist outside of Pharma?

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37. milkshake on October 2, 2008 2:45 AM writes...

With pharma industry I would like to see a startup-like model of operation: the department bosses should get a timeline (=five years), a budget and authority, they should have freedom how to use the resources and whom to hire and fire - at the end of the deadline the entire group would be either richly rewarded or summarily dismissed.

My biggest problem with the industry is the pompous dishonesty that flows from the top to the bottom - the propaganda for the stockholders consumption, the wishful thinking and pretense that we have the tools and wisdom and corporate structure to make the outcome predictable. That we can direct our effort and discover the next Lipitor without an incredibly lucky coincidence.

When we look at succesful drugs in history, these were identified from fairly small series, often on simplistic/flawed rationale, and directly tested on animals. Now that we have a giant screening funnel stuffed with thousands of analogs, it is likely that things get overoptimised in the wrong direction before going into animal model, while good stuf gets thrown out based on artificial criteria.

Now back to academia, I "returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill - but time and chance happeneth to them all."

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38. Simon on October 2, 2008 4:07 AM writes...

If you google for phrases from JD's diatribe then you'll find it in a couple of other places around the interwebs. Copy + Paste politics, how tiresomely 21st century.
For what it's worth, I used to agree with milkshake, but then sometimes when a project fails it has nothing to do with the skill (or lack) of the people involved, it's just bad luck.

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39. doublebond on October 2, 2008 6:44 AM writes...

Hi Derek,

Another first time poster.

I see that part of the problem is that Judy Estrin argued in her book closing the innovation gap in that in most industries there is a problem in the investment in Research agenda and what I mean is the basic research agenda. Governments are keen to bail out when things go wrong, how about investing for the future

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40. Americanchemist on October 2, 2008 8:03 AM writes...

No No No.....

You miss a very important point about the outsourcing that's going on. US pharmaceutical companies are the "darlings" of our elected officials, they are allowed to sell their wares at inflated prices, and have the FDA in their back pocket. They are allowed to flood the airwaves with their obnoxious, misleading advertising etc. And now we are supposed to let them reap their huge profits, practically tax free, AND ship all the research jobs overseas, NO WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tell em fine go ahead and can everyone in the US that has spent so much time going to good schools to work in areas designed to improve human health, HOWEVER, you will find the environment we've provided for you here to flog your wares, very different.

This goes back to the "suits" as you put it, they are the scum that propagate this business model. They could care less about contributing to easing suffering and curing disease, all they want is the cash and lots of it.

What a load of garbage!

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41. Ty on October 2, 2008 9:17 AM writes...

Let us not try to blame all that go bad on the flapping of a butterfly. I guess we didn't exactly hail the 'suits' when things were fine.

I echo srp's comment (#30). Something's seriously wrong with the "targeted drug discovery" - the one drug/one target/one disease paradigm that's been the central dogma in the industry for 2 decades, which coincides with its demise. Well, targeted discovery, esp. 'rational' design based on the structure, is the easiest one for a med chemist to deal with. We, chemists, should get out of that box.

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42. Fred on October 2, 2008 10:13 AM writes...

Totally agree with Ty and srp and as always milkshake. The hole in our pipelines dates back to about the time we started thinking we were smart. Hate to break it to us all but we know very little about how biology works and it is the "stuff we think we know that just aint so " that is killing us. All this knotted biological knowledge results in just more hurdles (assays) to jump to get into an actual model that has clinical relevance. This is what is drying up the pipelines.

Another thing i will say is that this whole small molecule thing is really a box. I love synthesis and all but i think the future lies with biologics and conjugates. Peptides are not as bad as drugs as all of us have been led to believe. I know all the syn. jocks are scoffing at how boring peptide chemisty can be but the strucutes that can be made with just traditional peptide chemisty coupled with some synthetic methodolgy are truely insane and will be the drugs of the future.

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43. CMC guy on October 2, 2008 11:15 AM writes...

srp accuse me of being a crackpot except that in the current mode science/scientist rarely have much real decision power in programs. You state “Bluntly, if big pharma's vast expenditures on R&D were returning a bigger flow of profitable drugs these unfortunate cutbacks would not be happening. But people don't want to throw good money after bad. Managers react to these pressures.” I agree with sentiment and do not dismiss that scientists in Pharma are commonly very ineffective and inefficient but see the root cause as more due “faulty” leadership that typically starts at the top executive levels that create mandates for organization (Most R&D heads seem to have to “convert” from science to strictly business thinking in order to advance). Project determinations are not based principally on biology/chemistry capability/knowledge but are predominately Market driven for large populations and/or profits and/or less risk. I do understand is a business and without application and approval value is limited however the basic criteria greatly narrows the fields of interests that R&D can pursue (i.e. the Blockbuster and Me-too mindset). Managers created the pressures when they defined where to throw the money in the first place. All the M&As (often promoted by Management to revitalize the company) have also effected situation as IMO many potentially good programs get scrapped because do not “fit” the new combined company. Again this can be due to profitability assessments eliminating “smaller (perceived) ROI projects” although many times it’s because the people who worked on and/or otherwise championed those projects did not survive the merger. To use Baseball analogies: Companies want to hit only Homeruns and not content with Singles. Hitters (Scientists) normally make lots of outs, particularly when trying to hit homers, but the more times up to bat the greater chance the will be able to score/drive in runs, at least until they get traded off the team.

There may be “fundamental problem with the methods of discovery and development in routine use by the scientists themselves” but how many “revolutionary concepts” (largely chiefly dictated from above) have been attempted in that last 20 years. Quite a few have been discussed on the blog and if they do work at all most end up as supportive tools rather than total paradigm shifts promised. I liken present circumstances to Churchill quote “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” I do advocate keep trying new stuff as realize we do poorly when considering results verses attempts.

I may be generalizing but likewise disagree with your assertion that “the idea that markets don't value long-term value is crap.” Over and over I have seen that Investment firms do operate on projected quarterly and yearly ROIs. Their window of attention at most seems to be 18 months with 6-12 month view more probable. Try to go to them with a program that will take 24-36 months to get results and they will tell you to come back later once end closer. VCs may have a bit longer tolerance for start-ups but is still typically below the 8-10 years horizons needed for drug development. Again appreciate the motivation for timely ROI but it makes it difficult to advance drug development projects when a company is severely underfunded.

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44. processchemist on October 2, 2008 11:26 AM writes...


A friend of mine, a neurobiologist working in academia, told me that at a congress on epilepsy an old guru of the field reviewing last years advances said "High throughput- Zero output!".
May I recall that peptides were a class of compounds that was heavily pumped in the CC-HTS machine in his first years? No so much good results.

In last ten years I've seen whole projects dropped after the synthesis of the first 50 or 100 g (this class of leads was mutagen, this other one was myolitic, this third teratogen....). The only two that passed seamlessly from lead opt to tox to phase I were based on natural products. Natural products have been widely dropped because they not fit the requirements for HTS. Because isolation of pure compounds, structure assesment, total synthesis are time consuming, difficult tasks. You can't crank out 5-10 analogs quickly as you can do with the common biaryl-polyaryl systems with the usual Suzuki coupling (the most used reaction of the last 5 years?).
But NP are at the origin of about an half of the most used drugs.

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45. Cellbio on October 2, 2008 11:28 AM writes...

Interesting comments, as always. I also have my doubts about the one target/one drug promise, easy to do since the success rate has been steadily dropping in this era. However, I think retread's question of whether the "low hanging fruit" is gone deserves some thought. Did the old fashioned, pre-molecular biology, non-structure aided, tissue bath drug discovery actually identify drugs for a rather large portion of the tractable targets. Decades of drug company research might have been, without the fancy names, a extensive and productive chemical biology/systems biology era that probed much of the proteome. In the modern era, difficutly in finding molecules has not been readily solved by uHTS (more compounds), combichem (unexplored space), or new payers (biotech will do it better than Merck).

I wouldn't suggest the end of science, but maybe the model of smaller shops with a sharp focus does make more sense than large companies with armies attacking multiple targets across a broad swath of therapeutic areas.

Finally, with a background in biotech, I wouldn't invoke moving to biologics as an easy cure. While easy to conceive of something like an antibody approach, much more expensive to get to the clinic, and harder to differentiate. I did think the protein staple approach (SM attached to peptide, stabilizing and offering way to introduce functionality) was interesting, any one working on that?

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46. Daniel on October 2, 2008 11:42 AM writes...

My impression is that the post started over the fact there are not enough jobs for chemists, right? But you need to ask whether you're talking about US chemists vs the global market for chemists. Obviously, every chemist in the world can't migrate here, and enter into jobs that don't exist.

So how is the USA to approach this?

If 10 tax paying citizens need jobs and academia and industry imports 30 foreigners, then foreigners are the problem.

So when I hear

"So please, suck it up. There is absolutely NO BASIS for blaming the foreigners for all this."

I cringe, since many of you can't add.

Nobody is claiming foreigner per say are to blame; why if I lived in a Delhi slum, I'd want to come here as well. It is though an unalterable fact that every society provides only so many resources at any given time (it's why some are rich and others are poor).

A basic example- you can only drive so many cars on a given road at a given time.

Another example -you can have only so many chemists working in the US at a given time.

So, my view is that those of you who want to change the question as to why there is a glut of chemists in this country, you have only to look at our elected officials and the bribes (donations) they are given by big Pharma.

And yes, you'll notice that the very companies that are laying off people are hiring others back at lower salaries, under contract or less benefits.


It guarantees that as Americans quit the field, there will be a fresh crop of workers willing to be employed under any terms.

And of course the primary causative factor here are academics and MBAs (there were some good posts on the short term thinking of MBAs so I wont go into the whys. As to the academics, everyone already knows they are low-life exploiters)

So for those of you who think free markets are the answer, please join the rest of us outside your box. Please turn to reuters or read a newspaper.

O.K -enough said, on that. But a really really good discussion.


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47. Anonymous on October 2, 2008 12:04 PM writes...

I beg to disagree.
The system allows workers in and replaces workers with others - solely because they are more effective, whether they be natives or foreigners.
No corporation will hire workers to replace others only because of cost and wages - it is a competitive world, and the fit survive.
The reason why this country is the fore-runner in science is that it attracts the best and the brightest in the world - WHEN IT STOPS DOING SO, IT WILL CEASE TO BE THE FORERUNNER - guaranteed.
The problem is not foreigners in this country, the problem is the business going to foreign countries - and there is no stopping that.

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48. SidTheGiant on October 2, 2008 1:03 PM writes...

I second AD's and Retread's comments above. Don't forget that many of these "foreigners" give back more to the country than what they got from it by working in its universities and companies, publishing papers in American journals and discovering new drugs. And also don't forget that Americans are "foreigners" too whose great grandparents came to these shores a hundred or more years back. I am glad you stifled the anti-foreigner nonsense Derek.

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49. Kevin on October 2, 2008 1:42 PM writes...

"The system allows workers in and replaces workers with others - solely because they are more effective, whether they be natives or foreigners."

I am curious as to who is regulating this process?The companies that are running this country into the ground?

It appears the companies and universities benefit disproportionately from these people. It's all just ageism and exploitation in disguise. That's what I think at least. Anyone who asserts benevolant human resources depts hasn't worked in big pharma.

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50. ramjet on October 2, 2008 2:11 PM writes...

CEO's may not be pure evil but lets face it they are pretty close to it. These people know that the changes taking place at present are unlikey to yield more drugs or better treatment for patients but they don't care, its all about the short term, the share price and their bonuses. Why else do they sit on trial results that are negative or that may even show serious adverse effects, why else do they employ such cynical sales tactics, why else do they happily participate in insider trading etc etc. The greed of these people is disgusting.

Unfortunately these people not only have our jobs in their hands but also the future health and welfare of millions of people around the world.

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51. KG on October 2, 2008 3:21 PM writes...

Speaking of comments...

Anyone know what happened to Biofind? Seems to have disappeared.

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52. retread on October 2, 2008 3:31 PM writes...

Franklin D. Roosevelt is said to have begun an address to the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) as follows:

-- "Fellow immigrants --"

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53. Hap on October 2, 2008 3:45 PM writes...

Barring the doors (in or out) of the US probably won't do us any good in the long term - we grow on ideas, taken in from and spread out to the rest of the world. I think the management problems (of which I think there are some) and lack of research productivity are not solvable in that manner, not in any term that matters much. It also looks really stupid, like auto workers without American cars not being allowed to use work parking lots - an open admission that you aren't good enough to compete on your own and instead require some other incentive to change the balance. Lashing out at immigrants is a simple, easy, and wrong solution to our employment problems.

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54. Laura K on October 2, 2008 4:35 PM writes...

"Lashing out at immigrants is a simple, easy, and wrong solution to our employment problems."

I've been watching this discussion. I see no lashing out as you've put it. Although I'm fond of Pandas, I can't say what I'd do if there were thousands of them streaming off a Panda farm to ravage my local community.

Likewise, there are limits to any eco-system. To say "Our Pandas are better than your Pandas" as the justification for the massive influx of new Pandas is popycock. Quite frankly, all of the bamboo has been eaten and the whole concept of finding the brightest Panda is based on the disingenuous notion that there exists impartial authorities to supervise the Panda migration.

There is little difference between someone taking away my job under the gobbledegook pretenses of "a more efficient Panda " than someone breaking into my house and stealing my food.

It's theft sanctioned by CEOs, plain and simple. To think more bamboo will grown by bringing in more Pandas is nonsense.

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55. Mark M on October 2, 2008 5:12 PM writes...

Hap wrote:

"Lashing out at immigrants is a simple, easy, and wrong solution to our employment problems."

If only this was the worst of it.

I remember well the case of Vincent Chen, a Chinese student at Wayne State in Detroit, who was beaten to death in the early '80's by disgruntled autoworkers who mistook him to be Japanese.

This stuff easily spirals out of control.

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56. Hap on October 2, 2008 6:51 PM writes...


If the problem is the theft of the country by CEOs, why do you think closing ourselves off from the rest of the world will help? It would seem that the people in charge (if they are so malevolent) will find a way to steal themselves rich whether the borders are open or closed. All you have to do is make the appropriate set of people the bad guys, and then rob the "bad guys" blind. (See: Japanese-American internment for an example).

Also, how exactly did we get to where we are? We got there by doing things better than others, and displacing those who did them worse. (There are also other, less savory, contributions to the outcome, but I believe that we mostly got to where are openly and fairly.) I don't remember seeing anyone complaining about the people whose jobs we displaced - they either learned to be useful (with perhaps some support to do so, depending on the kindness of the fellows or government) or not, the people who bought our goods got better things, and we were able to profit. If taking other people's jobs (because you can do it better or cheaper) is equivalent to forcible theft, then what exactly have we (both personally, and our country) been doing for the past sixty years?

If management is the problem, then checking their power would seem to be the only appropriate response. Lots of people own stocks and funds owning them - theoretically (though maybe not practically) they have some control over the companies they own, and might be able to select stocks from companies who allow them a say in how the company is run rather than those who take their money and ignore them. Going after immigrants seems to be like killing the cannon fodder in war and leaving the generals intact - probably worse for us, since lots of people from elsewhere have contributed meaningfully to our position in the world, while cannon fodder that intends to kill you is unlikely to do you any good.

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57. 2cents on October 2, 2008 10:43 PM writes...

Geez, cant believe the xenophobia here. We recently put an add out for chemists and the majority of the applicants were chinese. It might seem that no matter how bad times are, american citizens wont even consider applying for a job at a small company. But then they complain and want goverment sanctioned jobs. I'll repeat this again, in my opinion any personable well qualified citizen will easily outperform any immigrant at a job interview. But if one doesnt even apply, you cant expect job offers to come looking for you. It might even appear that all the sitting around in big pharma for years making stupid heterocycles might have made people lazy. Wake up and listen to Derek. I might not agree with him some times but he is right on this one - now is not the time to be an ordinary chemist. Take some risk, explore what is out side the big pharma cocoon.

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58. S&M on October 2, 2008 11:11 PM writes...

"It might seem that no matter how bad times are, american citizens wont even consider applying for a job at a small company. "

You are so full of sh----it! You mean the only people you consider come from Harvard or Yale!

And yes, Chinese are great at putting up with the psycho-nonsense those people instill in people. All you get from H or Y is the ability to put up coin a phrase from Derek is "sociopaths in white lab jackets":

Get real you got DOZENS of CV's! Cr---ap head nonsense!

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59. 2cents on October 3, 2008 12:42 AM writes...

whoa, easy there S&M - I am just presenting the facts. The observation regarding applicants was consistent across a bunch of positions advertised.

Loose the attitude if you are going to be in the job market soon. You just might end up reporting to a chinese manager (not too many of them around, BTW, they have all found pretty good jobs with CROs).

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60. processchemist on October 3, 2008 1:34 AM writes...

I'm not directly concerned by the US situation, but these are my 2 c...

Just a quick note about history, attitude, great achievements: in another topic great results of the past were recalled. They were possible only beacause of cooperative spirit, faith in good science, great management, focused team work.

But how can you think that a group of scientists can be full of enthusiasm under the constant menace of the falling axe? When a team that gave good results get in change staff reduction? When you prefer the "yessir, suresir" kind of scientist? When you *give the impression* that you like most of all asian scientists a priori?

Economic crises give awful fruits. I fear that xenophobia on one side, lowered wages and decent shares prices on the other can be seen by someone like a good compromise. But processes of this kind can be governed, and not seen as the inevitable consequences of a grim fate.

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61. zts on October 3, 2008 6:36 AM writes...

Regarding milkshake's comment #37, about a startup model in pharma where an unsuccessful group is fired after x years:

Is it fair to make everyone share in risk that they really have nothing to do with? Most people working on a project do not have any input into the high-level strategic decision making that directs these bold, risky ideas. As an average bench chemist, I do have low-level decision making capacity, and I can voice my opinions, but why should I be penalized if I do everything right, maybe have some great ideas, be incredibly productive, etc. Then get fired because the project was fundamentally unsound from the beginning.

Furthermore, given the very high risk in all drug discovery projects, if such a policy were implemented in pharma, would there really be that many people out there wanting to take on these projects when the odds and costs of failure are so high? Or would the people with the really good ideas go to the industries where they can get more stable and still profitable jobs?

This, I think, is one of the attractions of big pharma--that they have the resources to deal more effectively with failure than small companies. In theory, this should allow for greater risk taking, because the cost of failure is not so dire. That this often does not work in practice may, in fact, be due to the risk-reward scenario in pharma that causes people to favor the "safest" projects because they want a high probability of success so they can meet their goals and get their bonuses, a much less drastic risk-reward scenario than you propose.

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62. fred on October 3, 2008 7:48 AM writes...

ZTS has it 100% right. Drug Discovery is really SO complex and SO high risk, you almost need a "tenure" system, like in academia. And that's what you USED to have in Big Pharma, in effect. You could work a project for 10 years, if you needed to. Some BACE projects have gone that long today. And maybe one or more will "pan out" and lead to a drug.

I think the actual future of pharma will be lots of small companies (Biggest Bi Pharma is all run by stupid MBA's), but to get there, you need more VC money, and we haven't adjusted to that future yet.

I think outsourcing to China is a losing proposition because they leak IP and if they can't be trusted not to poisin you baby formula, do you really want them making your heparin? Enough law suits and the China drug business will be shut down. Then they can go back to making toys out of lead.

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63. DrSnowboard on October 3, 2008 8:39 AM writes...

IMHO, VC timeframes, particularly in euroland, are even shorter than the attention span of a Big Pharma CEO, sorry meant organisation. Getting them to look past a 2-3 year demonstration that they'll get their x2.5 to x10 return is hard, particularly if a lot of their investments are tanking. On the other hand, if you tell people their job is guaranteed for 10 years, perhaps a flurry of effort in the last 2 might be expected?
This is a people business, despite the machines-that-go-ping marketing veneer.

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64. Ali g on October 3, 2008 9:52 AM writes...

The arguement about foreigners and outsourcing is a little misplaced. The struggle is between management and labor (chemists). Outsourcing is management's way of undercutting labor's ability to negotiate higher wages and benefits. Since the USA gives certain rights to labor at the detriment to management, management moves labor to areas where they are more free to mistreat labor. Until the USA passes laws (tariffs) requiring other countries to set minimum standards for workers, we will continue to see a reduction in the opportunites for labor in the USA.

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65. pkg on October 3, 2008 10:13 AM writes...

Interesting comments. A lot of strawmen have been used by the "don't blame the foreigners" crowd. First and most important is that outsourcing technical jobs is horribly bad for the U.S. It is strange how anyone can argue otherwise. If wage rates collapse in the technical professions because of outsourcing, then fewer Americans will enter the technical professions, and they will go into professions that won't be easily outsourced, such a law. Not a good thing for the vitality of our economy. Secondly, it is wrong to repeat the idiocy that allowing foreigners into the U.S. to take the jobs of American citizens is good, because "they give back more than they take". This is demonstrable BS. They cause a collapse of wage rates. Period. Have the enormous number of foreign professionals in the U.S. caused wages of Americans to rise? There is zero data to support this.

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66. MedChem on October 3, 2008 10:50 AM writes...

Mark M said in 55:

" If only this was the worst of it.

I remember well the case of Vincent Chen, a Chinese student at Wayne State in Detroit, who was beaten to death in the early '80's by disgruntled autoworkers who mistook him to be Japanese."

This reminds me of a random beating incident of a Chinese graduate student on my campus almost 10 years ago. This happened at night when this person was on his way back to his apartment from school. He was savagely (with emphasis) beaten by a small group of undergrads for no apparant reason. I personally have also been been taunted a couple of times int he past.

Considering myself as part of the community and having many ownderful American friends and co-workers, it saddens me to know this is still happening.

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67. MedChem on October 3, 2008 11:06 AM writes...

Laura K

I honestly sympathize with you. Like I said elsewhere on this site, I'd feel the same way if I were a native born American. But I just wanted to point out a common incorrect notion that it's cheaper to hire an immigrate on a visa, thinking the hiring process for an illegal farm work also applies to a legal immigrant scientist.

If anything, it's a lot more expensive and a HUGE headache to do so, because the employer will have to deal with all the immigration stuff. Ask any human resourse person. The ONLY way an immigrant scientist can hope to be hired is to demonstrate that he or she is worth the trouble. That is a TALL order for someone who doesn't speak the English language as well and missed 20+ years of American culture. A competent American job seeker really doesn't have much to worry about.

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68. jc on October 3, 2008 11:56 AM writes...

Ali g and pkg: exactly. there's a giant difference between xenophobia/racism (which is despicable), and wishing that someone would support the best interests of US workers. It's exasperating that so many have said, "you can't stop outsourcing". To my knowledge the US still has the largest domestic market (correct me if I'm wrong), so with the political will why exactly would this be impossible?

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69. CMC guy on October 3, 2008 11:58 AM writes...

#62 fred although I too find zts' comments are a good analysis (particularly Pharma risk taking potential vs practice) I find some of your statements a bit off. How many profs that get "tenure" then seemingly coast through careers thereafter? Same can happen in industry to good bench scientists although there they usually get promoted to be ineefective management. Present views/circumstances do not permit working on problems for 10 years because most basic research has been co-opted to Univ/NIH/Foundations. Industry practices mostly only applied efforts these days with short timeframe and rarely nutures creative souls any more.

More Small companies does not automatically mean will be more efficient and effective at getting to new drugs. I think there is value in biotech approach but likely the failure rates will remain high and the false steps too common. Who knows what goes on at VCs but early discovery is currently out of favor apparently.

Outsourcing to China (& India FTM) do have problem but is not going to be turned back. The IP weakness mentioned probably biggest issue. However the gaps are closing rapidly and think they will wake up especially with Western trained people returning with expertise. Its mainly the need for Governments taking greater responsibilities for materials that are exported Globally that need to be strengthened. The tainted milk could even drive internal changes that do tight controls in the system. Look back at History of Pharma Industary and many similar issues occurred in our past with the reponse being FDA formation or further regulations so given time likely will be corrected.

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70. Bruce Hamilton on October 3, 2008 12:34 PM writes...

Interesting perceptions presented. The mechanism for investment is changing, but the really sad part seems to be the devaluation of experience.

Are younger researchers truly more effective producers of drug candidates than older ones because they know how to drive an expensive wizz-bang toy?.

Drug companies expected some failure rates, but after 20 years of poor ROI in research, they have to do something that will assure the corporate future.

One danger with the 5 year plan is that it doesn't allow for employee mobility, everybody is a specialist. In small companies, people will have broader roles, and can make choices about the future specialisation.

Maybe the answer is to have universities/research organisations prime the pump with innovation and exploration - eg marine organism chemicals appear to be vastly under-represented in discovery.

They would seem to be ideal places for experienced researchers to help selectively investigate novel candidates, but perhaps they would need to learn a little more about working with biological discipline experts.

Synthetic chemists in pharma appear to stick to the structural characteristics and properties of molecules that are assumed necessary to be a suitable merketable drug. Have those "constraints" been inadvertent blinkers?.

The issue seems to been a poor return to big pharma from their investment in drug discovery and research. Something has to change, and chemists have to try and guess where their best opportunities will be.

If they get it wrong, at least they will have some experience, and they should expect to realign, perhaps going for a smaller company with more career choices.

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71. Hap on October 3, 2008 1:16 PM writes...

#69: Can you (or someone else) give an example of a job support tactic that worked? Farm supports might help to maintain enough farm infrastructure to support the US if other food sources are limited, but in general they raise prices without making better food available. I am liberal and like the concept of unions, but they haven't worked very well for the car industry in the US - the presence of unions didn't improve the cars manufactured (design and fuel economy aren't their responsibilities, but the quality of cars made probably is in part, or at least of their members) but raised the prices of cars. The combination of mediocre to poor quality is a good explanation for why the domestic car industry is in bad straits. (The companies overinvested in trucks, but that might be a function of their inability to sell smaller cars as well as their ability to make trucks.) I can't think of other ones, let alone effective ones.

I think going after visas and immigrants to solve the employment problems for Americans is unconstructive. If the system is broken, restricting the number of immigrants coming to take jobs in it won't help (since no products still equals no business, no matter who happens to work in the industry). Infrastructure issues (the disparity between the number of degrees and jobs), the lack of research productivity, and management issues all seem like better places to start - they also might lead to better products and a better industry.

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72. Steakandale on October 3, 2008 1:25 PM writes...

There are very few people here who have focused on a fundamental reason why there are so many "foreigners" in US research; the simple fact that many US students are no longer interested in studying basic science and engineering. So let's not blame the foreigners if our education system is doing such a poor job of getting students interested in science and research.

And teaching them the "controversy" about science and creationism is just going to take the situation to hell and beyond. Palin for VP!

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73. RandDChemist on October 3, 2008 1:49 PM writes...

Many excellent points and many pointless ones.

US companies need to strive for basic decency and respect for all employees. Set this foundation and you build trust. Trust is build from the bottom up and the top down. Once you have trust, it is far easier to maximize productivity. There is much more to it, but that is how I view the larger picture. People are not merely numbers, a pair of hands, etc. They need to know they matter.

One of the biggest strengths the US has is its diversity. We are like no other country in the world. Thee need to preserve and nurture this strength has never been more important. Letting everyone in or keeping everyone out does no good whatsoever.

There are people who are greedy, and they are the ones damaging companies. That applies to the business end AND the science end. You also have jerks in the mix (who may or may not be greedy). Keep those people out as much as you can, and opportunities for success increase. No matter how good a superstar is, if they are a jerk, they do more harm than any good.

It all sounds so simple, but hard to achieve. It takes a lot of work to build a sound project, group, company, etc.

People become infatuated with whatever makes them look good, either a good balance sheet or a large number of compounds. Either one can lead one in the wrong direction. Believing one's own hype also plays a significant role (as has been stated already). Fads and quick results mask a deeper understanding of the hurdles pharma faces. Success is never guaranteed but needs to be sold.

There are good and bad business people as well as scientists. It's just human nature.

Just as there is no such thing as a perfect medicine without side effects, just as there is no perfect way to discover a new drug. We have tools at our disposal to treat people and find the new medicine, and how we use them determines whether or not we achieve success. At the heart of this process is (scientific) innovation and how that is fostered.

One way to fund growth and new company development is to encourage angel investments via tax credits. The angel investors are not as demanding as VC's are. Its a different, earlier stage.

Things change, and chemists can be as set in their ways as much as, if not more, than anyone. Learning, adapting and personal growth are more important than ever.

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74. anon on October 3, 2008 8:23 PM writes...

67: This is not an issue for outsourcing, which seems to be the direction that big pharma is going in lately.

It also seems that the IP situation is much better, as one of our outsourcing vendors is making final analogs routinely. I think that one needs to specify exactly which compounds will be made to claim inventorship, but only doing the actual preparation of the compounds is not enough for someone to be considered an inventor. Of course, if these guys started swiping IP and were caught, that would be the end of their business as well. Nobody would trust them anymore.

I understand the economics of the situation. Our management has been given an x dollar budget to spend over y years, but it has to cover all expenses. If they need to run a clinical trial or some other big ticket item, then something else needs to be cut. Lately, this seems to be lower level scientists whose work can be outsourced. Of course, I have also seen hotshot PhDs who were on the "fast track" also get canned in recent layoffs.

#73: You make alot of good points, especially the commentary about trust in the beginning of your post. Listening to the leaders speak is like the XFiles poster "I want to believe," but it is really hard to do so. The promise of stability is implied, but there are alot of attached disclaimers. My workplace feels alot like the game show Survivor, where one can be voted off the island at any time and my colleagues would happily sell me down the river in order to save their own skin. If anything gets done, it will be out of fear. I don't know how that can be fixed. Trust is not something that can be rebuilt quickly.

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75. anonymous on October 3, 2008 8:56 PM writes...

#72: "There are very few people here who have focused on a fundamental reason why there are so many 'foreigners' in US research; the simple fact that many US students are no longer interested in studying basic science and engineering."

You may be confusing cause and effect.

Unless you deny that supply and demand applies to labor markets, an increase in the number of scientists must necessarily drive down the price of their labor. We can argue about magnitude, but the effect must occur. (Prove otherwise, and some folks in Sweden have a prize for you.)

Consider that if the price of scientific research is driven down enough, then domestic students are less likely to pursue careers in that field. There are so many options out there that are more lucrative, easier, and (dare I say it?) more rewarding.

Everything I see (e.g. stagnating wages) indicates that this is indeed what's occurring, but I can't see how it could be turned around. Cutting immigration quotas would hurt U.S. companies' competitiveness and spur further off-shoring. Globalization is a fact of life, and (as Derek rightly points out) blaming foreigners is pointless.

However, continuing the "Scientist Shortage" myth is something that needs to be addressed. It gives students (foreign and domestic) the wrong idea about the prospects in our profession, and basically, it distorts the labor market with bad information.

(Incidentally, the availability of jobs in the legal profession are also highly exaggerated in this discussion. Times are actually pretty tough for law grads.)

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76. anonymous on October 4, 2008 12:24 AM writes...

I think the author is missing a point here. The author assumes that after outsourcing the routine "ethyl-methyl-futile" stuff, low wage countries will stop at that. Eventually the high end research, the hard, risky and cutting edge stuff will be taken up by current day low-wage countries. Of course wages will increase in professions like R&D in those countries gradually and then it will be merely a question of who specializes in what, ie each country might have a niche of highly specialized leaders or leading firms in a particular subarea of a field. That is because they will have acquired enough resources to experiment with cutting edge research. The US is bound to lose its monopoly over science and technology unless something dramat happens that will tip the scale in its favor.

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77. 2cents on October 4, 2008 12:35 AM writes...

Scientist shortage is not a myth but a reality. Just go to some mid to low tier program and ask them how difficult it is to recruit good domestic students. Most of the professors working there have some reasonable NIH/ NSF funding (nothing like the Ivy leagues though) but they cant recruit.

So you can either shut down these programs or deny them federal funding (create a class system based on university prestige/ ranking etc) or let them recruit some immigrant who will gladly do that work without too many issues. As always, immigrants fill the void that domestic students will not. But things appear to be changing. There appear to be a lot less chinese/ indians students who elect to stay back after they finish. There are much better jobs available back home now. For those who have lived here for a long time, they are pretty much in the same boat at the native born. They also have to compete with outsourcing.

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78. Anonymous on October 4, 2008 6:31 AM writes...

"Scientist shortage is not a myth but a reality. Just go to some mid to low tier program and ask them how difficult it is to recruit good domestic students."

Again, where are the runaway salaries that would accompany a shortage? Where are the Google-like perks thrown at their feet?

Please reread #75. The fact that recruitment is a problem means that domestic students are finding better options elsewhere. Because pay/prestige/etc. isn't rising to counter this opinion, we'll need to hire more and more foreign workers to keep salaries artificially suppressed. (I'm not arguing that foreign scientists work for less; I'm making a supply-demand argument.)

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79. Cellbio on October 4, 2008 10:08 AM writes...

Re Scientist shortage, it is true that some academic programs have difficulty recruiting students, but is there really a shortage of workers for post-education employment? A few years ago, Science published statistics on what happens to PhDs from various fields. Recalling from memory, about half of PhDs in life science leave the sciences, one quarter go to academia, and one quarter to industry. Maybe half gave up even though they had employment opportunities, but saw more fruitful paths, but maybe the career options seemed too bleak. And these stats were prior to the flood of lay-offs in recent years.

On another note, I used to manage a mid-sized group. Less than half were from the US. The rest were from everywhere, Canada, Europe, India, China, Taiwan. This team was very productive, generating 8 clinical candidates that in turn generated a lot of work for everyone in a job downstream. It matters not where they come from, just that they are the best candidate for the job.

I think outsourcing is different though. This is where I think the business analysis is too narrow. Innovation often comes from unplanned events, which will be limited for organizations that work by contract with external scientist. Scientist in organizations are more than a cost center that can be analyzed for ROI. I think management does have to reassess strategic direction, like decisions on therapeutic areas, and this will result in lay-offs, but "the suits" will never have a flash of insight that inspires his/her colleagues in a hallway.

I am convinced, however that such innovation is not readily scalable, and often hampered by the processes and centralized thinking of big companies. If you think your value is in innovation, get out of big pharma and into a small company, if there is a job to be found, of course.

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80. biologist on October 4, 2008 8:08 PM writes...

what happens if the chemical outsourcing partner in China delivers the equivalent of melamine formula? The scientists in the US will notice immediately, but will Corparate? Will Corporate still order outsourcing for political reasons, to hell with our future?

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81. biologist on October 4, 2008 8:32 PM writes...

here is another aspect of the problem. Many Chinese seem to use the worde "Dollar" and "Yuan" interchangibly. The official exchange rate is 6.8 Renminbi/Yuan for one Dollar. Think about it - if the exchange rate is artificially held at 6:1, while the purchase power is actually 1:1 or even 3:1, then there is no way that American scientists can compete with Chinese scientists. Check it out.... Wikipedia has 1.8, or a chinese scientist who makes 26% of an American scientist has the same living standard.

This means, all these discussions are very nice, but the powers that be don't want American scientists (or Europeans) to have a fair chance. Retrain to become a veterinarian I guess, America still has the greatest acreage in agriculture, something the exchange rate cannot take away.

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82. masachist on October 5, 2008 12:27 PM writes...

"Sociopaths in white lab jackets" L O L

if I had a nickle for everyone one of these I've had to endure over the years......

Let us not forget too, that the definition of a psychopath and sociopath are very different, and we are indeed talking of sociopaths here.

Sociopaths, prey upon others, are typically lazy, and misrepresent themselves, perpetuate cons etc....

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83. stat on October 5, 2008 3:20 PM writes...

"81. biologist on October 4, 2008 8:32 PM writes...
a chinese scientist who makes 26% of an American scientist has the same living standard."
If you only refer to food, that might be true. Other than food, they are quite different scenarios. For example, A person can afford a beautiful luxuary house in NJ with 100K annual salary. However, a person with 26K salary can't afford an 100-m2 apartment in Shanghai, which is more than 10K-yuan per square meter.

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84. stat on October 5, 2008 4:40 PM writes...


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85. jGault on October 5, 2008 7:44 PM writes...

Great post Derek,

Well with all of the attention this post got one could assume there is not much more to say. So I will now add to the mix.
I think what we are all struggling with is the simple reality that the discovery of novel drugs is an increadible (and from a human history perspective obscene) luxury. That's right, the idea that humans would take hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of scientists decades of research to produce one novel drug is almost unfathomible in its scope. Only the western world of the 20th century has ever had the resources to entertain such a luxurious lifestyle that it could invest in such a far reaching and expensive venture. Quite simply as we retreat from the luxury of our past century (No excuses for those who may have contributed to this downfall), drug discovery will be suplanted by other more base needs of humanity. Hopefully this will not result in a complete loss of our industry but face it we are building Cadilacs in an increasingly Hudai world.
By the way I do think Derek is right, there is only one way out if you want to continue to discover drugs, start our own companies.

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86. petros on October 6, 2008 9:03 AM writes...

And the latest Nature Review in drug Discovery has an article on drug R&D in China!

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87. processchemist on October 6, 2008 10:23 AM writes...


Are you talking about this one?

Not at all new stuff... already seen articles of this kind on C&EN. Hype backing the next wave of fast cash business.

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88. My Father is an Entrepreneur on October 6, 2008 3:13 PM writes...

To those who yell "Start your own company, you, lard-ass" - ever wonder what is the cost of NMR machine? Ever had a business plan lined up?

One can easily become freelance web designer or programmer. But in pharma the costs of starting your business as well as risks are high.

One needs:

1. Good lab space, equipment and supplies. Chemical labs are neither sandwich shoppes nor dollar stores where you can rent almost any booth with water and sewer.

2. Really bright idea that will surely work.

3. Investors who can put down $10million+ and wait for 10 years for a result.

If something goes wrong you are personally liable for all these huge monies. It's like paying five mortgages without owning any house.

4. Hope that noone will sue you for some stupid reason.

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89. Joseph Swistok on October 6, 2008 5:12 PM writes...

Your comment about out sourcing is true, not only overseas but with "small" US firms. I contracted a synthesis of an intermediate in February for delivery in May and 3 times the date as been pasted back. The latest was the end of this month. And this is with a company that's been in business 20 years. In the 90's I had a "stock item" on back order for 18 months and never did receive it. This was from an "speciality " of niche player. I also ordered from a Chinese supplier an amino acid derivative and was sent the wrong isomer. Also look at the mess with Milk and other products. They'll substitute (pentanediol for butandiol in tooth paste) and when you find out, just try and get a refund or replacement. At look at the massive toy recall last year.
Some day the bean counters will realize "cheaper is not better"

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90. anon on October 6, 2008 6:57 PM writes...

#89: True, but by then the American jobs will be long gone, and no sane American would choose chemistry as a career. It is a depressing job with only fear of losing your livlihood ("stick" of the "carrot and stick" model) as the motivation and no "carrot" to be seen for alot of us.

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91. anon on October 7, 2008 5:47 AM writes...

So, dear Yankee Doodle Dandies, what's the word? Going to conquer Iran or planning to do some chemistry?

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92. Nick K on October 7, 2008 8:53 AM writes...

Just to second the very pertinent remarks at #88 about entrepreneurship, the days when newly-unemployed chemists were able to get going on their own by renting a garage and phoning their friends still in Big Pharma for projects are long gone.

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93. Richard on October 8, 2008 11:45 AM writes...

The rationale used by many of the "saturate the market with foreign scientists" advocates seems fundamentally flawed. No doubt only a beneficiary of such policies would support the proliferation of such a destructive policy to the American citizenry.

What is absent here is a recognition of the fact the foreign scientists we graciously permit a foot-hold on our shores are the least competitive and intelligent of the global crowd.

It is clear globalist corporations aspire to use 'mass action' to inundate our land with cultural allies in an attempt to dismantle American scientific society. US institutions value neither experience or skill, seeking only to dumb down wages to enhance executive packages, expand faculty bases and placate investors. One need only observe the foibles and failures in the US pharmaceutical industry, where approx 70% of all R&D personnel are foreigners.

It is clear

1. Foreign scientists or students who come seeking 'asylum' here were not competitive in their own countries.


a)They could not gain entry into their own nations schools


b) They were not competitive in gaining employment in their native countries.

Of course if you import 5 or ten times what is required, then over time these sub-performing individuals become the norm and naturally exclude Americans from their own jobs. Oh, I'm sure here and there exist stars, who would benefit our country, but this in my experience is the exception not the rule. Thus I agree, some new immigrants are needed, but we must reduce the numbers by 1/5.

I'm sure all the foreigners will disagree with this position, as they've been steeped in the manipulative language and fictional droughts of scientific talent proliferated by the 'globalist' corporations and institutions which benefit from mass action immigration policies. I hope you enjoy the freedoms others have bought and paid for.

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94. Derek Lowe on October 8, 2008 11:57 AM writes...

Richard, I was born here in the US, and I don't think that I could disagree with you more. Your idea of the foreign scientists here being the ones that couldn't cut it at home is, as far as I can tell, almost exactly backwards.

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95. Cellbio on October 8, 2008 9:18 PM writes...

I reach the same conclusion as Derek, the best and brightest come to America, and help us grow.

Case in point:

MBL scientist Osamu Shimomura wins Nobel Prize for discovery of green fluorescent protein
Aequorea, the jellyfish from which green fluorescent protein is derived.
Click here for more information.

MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA — Osamu Shimomura, a senior scientist emeritus and Corporation member at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of green fluorescent protein (GFP)......
Born in Kyoto, Japan, on August 27, 1928, Osamu Shimomura graduated from Nagasaki College of Pharmacy in 1951 and worked as a research student in Organic Chemistry at the laboratory of Professor Hirata at Nagoya University from 1955 to 1958. He obtained his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Nagoya University in 1960. He was a research biochemist at Princeton University from 1965 to 1981, and is a professor emeritus at Boston University Medical School. ...
Osamu and Akemi Shimomura live in Falmouth, Massachusetts. They have two grown children.

A wonderfully American story.

Another point regarding the foreigner, or "what they are doing to us" discussions. A recent study showed that people who feel out of control, are more likely to see associations that don't really exist ( The blog states: "The researchers say that their experiments, which also tested people’s tendency to detect conspiracies and see superstitious lessons in stories, help explain why conspiracy theories and superstitions flourish when people are feeling out of control."

Seems very relevant to the torrent of suspicion that flows forth in these bad times.

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96. jgault on October 8, 2008 11:13 PM writes...

#88 I know exactly how much starting a company costs I am working with VC's to get one started right now. I did not say it was easy or for the timid (or for lard asses for that matter). However, one has to admit, the closing of so many facilities and projects has created some interesting opportuniites. We can let the suits get all the money or we can put our lard asses on the line, like our investors have for the last 20 years, and make something happen. My point was that I agree with Derek on this, the game has changed and no amount of whining is going to bring the old days back.

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97. Anonymous on October 9, 2008 8:17 AM writes...

#95 "Another point regarding the foreigner, or 'what they are doing to us' discussions..."

You're painting with a very broad brush. While some paranoia is bubbling to the surface, it can't all be explained away with an article you read in the New York Times.

You may be a "superstar" scientist whose work is so valuable that you have nothing to fear, but most of us here are (by definition) is the imported talent. We may have valuable skills and do our jobs well, but there are just too damn many of us right now.

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98. Cellbio on October 9, 2008 9:36 AM writes...

re #97

To be clear, even very good scientists need to worry about being "valuable" in these times. One thing I have learned is that lay-offs hardly make sense from the point of view of talent, but rather from impersonal business perspectives that drive the closure of sites or therapeutic areas.

The NYT article only offers a perspective that, to me at least, illustrates an aspect of human behavior that can explain part of the drive (sense of control) to come up with oversimplified answers to complex problems in difficult times.

Of course, the ability to understand human behavior doesn't make the job market any better, and it is very tough. I think it does help to understand that this behavior is not necessarily rooted in the darkness of racism or xenophobia, but rather in a fundamental need for understanding and control. I find it encouraging that one solution that many have suggested in this discussion is to start companies (see #88 most recently). This is a very productive manner of attempting to gain control of your work environment. Yes tough, but some will succeed.

Finally, I doubt you are mediocre. Why? I have seen so many very talented people get beat down by the general outlook now, or specific systems of big companies (reviews, talent management, other crap). Everyone, repeat, everyone I know that has stepped out of big companies has been rejuvenated and had confidence restored. I hope you get the opportunity to work in an environment where your skills are valued properly.

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99. Geek on October 9, 2008 2:40 PM writes...

The researchers say that their experiments, which also tested people’s tendency to detect conspiracies and see superstitious lessons in stories, help explain why conspiracy theories and superstitions flourish when people are feeling out of control."

That's so funny! So much for empirical evidence. In many Pharma companies hiring Americans is almost forbidden.

So I didn't see 8/10 of the scientists being Chinese at that last analytical company I worked for.

It must have been all in my head!

as to #97 comments

"there are just too damn many of us right now."

Well I have a simple solution to that one. And it doesn't involve deporting anyone. Just let all temp visas expire.

Problem for America solved. Unless of course you think you're really Chinese.

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100. Anonymous on October 13, 2008 9:19 AM writes...

"Problem for America solved."

The solution isn't so easy. Take away the larger talent pool, and the cost of research rises. That naturally will drive further outsourcing and offshoring to cut costs.

The "problem" won't be solved until an equilibrium is reached. Labor costs overseas have to raise, and costs here have to decrease.

Personally, I'm keeping my eyes open for new career paths because the lab is increasingly looking like a dead end.

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101. Cynthia on October 14, 2008 5:21 PM writes...

"Take away the larger talent pool, and the cost of research rises. That naturally will drive further outsourcing and offshoring to cut costs."

Only if we allow companies to off-shore. No, we need to scream at our politicians. Have them raise tariff barriers and cut off the ability of US corps to hide in China. Quite frankly, it's obvious our corporate elites are playing a different game than the rest of us. They seek to enhance quarterly profits for short term gain.

P.S -there is no shortage of American talent. Only a shortage of Americans to hire them.

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