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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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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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January 28, 2010

A Scorched-Earth Policy at Wyeth's Princeton Site?

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Posted by Derek

This information comes to me secondhand, so I'm not sure how accurate it is. I hope it turns out not to be true. A correspondent writes to me that he's spoken this week to someone who had recently been at the former Wyeth site in Princeton, which is in the process of shutting down. The usual practice is for industrial research sites to make surplus equipment available to academic labs and the like, but the report is that this isn't happening in this case.

Instead, glassware is just being broken and tossed, along with a lot of other equipment, and the entire chemical reagent collection is supposedly going to be carted off by a waste disposal firm for incineration. That must be the commercially available stuff on the shelves - sometimes it's not worth the paperwork and trouble to send those on somewhere else, but sometimes it is. But the glassware and equipment definitely shouldn't be going to waste, but from the sound of this report, that's just what's happening.

Can anyone add details to this? Are the people closing down that site really just heaving everything into dumpsters?

Comments (31) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Current Events


1. chemoptoplex on January 28, 2010 11:37 AM writes...

Grad student crying at the thought of all that stuff just being thrown away. Anyone want to go in with me on a U-Haul and a road trip to Princeton for some dumpster diving?

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2. J-bone on January 28, 2010 12:17 PM writes...

Speaking on the paperwork issue, I can attest to this firsthand from the university end. We were generously given chemicals from a company that closed its doors and the hoops we had to jump through were just unbelievable. There was a point where we actually considered just giving up, our EH&S dept was telling us we'd have to hire lab pack specialists to package and ship everything, and that company quoted us a 3-day process costing $10K.....for chemicals that would cost ~$5K.

Finally, after 2-3 weeks of e-mails, phone calls, and safety meetings, they agreed to let us pick up the chemicals ourselves because they had already been packed, but we had to rent a pickup truck so the chemicals didn't ride in the same compartment as us and we were to keep EH&S informed of every step we made. When we showed up to grab this monumental gift, we received a small 1-gallon plastic drum and two medium sized boxes, all of which would have fit in the trunk of a small sedan. Very unsatisfying considering how much battling we did for them, the hype was way excessive.

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3. eh? on January 28, 2010 12:20 PM writes...

I work in a CRO which benefited from equipment and glassware after GSK restructuring in the UK. All GSK asked for was that we made a donation to charity, which we did. It really saddens me to hear about this - it just sounds like whoever is in charge just can't be bothered to co-ordinate giving the stuff away.

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4. Dustinator on January 28, 2010 12:39 PM writes...

One could imagine corporate attorneys and safety experts thinking there might be liability issues for giving away the glassware and the like.

If nothing else, they should at least recycle the glass, such as is done in most communities.

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5. Dustinator on January 28, 2010 12:43 PM writes...

In a related issue, our university just built a new research building across a city street from the campus. Since it is across a city street, transport of chemicals from the main campus to the new building (and vice versa) by cart, person, car, etc. is forbidden. I guess they have a special shipping company that does it.

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6. RB Woodweird on January 28, 2010 12:50 PM writes...

@Dustinator - Transport across a public street tosses you into a big nother world of regulatory hurt. We used to carry radioactive materials across a dinky Boston sidestreet from one building to another. Because we were crossing a public way, DOT regulations had to be followed: packaging container and labeling, wipe testing, etc. Just the same as if it were being taking across state lines.

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7. Hap on January 28, 2010 1:00 PM writes...

Wouldn't it have just been cheaper to build a tunnel between the buildings under the street? In some places, it can't be done, but I would think it could be done in NJ.

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8. Skeptic on January 28, 2010 1:07 PM writes...

"Instead, redundant employees are just being broken and tossed, along with a lot of other people, and the entire human resources collection is supposedly going to be carted off by a waste disposal firm for incineration."

There, fixed that for ya.

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9. Hap on January 28, 2010 1:14 PM writes...

They don't break employees (too much work, unless it happens in the course of their jobs), and incineration is out because of pollution concerns. Landfill space is expensive, though, so I don't know what they'd do with the employees.

Yard sale?

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10. sgcox on January 28, 2010 1:15 PM writes...

AZ is firing 8K people...

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11. Anonymous on January 28, 2010 1:44 PM writes...

I heard that the potential liabilities and hassle associated with donating things outweighed the potential benefit (if any) to Pfizer for doing so, and so people were told to throw most things away. Not sure if this applies only to glassware and reagents, or also to more expensive instruments. I heard that in one of Pfizer's previous acquisitions, they spent a lot of money to ship instrumentation to Groton, where it just sat around in storage until it became obsolete, and then it was thrown out.

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12. Chris on January 28, 2010 2:19 PM writes...

The whole health and safety issue has stymied a number of gifts to universities that a number of companies that I know of were hoping to make.

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13. Anonymous on January 28, 2010 2:53 PM writes...

These bean counters seem to fail to understand the actual probability of a health & safety incident or for that matter the ability to weigh that potential cost against the 100% probability of benefiting a local school. And we all pay when chemicals are unnecessarily incinerated. Our company had a similar shutdown and I very proud to say we were able to take the greater good path and donate a bolus of small equipment, glassware and the entire reagent collection to the university. The reagent donation actually saved us over $50k.

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14. Ty on January 28, 2010 4:04 PM writes...

The HSE thing is growing autonomously out of proportion, getting detached from the real-life work-front (like HR had). What was made to serve has generated its own lifeform and become another governing body. Just curious. How/why have people become so paranoia about a little cut or chemical burn in the lab while it's perfectly normal to break a bone playing football?

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15. Jose on January 28, 2010 4:40 PM writes...

The general thought pattern here:

Process glassware => clandestine drug labs, so it gets smashed.
Chemicals => long term liabilities, so everything gets incinerated.
Notebooks and data => We'll pretend to keep it for safekeeping.
Everything else? Not worth moving.

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16. Mark on January 28, 2010 8:10 PM writes...

Not surprising at all.

#11 is correct, a TON of stuff was moved to Groton and never used.

If you could have seen the chemicals and glassware that was disposed of during the closure of Pfizer's Ann Arbor site, you'd be amazed. But the fact is, when it comes down to $$$, it's the cheapest option.


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17. IANAL on January 28, 2010 8:23 PM writes...

Has nobody ever heard of a waiver? Something like: "By accepting this gift I hereby release Pfizer or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates from any liability for any damages the item(s) received may cause." Or are the lawyers too busy finding ways to avoid paying severance to do a little work that would help society AND get the company a potentially sizeable tax break?

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18. coprolite on January 28, 2010 8:25 PM writes...

DOT regulations really should be met when transporting radioactive materials. I think radioactive/toxic material handling (and lab safety in general) is something that a lot of people roll their eyes at and joke about. It isn't a joke, everyone should take pride in following the rules, they were made for a reason. Remember the story from a year ago about the grad student at UCLA that died? Things like that happen because the rules aren't followed (God bless her soul, I am by no means pointing fingers, that could have happened to me). Nothing upsets me as much as seeing sales/marketing guys in the lab doing assays with no lab coats on. Have respect for the lab, and have respect for the rules that govern it.

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19. SRC on January 28, 2010 9:20 PM writes...

Has nobody ever heard of a waiver? Something like: "By accepting this gift I hereby release Pfizer or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates from any liability for any damages the item(s) received may cause."

IANAL either, but my understanding is that such waivers are not as dispositive as one might think. So from the coporate view, it's upside: nonexistent, downside: unknown but potentially huge.

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20. Jose on January 28, 2010 10:28 PM writes...

Waivers are 100% bogus. They have no real legal status, and only serve to make one think twice before suing. If someone is negligent, a waiver is no protection. For this reason, all big companies insist all of their chem waste is *incinerated* and logged as such, and can never "rise from the grave."

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21. bcpmoon on January 29, 2010 2:00 AM writes...

At my site it is easier to ship hazardous material to china and back than from one building to another, just because in the former case its transport regulations (known) and the the latter the whim of a clerk in the townhall (unknown). The resulting "don´t ask don´t tell" philosophy is not so ESH-friendly either.

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22. sepisp on January 29, 2010 9:36 AM writes...

Recently a company was being merged into another close to our university. Now the problem was that the new management wanted a reshuffle of the working space to destroy the distinct identity of the site, and consequently, the space taken by the library was to be reused. The result was that they incinerated one of the best collections (nationally) of paper journals in their subspeciality. Many of these weren't available electronically at all, even not the abstracts. I was called to save a few scraps, but since they had a one-day deadline, saving most of it was impossible, especially given that our university library refused them because of lack of space.

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23. Dr Mandy Bennett on January 30, 2010 9:32 PM writes...

I hope the scorched earth story at Wyeth is not true. I teach organic chem. at Kean University, NJ and we are in need of an IR that does not break down and an NMR the undergrads could use. Not to mention everyday glassware, syringes etc. I have a minivan and would be happy to load up any extras up for my students. Apart from the fume hoods my lab looks painfully similar to Thomas Edison's.

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24. Concerned_chemist on January 31, 2010 6:55 AM writes...

And I thought it was only the UK that was being strangled by inflexible EHS regulations.

Stories like this make me weep.

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25. hibob on January 31, 2010 8:44 PM writes...

material transport ... back in the day I used to have access to a synthesizer on the opposite side of campus, and said synthesizer required a regular diet of several liters a day of DMF and DCM. So I ended up driving 4x4 liter cases over in my trunk at night, when there was no trouble getting parking near each building. I kept waiting for something to go wrong, such as security at my building actually noticing. "hey, um, it's the middle of the night, why are you taking cases of solvent out of that storage bunker and loading them into your car and driving away?"
But I think they were used to seeing grad students doing dumber stuff than that.

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26. starvingchemist on January 31, 2010 11:25 PM writes...

when the biotech I was at shut my site, I shuttled at least 20K worth of chems, and at least as much again in supplies and equipment to a grad student friend. They paid 50K+ to dispose of the chems I didn't have time to get, but most of the big analytical stuff was kept. It was neither with or without mgt approval, something similar to bcpmoons don't ask - don't tell I guess.

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27. Rick Chambers on February 1, 2010 8:43 AM writes...

This is Rick Chambers, representing Pfizer’s External Affairs & Communications. I appreciate this opportunity to correct some misunderstandings in this report.

When closing a site, Pfizer disposes of assets according to a strict policy that emphasizes reuse, sale or donation. Our first priority is to redeploy equipment to other Pfizer sites where there is a need. What we cannot redeploy we evaluate for sale to other research firms, typically through a third party such as an online auction. That money is turned back into our research programs. Whatever items aren’t appropriate for sale are evaluated for possible donation, first to universities and research organizations with whom we have relationships, and then to others such as high-school science labs.

This policy has been very effective. It ensures that Pfizer makes the best use of its assets both internally and externally, and it reduces waste. For example, when the company closed major R&D facilities in Michigan in 2008, it ended up donating more than $6 million worth of surplus equipment and supplies to biotech startups, universities, high schools and middle schools across the state. This was after it redeployed much of the equipment within Pfizer.

Pfizer has a strong commitment to minimize its impact on the environment, so throwing items away is our last resort. However, sometimes we must do so for practicality and safety. Used glassware, for example, is not something we would redeploy or donate — it breaks easily, and there is always the possibility that some of it won’t be clean enough for others to use. When we do discard supplies, it’s done according to strict regulatory requirements.

I hope this clarifies Pfizer’s policy on disposing of assets.

Rick Chambers
External Affairs & Communications
Pfizer Inc

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28. Jose on February 1, 2010 9:10 AM writes...

Thanks Rick! Glad to hear PFE has such a strong commitment to financial, social, and ethical responsibility; it's truly a breath of fresh air to hear that a corporation is "Working for a healthier world!"©

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29. CrazyDave on February 1, 2010 9:30 AM writes...

Rick Chambers,
Is it true that since Novartis will be headed by a former ketchup man, and Pfizer is run by a former hamburger lawyer, the stage is set for a merger?

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30. LiqC on February 2, 2010 8:37 PM writes...

Used glassware, for example, is not something we would redeploy or donate as it breaks easily

Luckily for us, someone at a South-Western Pfizer site thought differently.

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31. rod on April 22, 2010 9:43 AM writes...

This is true of all the former Wyeth research sites being shutdown by Pfizer (Pfired). This company wouldn't give a dying man a drink of water. They are not only tossing glassware and chemicals they are also disposing of office furniture such as filing cabinets, chairs, etc. They layed off the researcher and tossed the equipment. They didn't want to merge with Wyeth. They just wanted to eliminate a competitor. And they did it all with job stimulus loans.

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