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

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Johnson May Have Been On to Something | Main | And on the Carl Icahn Front. . . »

February 1, 2010

GSK: More Cuts Coming

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Over the weekend I received word from several people about impending trouble at GlaxoSmithKline. A big worldwide management hoedown, the "First Line Leader" meeting which was to take place in Atlanta this week, has been abruptly canceled. The company's upper management has informed the erstwhile attendees that since financial results will be announced this Thursday, and since this announcement might have an impact on staffing (might?, they thought it was better that all the reporting teams be together for it.

Several European newspapers have since come out with word that several thousand cuts are going to be announced, but I have no more details on what's going to happen. I suppose we're all going to find out on Thursday, though. Stand by for what's going to seem like a long week if you're at GSK, and best of luck to you if you are.

Comments (84) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. David on February 1, 2010 9:59 AM writes...

Looks like 4,000 cuts, according to articles published today, mostly in Europe and the US. GSK is going to put more resources into its growth markets (ie, Asia).

With all the "resources", including jobs, going to Asia, why does the US consumer continue to pay more than the rest of the world for these company's products? The pharma companies already benefit from the tremendous publicly funded research paid for by NIH grant dollars (which in turn are funded by US taxpayers), which lays much of the groundwork for their R&D programs, yet the US consumer pays premium costs relative to the rest of the world. Something is disconnected here.

Permalink to Comment

2. Anon on February 1, 2010 10:02 AM writes...

A lot of the cuts are predicted to be R&D. You can guess who won't get the axe - that is right, the Sirtris folks. Cos then management would be admitting they made a mistake...
Isn't it great they way that GSK staff have to find out about impending job cuts through the press?

Permalink to Comment

3. Hap on February 1, 2010 10:41 AM writes...

I guess I'm just cynical, but I am wondering if the cutting of jobs in the US and Europe has less to do with the potential for market growth in developing countries and more to do with the lower cost of labor in said countries (and potential revenue growth for someone's stock options).

I can only hope I'll be eating the words ten years hence and we'll actually have a pharma industry.

Permalink to Comment

4. MedInformaticsMD on February 1, 2010 10:46 AM writes...

As I wrote at Pfizer/Wyeth Merger And Sacrificing The Future: Laying Off Scientific Staff All Over The Place:

Merging with other companies and laying off staff (instead of keeping them, hiring more of the best, and repairing the defective environment that distracts them from their work) is apparently the only "solution" that non biomedical business managers in this industry can proffer. They ... suffer a lack of creativity in thought and application.

I ask: how can anyone be of good cheer and work at their best when every stock fluctuation is met with people getting the axe? Especially when the job market is so brutal at this point in time?

What are these layoff-happy executives thinking? Are they thinking? Can they think in anything other than the short term? Are they destroying the industry?

Permalink to Comment

5. PharmaHeretic on February 1, 2010 10:49 AM writes...


We may not have a pharma industry capable of any innovation at this rate. An increasing number of senior researchers may never get rehired, and the ones in training might decide to change course.

Hopefully, people will wake up and give MBAs and most corporate Lawyers their just rewards. Who knows..

Permalink to Comment

6. dearieme on February 1, 2010 11:19 AM writes...

There was a Golden Age of drug discovery. It is long past. The means by which this is acknowledged are messy and painful, but there it is.

Permalink to Comment

7. Used_to_give_a_damn on February 1, 2010 11:20 AM writes...

The damage this is causing in morale alone is immeasureable. When I started a few years back I felt a fierce loyalty to GSK - now I genuinely couldn't care less. It's obvious that senior management are incapable of planning more than 4 weeks ahead. They lurch from ill thought out decision to hastily pasted together 'initiative', all the while knocking increasing amounts of loyalty and drive out of their staff.

This round will prove costly, of that I am sure. Many of the brightest minds (of which there are many still at GSK) will leave, either by volunteering or (if denied) under their own steam. That leaves the mediocre - precisely who you don't want there.

Jeez it actually makes me feel sad more than anything. I used to feel pissed off, but that stage has long passed...

Permalink to Comment

8. Greg on February 1, 2010 12:09 PM writes...

Good thing GSK spent $10 Million on 2 worthless meetings in January to tell the salespeople how transparent the company is going to be with them. How many jobs would $10 million of saved?

Permalink to Comment

9. Industry guy on February 1, 2010 12:41 PM writes...


40 jobs for 1 year. FTE = $250K/year on average (all costs)

Permalink to Comment

10. Quintus on February 1, 2010 12:42 PM writes...

I feel for the people at GSK. Once again senior management has proved itself incapable of anything but optimising short term interests at the expense of their most valuable resource. Hap is correct, it is purely the lower labour costs in these countries driving this.
I wonder when the bubble will burst, especially in China.
Damm all senior managers and their vast salaries

Permalink to Comment

11. oldtimer on February 1, 2010 1:16 PM writes...

Yes the golden age has passed, I remember it well but it was still a high risk business. Its passing does not obviate the fact that there are still medical challenges that a healthy pharma can face. Virtual pharma won't do it, seeking out the cheapest place to do chemistry won't do it either.

Permalink to Comment

12. Barber Shoppe on February 1, 2010 2:06 PM writes...

Ah, another year, another cull - the fifth in 10 years for some small-molecule folks at GSK.
Expect the really good scientists to be heading for the door this time....

Permalink to Comment

13. herewegoagain on February 1, 2010 2:34 PM writes...

I am furious and so should be the shareholders.
Over the last 2 years Slaoui & Vallance have shown their arrogance and total lack of drug discovery understanding by denegrating internal science and indulging in expensive externalization on the whim of a panel of high-falutin' academic clinicians with no industry experience. Before I left I saw the results in the Sirtris debacle and in the disintegration of all organization within R&D. China and India is cheap, but these clowns at the top are incapable of recognising the value of the experience and knowhow that they had (and still have, somehow) within GSK. In two years they've almost wrecked what was becoming a very efficient and forward-thinking R&D organisation before they took over. Shareholders should be furious at the long-term damage done and should demand their resignations. Please, just go now!

Permalink to Comment

14. CMCguy on February 1, 2010 2:51 PM writes...

#9 that $250K figure is a general FTE rate however looking at the previous GSK CEO he received $6M Total Compensation for 2008 (latest found) plus noted will get $4.9M in 2010 as his Parachute (Pt?).

Permalink to Comment

15. Hap on February 1, 2010 2:55 PM writes...

I hope his parachute is platinum - preferably either solid or mesh.

Permalink to Comment

16. Anonymous on February 1, 2010 3:14 PM writes...

@ Barber Shoppe - "Expect the really good scientists to be heading for the door this time...."

I think you're really naive if you think that they kept only their "really good scientists" in the previous "culls". Trust me, they let go of many "really good scientists" in favor of keeping the psychophants in the last rounds.

Permalink to Comment

17. emjeff on February 1, 2010 3:22 PM writes...

#7 you have it right; apparently, GSK is now planning quarter by quarter, lurching from one decision to the next based on short-term numbers. There was supposed to be a 3 year plan, but that is out the window.

Anyone feel "empowered" yet?

Permalink to Comment

18. Hap on February 1, 2010 3:33 PM writes...

5: Lots of those people had a hand in nearly sinking the world economy and costing multiple trillions of dollars. If they haven't been burned in effigy (at least) yet, I'm not certain that destroying the pharma industry will yield them any of their vitriol their actions merit. By the time any rage registers, they will, like the "terrorists" in Die Hard, be "on a beach, earning twenty percent".

Permalink to Comment

19. Barber Shoppe on February 1, 2010 3:37 PM writes...

re. Anomymous
Absolutely did not mean that they kept ONLY their really good scientists last time - the triage last year was truly insane. It's just that those ones who somehow did keep their jobs have now just lost all hope...

Permalink to Comment

20. Hap on February 1, 2010 3:55 PM writes...

Are there legal reasons (insider trading) why the financial results are kept from the rest of the company? It seems both wasteful of money (which you would have rather spent elsewhere) and an obvious message to the rest of the world when you suddenly cancel a mass meeting like this instead of (for example) not scheduling it at all? (Not having layoffs announced by the press rather than your own people might be nice, too.)

In addition, if you think that the financial results are dependent on quarter-to-quarter variations in activity, it would seem that you would want shorter-term financial guidance for management, to have an opportunity to change bad quarterly results before they happen. (That would probably lead to chaos here, but since you've already decided that that doesn't matter, you might as well follow your logic to its logical conclusion.)

Permalink to Comment

21. Dr Remulac on February 1, 2010 3:58 PM writes...

#13 is right on. GSK is doomed.

Permalink to Comment

22. Karen on February 1, 2010 4:23 PM writes...

When I was laid off from GSK back in mid-2008, it seemed clear that more layoffs were on the way. (Some people said it outright, others said "yay, everything's great!" but the "reorganization plans" never made much sense in the long term.) GSK was also fairly blunt about what they were planning in terms of outsourcing - they said they were planning to invest over 50% of every group's research budget on "external resources" which is a fancy word for "sending it to China". It's a major reason I didn't even try to keep my job and why I decided to leave pharma altogether shortly thereafter.

I wonder how long it will take before the whole chemistry research industry starts suffering greatly. Pharma can outsource their drug research overseas, but they still depend on research being done in academia - and research done in academia depends on a pool of grad students and post docs to do the work. If the jobs disappear, eventually the grad students will disappear (even foreign students - why come to the US to study if the jobs are all back home?) Then academic research will suffer, which will eventually lead to less innovation on the pharma side. (It doesn't seem like Chinese academic research can pick up the slack yet, although maybe it will.) But this process may take 20 years or more before it gets so bad that the CEO's pay attention.

Permalink to Comment

23. Greg Hlatky on February 1, 2010 4:24 PM writes...

"I hope his parachute is platinum - preferably either solid or mesh."

Or shaped like an anvil.

Permalink to Comment

24. UKchem on February 1, 2010 5:04 PM writes...

In the UK we constantly hear the government tell us how science and technology is the future of our economy. Unfortunately chemistry, biology etc has little future when AZ and GSK do their very best to destroy our employment prospects.

Permalink to Comment

25. Anonymous on February 1, 2010 5:20 PM writes...

From the London Times: "Overall, the market is expecting Witty to reveal pre-tax profits of £8.7 billion, an 11.7% increase on the previous year’s total. Group sales are predicted to rise 16% to £28.2 billion."

Seems that the only people who take risks in big pharma are the employees. There was a time when publically traded companies had some obligation to their employees. IMO, there should be laws that prohibit profitable companies from eliminating staff. And I would also argue that it should be illegal for executives to get bonuses if any staff in their line management were victims of "redundancy". So Witty, Slaoui and Valance and all those VPs would get zero bonus.

GSK let go of ~6000 employees last year and now another 4000 will go this year. Laws like that might take the wind out of the sails of some of these cretins. I hope there's a special place in hell reserved for Pharma executives... and I hope it's a very hot spot.

Permalink to Comment

26. Hap on February 1, 2010 5:28 PM writes...

I'd just be happier if the stock options they got were actually connected to the price they cost everyone else, so that their pay at least in part depended on the success of the companies they run, and preferably its long-term success (through longer-term vesting of the options). Without a long-term stake, they have little incentive not to layoff, take the bump in the stock price, and sell their shares, thus making their company weaker but themselves wealthier. Alternatively, I could always hope that investors stop assuming that "layoffs = more profit", unless it's somehow true (I don't think it is but don't know).

Permalink to Comment

27. Me on February 1, 2010 7:07 PM writes...

Pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer, GSK, or Merck etc.) spent the money to build infrastructures (buildings or factories: 100-600 millions) in China or India and has trained those workers in those countries to become experts in the field (PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT). One day, we (AMERICAN) cannot compete with them anymore because we have no jobs and cannot practice the skills. We will not know HOW to manufacture the goods (chemicals or drugs). Too bad!

Permalink to Comment

28. A on February 1, 2010 8:16 PM writes...

Hold on people, What would you do if you were running the company. Shift investment to more profitable areas, yes indeed. But, we seem to have forgotten that the society expects the Pharmaceutical companies to produce medicines. I may be among the few who will be laid-off this Thursday. But, if they can produce just one medicine that helps someone, it will all be worth it.

Permalink to Comment

29. Hap on February 1, 2010 8:34 PM writes...

They're businesses, there to make money. The problem, though, is that laying off people to save money doesn't make them more capable of producing medicines or profit.

It doesn't address any of the potential structural problems that have made them less productive than they'd like to be, but diminishes their capacity to be productive (by destroying morale, loyalty, and the internal knowledge they paid to acquire while not making the remaining people more productive). The disruption, whether necessary or not, is costly, but if you don't have any idea what'll you'll get from it, well....the military term is Charlie-Fox.

Layoffs without a plan also don't address the people who organized the company and who presumably will still be organizing the outsourced replacements - firing the soldiers and leaving the generals in place seems both unfair and counterproductive, whatever your goal.

The people who will be employed elsewhere to make medicines are likely to be cheaper, but I don't think anyone knows whether they will be more productive for the amount of revenue they create. If that isn't true, then outsourcing exposes you to lots of risk and doesn't necessarily make your company better. It does, however, enhance stock price, at least temporarily, and benefits the people who have lots of stock. Everyone else, though...

Firing people to save yourself in the short term only works when the conditions from which you hope to save yourself are likely to change eventually - since no one seems to know how to make pharma better, and laying people off doesn't generate new products, that hope seems to be nonexistent, and layoffs aren't likely to be effective.

Permalink to Comment

30. forewarned on February 1, 2010 9:40 PM writes...

The bleeding of jobs to China will not end until China allows labor unions, so that their working conditions and pay comes up to par with countries such as India or Brazil. Meanwhile, our only sensible action is to unionize ourselves.

Permalink to Comment

31. Anonymous on February 1, 2010 9:49 PM writes...

Noble sentiments A (post #28) but ask yourself how many drugs will patients receive as a consequence of your unemployemnt. Do you really believe that firing you will lead to a new drug? If you do, you would be the only person I've ever known to suggest that (which makes me suspect you're a management foil).

To answer your question as to what I would do if I were running the company, the answer is obvious. Currently the pharmaceutical business invests ~16-18% of their revenues in R&D. Given the product, that is insufficient. It's all too obvious and no one wants to admit it. Unlike software or motor vehicles, the investment in R&D for this industry must far exceed other industries. Suck it up and make the change. And I don't think that China or India, who have never, ever generated a drug in their histories, is the solution. If they can't analyze a mass spec that tells them they have the wrong mass or an HPLC & NMR analysis that shows that their product is garbage, why would you expect them to discover a drug? I know. I had a group of them "reporting" to me on one of the projects I worked on at the employer subject of this post. To say that they were substandard by Western standards would be an understatement. They have decades to catch up and we won't be there to train them shortly.

If that one medicine you mention comes from China or India, then your remark will be avenged. But you'd be a fool to bet your career on that.

Permalink to Comment

32. FreeAtLast on February 1, 2010 9:58 PM writes...

I feel for anyone still at GSK. I joined at the tail end of the SB days and it was just such a great place to work. I decided during the 2008 layoff round to get out. I have landed in a much better place, outside of pharma and it was by far one of the best decisions of my life. In the last year or two at the company, it felt more like a prison than a job. Life is too short to put up with the abuses and I'm a much happier person now that I'm out. Best of luck to current GSK employees, but the best thing they can probably do for you is give you a package and send you on your way.

Permalink to Comment

33. You wish you knew who I am on February 1, 2010 10:31 PM writes...

Speculation is that Salami and Valence are out.

Permalink to Comment

34. Anonymous BMS Researcher on February 1, 2010 11:00 PM writes...

Like most folks who've been in this industry for a while, I've seen several waves of layoffs. I personally have been sacked once in my career -- back in 1985 but it still is a traumatic memory. And a number of good friends have been laid off in the last few years, some multiple times. At least for the most recent wave at BMS in late 2008 I learned it was coming from inside the company before my wife heard of it from outside the company (as actually happened with a previous wave at BMS)!

Permalink to Comment

35. Anonymous on February 2, 2010 1:17 AM writes...

#33 "speculation...."
As if that would solve any of the problems of a demotivated workforce - the damage is done and probably irreparable.
#34 " decision of my life....more like a is too short to put up with the abuses.....much happier...."
I went through a similar rebirth, phoenix-like, and was overjoyed to end my near-dependence on anti-psychotics and sleeping pills to boot!
I wonder what GSK will do when all the research scientists want to leave.....who could stay now?

Permalink to Comment

36. milkshake on February 2, 2010 2:08 AM writes...

#36: as someone who was recently fired after a period of frustration and anxiety I can totally understand your relief. But these days when one loses a job he has a pretty serious problem with finding a new one and with selling house at rather steep loss.

I have a friend who ended up separated from his family in this way and he commutes from LA to SF every weekend. he can keep the house and see his daughters at least over the weekend but he is tired like a dog.

Myself, I got recently an invitation to send my resume to a custom synthesis company that was hiring. Then it turned out they would not pay for the airline ticket for a job interview (domestic flight) and they admit that they do not pay people too much, and they do not have NMR on the site and journal access and Beilstein / Scifinder. How I am supposed to do GMP kilo-lab scale-ups under these conditions is not clear to me.

Permalink to Comment

37. Anonymous on February 2, 2010 2:37 AM writes...

#36 I have read your painful story on your blog. Yes, it can be really traumatic.
I was incredibly fortunate. Several pharma main offices within the inner city limits; moved directly from a dysfunctional to a 'can-do' similar department within 4 weeks; and literally just a one-stop difference in commute route.
BTW when I visited my 'new' API facility, the first thing they wanted to show me was their s-o-t-a nmr machine ....something I lobbied years for, without success, at my previous company.
What an eye-opener! The contrast in attitude couldn't be starker!

Permalink to Comment

38. Andy on February 2, 2010 3:52 AM writes...

I do like the word 'psychophants'. Not sure if it was deliberate or not, but they definitely seem like people to avoid.

Permalink to Comment

39. Anonymous on February 2, 2010 4:29 AM writes...

Divided we the hypocrisy of self preservation......on both sides of the closed boardroom door.
Its mean and fierce out there just now.

Permalink to Comment

40. processchemist on February 2, 2010 5:28 AM writes...

I'm not the biggest GSK fan, to use a polite periphrase. The process with the cuts of internal R&D spendig follows a similar action taken about external R&D about 3 years ago (I'm talking about custom chemistry services). It was pretty painful for many western companies, and not only the smallest ones.
Maybe an accountant can see the whole thing as the same volume of chemistry for one fifth of the former cost, but if the total mass is equivalent I think that the grade of the current one is pretty lower.

Permalink to Comment

41. Ed on February 2, 2010 5:35 AM writes...

"Interesting" development being reported -

Pfizer is obviously wanting to downsize the number of directly employed UK-based chemistry people (on a Pfizer salary scale), replacing them with significantly cheaper Peakdale people.

Permalink to Comment

42. BaldonARSE on February 2, 2010 6:04 AM writes...

No site is safe, everyone thinks Harlow/RTP are in the radar, but there may be smaller fish to plunder first........

Permalink to Comment

43. Anonymous on February 2, 2010 6:05 AM writes...


"Dr Tony Wood, Vice President, Pfizer World-Wide Medicinal Chemistry said: “Synthetic organic chemistry sits at the centre of drug discovery""


Permalink to Comment

44. Anon on February 2, 2010 6:20 AM writes...

So Pfizer have just made redundant a whole load of their own experienced synthetic people and replaced them with cheap contractors. Nice. However, at least they replaced them with cheap UK contractors rather than wholesale outsourcing to China/India.

Permalink to Comment

45. Anon on February 2, 2010 7:08 AM writes...

"So Pfizer have just made redundant a whole load of their own experienced synthetic people and replaced them with cheap contractors. Nice. However, at least they replaced them with cheap UK contractors rather than wholesale outsourcing to China/India."

Pfizer's Chinese and Indian outsourcing is huge and easily dwarfs their in house capability Rumour is the Peakdale move is aimed at creating a "science park" in preparation for the closure of Sandwich.

Permalink to Comment

46. Anon the mouse on February 2, 2010 7:38 AM writes...

AZ/GSK/Pfizer etc - all UK/US-based companies. I may have missed them doing it, but why are the German/Swiss companies not going down a similar path? Are their pipelines & books that much stronger, or are they simply a little slower to wield the ax?

For example, I read that Novartis were one of the biggest investors in China (new research facilities etc), but they are still hiring heavily in Basel. Do people that they end up shedding lots of Western jobs too?

Permalink to Comment

47. oldtimer on February 2, 2010 7:50 AM writes...

Anon the mouse.

It is possible that this is because in Europe in general employment law is more protective of the worker. Lets see how many get let go from Italy vs UK/US. Last time they clearly won out.

Re Vallance et al, while there have been some successful switches from Academia to Pharma, Merck in particular, there are problems with the cultural change that many fail to overcome. Academic smarts is not a guarantee of success.

Permalink to Comment

48. Sili on February 2, 2010 8:27 AM writes...

Are there any companies out there worth supporting/rooting for? Or are they all crap?

Milkshake, I hope you find something. The RSC recently asked for people to review crystallographic submissions for them. I thought it sounded like a nice job, but unfortunately they expected one to have access to the databases, oneself. (As well as a back-up infrastructure/staff in case of illness or delays.)

I suspect I'll never get a job in industry at this rate.

Permalink to Comment

49. Johnny Bravo on February 2, 2010 8:31 AM writes...

So now that I've ruined my life by getting a PhD in organic chemistry, what's there for me to do after I finish my postdoc?

Permalink to Comment

50. SoL Postdoc on February 2, 2010 8:38 AM writes...

I second that, year in and looking, no bites. Good use of 9 years of my life!

Permalink to Comment

51. Industry Guy on February 2, 2010 8:44 AM writes...

Johnny Bravo-

Get a law degree for patent work and u'll write ur own ticket. Especially with the upcoming wave of biologics patents and the inevitable cases against Chinese and Indian companies once they "discover" drugs of their own....

Permalink to Comment

52. fungus on February 2, 2010 9:04 AM writes...

Re: China

Hack, joke, or metaphor. Take your pick:

Permalink to Comment

53. SoL Postdoc on February 2, 2010 9:15 AM writes...

#51) Glivec / Gleevec, anyone?

Permalink to Comment

54. David P on February 2, 2010 9:37 AM writes...

Wow, just wow. I didn't think GSK had that much more they could cut.

I shouldn't read these stories, they are really bad for my motivation, though I am not working for Big Pharma.

Permalink to Comment

55. Johnny Bravo on February 2, 2010 9:53 AM writes...

Industry Guy:

I've already thought about this. If the going gets tough, I'm probably going to entertain this option.

I should have listened to my dad back in the day when he suggested I go to pharmacy school and become a retail pharmacist. The job may suck, but at least it's secure.

Permalink to Comment

56. mrtwoiron on February 2, 2010 10:20 AM writes...

As for GSK - I used to be an employee -- now i'm an INVESTOR in GSK.
cut costs --
damn the expensive jackass senior managers---
get the share price up---

Permalink to Comment

57. losthorizons on February 2, 2010 10:45 AM writes...

the Swiss have a good social network, laying off is not easy or cheap. as per the Swiss, Roche rebought Genentech- the everlasting life of a biologic and the nothing in the pipeline of small molecules

Permalink to Comment

58. quintus on February 2, 2010 1:51 PM writes...

Anon the mouse: sure Novartis are hiring, but not heavily. They built up a massive presence in China, which, in my opinion is a BIG mistake.
The jobs are not being created in Basel but elsewhere

Permalink to Comment

59. Kismet on February 2, 2010 7:32 PM writes...

What's the difference between "academic" and non-academic smarts? ("industry" smarts?)

Permalink to Comment

60. cliffintokyo on February 2, 2010 8:50 PM writes...

Some academics who move to industry cannot get used to the management manouvering that is essential in a company, although they are usually good leaders, and seen as good leaders, for the research group and its projects, by the research staff, because they are in sympathy with the research mode of operation and ethic.
In short, such people want to concentrate on research, not waste time engaging in politics.
In consequence they are often perceived by senior management as *not fitting in* and *not committed* because they don't play the *same* game, or in the same (self-aggrandising) way.

Permalink to Comment

61. Opabinia on February 3, 2010 9:05 AM writes...

I posted this a few days ago to a UK newspaper blog, just re-iterates much of the above:
think we are witnessing the slow death of GSK in Europe and N. America. This type of news is now an annual event.
Speaking as some one who worked for GSK and its pre-merger predecessors for more than 10 years, I'm not surprised by the latest announcement. The SB-GW merger was a disaster, a decade later all its promises have proved illusory. When I left two years ago, R&D was totally demoralised and the re-structuring made matters much worse. Morale was shattered with a lot of people hanging in for either retirement or redundancy. The distribution of work was totally uneven with some groups under-staffed and run off their feet while other groups had virtually nothing to do. Maybe things have changed but back then the problems were endemic and systemic. Initiative was crushed by politics, bureaucracy, and self-serving management practices. On the positive side, for those who don't make it through, there is consolation in knowing that not all companies are run like this. The future of drug discovery is in the hands of small companies where there is real accountability and reward and where "empty suit" managers who thrive at GSK are readily exposed!

Permalink to Comment

62. LayoffMania on February 3, 2010 11:25 AM writes...


Seems that the only people who take risks in big pharma are the employees.

Profound yet true.

I think those employees need to stop taking risks and stop working so hard. In the end, what difference does it make?

At Merck in their big layoffs it was stated explicitly that performance was not an issue, only whether a position was deemed "redundant" or unnecessary due to restructuring.

Goofing off even earns yourself a raise (same $ for less work = effective raise).

Permalink to Comment

63. Skeptic on February 3, 2010 11:30 AM writes...


I may be among the few who will be laid-off this Thursday. But, if they can produce just one medicine that helps someone, it will all be worth it.

Only a retarded pharma psychophant could have written such delirious drivel.

Permalink to Comment

64. MedInformaticsMD on February 3, 2010 12:53 PM writes...

Re: #60 cliffintokyo

What you describe is substantiated by observation.

What also needs to be observed is how perverse this situation is. We have gotten too accustomed to the banality of perverse biomedical management.

There is an imbalance of power - the insider-anointed management elite hold 100%, everyone else 0%.

Write all you want, but that's the truth.

Some other poster mentioned it, labor unions for science professionals. While labor unions in other industries have probably hurt (e.g., autos), in this case labor unions may be the only thing that can save pharma.

Permalink to Comment

65. Lundgren on February 3, 2010 2:48 PM writes...

Skeptic said -"Only a retarded pharma psychophant could have written such delirious drivel."

It's part and parcel of the stereotypical Chemist personality. Somewhat groveling, a believer in statism and the cult of personality that permits 40 chemist's work to be attributed to one man. Hence the Stork synthesis and Corey synthesis of this or that. Chemists thus really don't believe they are valuable.

Hence to point about Unionization. It won't happen because the kind of people that value their skills (apparently janitors have a greater ego than most chemists) never make it through a grad program. Couple this with an excess of foreigners on visas and we have a recipe for abuse.

The field is deader than dead.

Permalink to Comment

66. Anon on February 3, 2010 3:00 PM writes...

Our days are numbered but people still give 100%. It is sad to see the farce we have been working under for the last few years. Transparency, Empowerment. Please!!!!

Permalink to Comment

67. oldtimer on February 3, 2010 3:27 PM writes...

Re "Smarts" that was a reference to being a good academic scientist, different from "industry smarts" which is being good at discovering and/or developing drugs. Drafting in high level academics at the top of that business has not, with a few notable exceptions, been a successful strategy but still they do it!

As for politics, academic politics is, I suggest, a more cut-throat business than R&D politics.

Permalink to Comment

68. Anonymous Chemist on February 3, 2010 5:14 PM writes...

In the layoffs I have observed, the psychophant pharma survival rate was higher than a typical "Corey yield". It is hard to say whether the psychophants truly believe the deliriously fawning drivel they freely propagate but it is also hard to argue with the fact that it seems to imbue them with a teflon lab coat of sorts when it comes to drawing up the short lists during restructurings that are sold as being "not performance based". The fact that psychophants walk around the labs reminding everyone that they walk on water makes it really hard to take anything they say seriously.

My nomination for the psycophant of the decade award was one yahoo who, after the CEO and all his direct reports called a townhall to discuss an announced merger, their collective excitement and the resulting foot soldier body count (tens of thousands), prefaced a question by praising the CEO for his vision in engineering the merger. I was so nauseated that I don't even remember the question which followed the initial sucking up. It was something along the lines of "how can we help". Some in the audience were convinced the questioner was a plant. Who knows.

Permalink to Comment

69. ManageThis on February 3, 2010 6:26 PM writes...

I'm not going to defend ass-kissing, especially as a career advancement strategy for the incompetent. But I think it shows balls to buck the pissed-off groupthink rampant during mergers/re-structuring, and ask "Fine, you did what you did, how do we move forward?"

It's a tough business. Between price-controls, generic competition, low-cost outsourcing, bad PR, class-action lawsuits, looming US healthcare reform (or not), harder-to-drug targets, more stringent regulatory hurdles, decreasing R&D ROI, etc., it's no wonder that management can form some unfortunate new business models. Models without a large place for us chemists. To suggest that if management just did what we thought was right and everything would be fine is blinkered and naive thinking. If there was an answer someone would be cashing it in right now. And to belittle the survivors who just want to figure out how to do their job in a new way is short-sighted.

Things change. We can sit around and complain about it like autoworkers, or we can innovate and find a new way.

Permalink to Comment

70. Hap on February 3, 2010 7:23 PM writes...

I don't think this an evolution of new model for pharmaceutical businesses (with the resultant failures of the strategies that don't work) so much as a "take-the-money-and-run" strategy. Given that "the layoff your R+D and hope that drugs fall from heaven or sprout from your lawn" strategy doesn't work for startups (who, however, have the mitigating condition of having no better choices), I don't see why expecting this strategy to work for larger pharma companies is 1) sane and 2) unworthy of contempt.

Complaining might make it clear (if it hadn't been already) that the people running the companies they own are acting for no one's benefit other than their own, and that perhaps the stockholders might want to remove them (and the people who hired them) before they damage their companies further, or get rid of their stock before the bottom drops out. It also sends the message to people coming along that if they were counting on relatively lucrative pharma jobs to justify their education, they probably shouldn't. If a model is likely to make pharma competitive, it's likely to be smaller and not well-paying, and the financial incentives that drive the merge-and-layoff model aren't likely to change. The only way to improve for the future is better knowledge (to make trials cheaper, and drug behavior more predictable), and less cannon fodder to burn for investment cash.

Permalink to Comment

71. pete on February 3, 2010 7:59 PM writes...

re: #69 managethis
"Things change. We can sit around and complain about it like autoworkers, or we can innovate and find a new way."

OK. Of course. Right on.

But then again. Many successful new drugs have depended primarily on deep science -- rather than on technology + sweat + luck.

Apparently many excellent bioscientists have been included in recent mass lay-offs. Instead, Pharma's "new way" seems to emphasize more of the technology/sweat/luck combination -- done at [some fraction] cost/FTE.

Permalink to Comment

72. Anonymous on February 3, 2010 8:36 PM writes...

@ManageThis (#69) "Things change. We can sit around and complain about it like autoworkers, or we can innovate and find a new way."

Just out of curiosity, when was the last time you stepped in front of a fume hood and sniffed some fumes? Do any innovation there recently? Or has all your innovation been animating your PowerPoint slides?

"'s no wonder that management can form some unfortunate new business models. Models without a large place for us chemists."

Please explain that model to us. We're all ears....Last time I checked, we were the first step in (non-biologic) drug discovery. And don't argue that biotech is providing that resource because they've been firing chemists at a higher rate, just not in such large blocks with as much publicity.

And for the record, the autoworkers didn't just sit around and complain about it. They had a union to protect them and fight for them. They got a better deal than researchers in pharma are getting. And, yes, I do believe that the US automakers current blight is a consequence of poor management.

Permalink to Comment

73. Anonymous on February 4, 2010 6:05 AM writes...

zero hour is 12pm at harlow...

Permalink to Comment

74. Anonymous on February 4, 2010 6:05 AM writes...

zero hour is 12pm at harlow...

Permalink to Comment

75. Anonymous on February 4, 2010 6:06 AM writes...

zero hour is 12pm at harlow...

Permalink to Comment

76. BaldonARSE on February 4, 2010 6:50 AM writes...

12 o/c briefing at Tonbo as well
Don't forget to turn off the lights on your way out please.

Permalink to Comment

77. oldtimer on February 4, 2010 8:12 AM writes...

What happened to the shutting Harlow post? I bet Verona survives, the CEDD head is based there with all his direct reports.

Permalink to Comment

78. Anon@GSK on February 4, 2010 8:33 AM writes...

Just heard ...


..all to close

Permalink to Comment

79. ManageThis on February 4, 2010 9:29 AM writes...

Anonymous #72-

I just find it a little disheartening to hear chemists look longingly at autoworkers. If pharmaceutical chemistry is just putting together molecular widgets on an assembly line, than maybe the analogy is valid and maybe we should unionize. But I for one didn't get a PhD to be on an assembly line. I got it out of curiosity about science, because I want to innovate, to solve problems that others can't, to lead others in the search. It sounds like many people thought that a PhD in organic synthesis was like trade school for pharma, an apprenticeship that gets you into the guild. I just don't see it that way.

The model as I see it in the medium term is this: Big pharma will continue to require a pipeline to maintain growth but will not be sufficiently resourced in R&D to fill it. This will create demand for assets from external sources. As the economy improves, VC money will flow into start-ups to fill this demand. Employment opportunities will be available in start-ups and small biotechs, but they will be unstable, short-lived, and unlikely (but possible) to end in a windfall for those in early enough. Which means that we should all plan on changing employers ca. 5 times in our careers. Chemists in the VC breeding grounds of the Bay Area, Oxbridge, NJ, and Boston will probably be better off than those in the Midwest or continental Europe, although I'm no expert on the funding environemnt in France or Italy for example, so maybe I'm wrong about Europe.

A while I hesitate to respond to ad hominen attacks, I will say that I do work in the lab, and manage as well. Success in the former led to the latter.

Permalink to Comment

80. Hap on February 4, 2010 10:28 AM writes...

1) Five times in a career might be optimistic - I thought people were more or less planning on that many job changes now, and if the jobs are (as they seem to be) at smaller companies, which are (as you said) by nature unstable, that number will increase.

2) People (some) look at autoworkers longingly because people in research spent lots of time for a measure of certainty and pay - otherwise there isn't much reason to spent ten years in school (and lots of time out of it) to hone a career in drug chemistry. Finding out that companies value the knowledge they spent years obtaining (and themselves as well) as expendable and that the alternatives have even less certainty and pay while auto workers were able to secure plentiful benefits and jobs for years with significantly fewer inputs in education and time leads to obvious conclusions. I can't see how unions would work with chemistry, but given the failure of competence or knowledge to ensure any sort of job security, well...

Maybe you can explain how destroying capacities that took years to build for the profit of a few at the top of pharma (who were not the ones who built it, for the most part) and ensuring that the people with the skills to perform those duties will (for the most part) be elsewhere (after all, I'm sure lots of people will spend six years in grad school for the opportunity to be part of roaming traveling medchem shows) will be transformative (well, other than transform drug research into...the current domestic auto industry, but with less job security and pay).

Permalink to Comment

81. Raster Disaster on February 4, 2010 2:51 PM writes...

#36 Milkshake: and they do not have ... journal access and Beilstein / Scifinder.

You mean like Merck Research Labs a few years ago?

Permalink to Comment

82. ManageThis on February 4, 2010 11:11 PM writes...


You're right, 5 times was a low ball number. It'll probably be higher on average.

I understand looking longingly for a Golden Age of job security, whether it be autoworkers or any other sector. But that Age is long over for them, and it looks like it's closing for us. I believe that this is the result of the many complex factors I described above, not to the perfidy or greed or incompetence of management. There's been incompetence, don't get me wrong. There's no excuse for Sirtris if the suspicions prove right. But universal incompetence is not the root cause of our problem. It's far more complicated.

I just don't think getting pissed off is going to help anything. It never does in my opinion. There will still be opportunities for good chemists. I mean it's chemistry for chrissakes. Someone's gotta tell the biologists what to do.

Permalink to Comment

83. linfo on February 8, 2010 5:08 PM writes...

from my point of view, something much bigger is rolling then just lowering costs.
Look at the r&d centers closed first: Verona Italy, Harlow England, Poznan Poland, Mississauga Canada and Zagreb Croatia. First four all CNS drugs research. So GSK is giving up that part of market?
Why???? Maybe a friend is doing it already and is better at it and friend will give something else. That sounds like a merge?!?!? What about the last one? Zagreb, Croatia. One of the smallest centers in GSK. But the only one in the world working on macrolide antibiotics. This center was bought from a company called Pliva. Maybe not such a familiar name but try with Sumamed (azitromicine). They actually deveoped it. Where is saving in closing that. Is this the end of antibiotics alltogether? If someone dosn't need the strongest one, looks like it. Maybe a friend does that too.

Permalink to Comment

84. Hap on February 8, 2010 6:31 PM writes...

Pissed off generally does no good. Some people can channel anger into effective action, but I haven't found that skill yet.

The disconnect between the risks and payout bothers me - as long as people act as if there will be no future, and take the money and run, there probably won't be one, and cashing out research capacities in discovering drugs seems like that. If research were more effective at finding ways to assess drugs more reliably before they get to trials, if the FDA were more risk-averse (or if trials didn't cost so much, or could be pared with better initial biological tests), and if at least some of us didn't want drugs cheaper than they can be provided, well, the drug industry wouldn't be where it is. Shifting research to smaller companies and other places doesn't seem to solve any of those problems, though, and since it may create others, there seems to be problems with it as an improved strategy for drug discovery.

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry