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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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February 16, 2010

Picking Up Industrial Hires

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Posted by Derek

A reader sends along this item about St. Louis University starting a research institute to try to pick up some of the ex-Pfizer people from the area. It's not going to make a big impact, at least at first (if you read the article, you notice that they're starting out by hiring 12 people). But it's better than nothing, and it's a path that a number of ex-industry folks have been able to follow.

I have to applaud the academic institutions that see drug industry employees as a valuable resource. What I wonder about, though, is if Washington University (which overshadows SLU in that region) has picked anyone up - anyone from the St. Louis area have any details? As I say, this isn't going to solve the employment crisis we're going through, but it can't hurt - and by keeping a research culture alive in some places where it's been getting thinned out, it might lead to some start-up companies when the financial situation clears up.

Comments (14) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. J-bone on February 16, 2010 8:23 AM writes...

I was in contact with a professor at Washington about a postdoc. Don't know if it was related, but he came from a big pharma company in Boston. I have prior industry experience, but I don't know if that factored into his decision to hire people.

Thanks for sharing this story, it's one of the few bright spots we've seen lately, eh?

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2. Evorich on February 16, 2010 9:20 AM writes...

Of the huge numbers of layoffs we hear about, what percentage are real R&D scientists?

Where do they all go? What are the percentages of who go to academia, government research, back into big pharma elsewhere, established biotech, start-ups, unemployed, retired, or successfully switch fields/careers?

I don't expect anyone to have any more than anecdotal feedback on this (i.e. not the real numerical answers) but presumably if this future world of "micropharma" is going to exist, it could sustain the same amount, if not more, R&D scientists, just via a different business model. (When the VC money comes back, perhaps!)

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3. biochem belle on February 16, 2010 9:27 AM writes...

With regard to Evorich's q of where they all go:
I don't know how common this is, but I've heard when Pfizer shut down its facility in Ann Arbor a few years ago, many of the senior R&D folks took early retirement then picked up jobs with small biotech/pharma in the area. Since they were drawing their pension, they could afford to work at a lower pay rate.

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4. process.chem on February 16, 2010 9:33 AM writes...

Wash U just announced they were cutting 25 staff and took off 25 openings to respond to the lower endowment. I doubt they would be hiring the industrial chemists.

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5. HelicalZz on February 16, 2010 11:38 AM writes...

And beyond the employees, I am curious if any / many businesses come to light that pick over the 'ended programs' pile that has seemed to grow over the past couple of years.



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6. John on February 16, 2010 1:01 PM writes...

I think this could be really valuable for grad students.
Most profs have spent their whole lives in academia, so when they work with their students all they know how to prepare them for is academia. There's also the networks that need to exist so students can take advantage of them.

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7. Rick on February 16, 2010 1:15 PM writes...

This post shows that many here are prisoners to the insanity of the American mindset. That mindset asserts you can do anything, and doesn't it seem reasonable that highly skilled research scientists would be a boon to academia? As chemists are prone to be rational and analytical this further exacerbates what is a flawed perspective.

So where would these scientists fit in? Most academic institutions won't accept a post doc for hire after 5 years from your graduation date.

Most universities are cutting staff, not hiring. Those that do hire want cheap foreigners on visas.

Furthermore, your typical PI wants a lab full of docile sycophants, not battle tested professionals.

The number of layoffs are probably over 60k in the last three years. I'd say only 2% might find succor at the academic teat.

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8. Chemjobber on February 16, 2010 1:50 PM writes...

As much as I might decry the tone/language, I can't help but agree with Rick. The number of openings for academic-type drug discovery centers in the last two years ranges from 10 to a maximum of fifty for bench-level scientists. Just not enough to absorb all the people.

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9. Anonymous on February 16, 2010 8:25 PM writes...

Rick's also right about academic PI's - there's no way someone who's spent time in industry would put up with the verbal abuse grad students take!

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10. Stubbie on February 16, 2010 9:36 PM writes...

Let's see--$5 million dollars over two years. Twelve people. Only 588 scientists to go for the "Center for World Health & Medicine" at SLU to impact the ex-Pfizer scientist pool! I have doubts that this is going to involve real wet chemistry or biology. I applaud the thought behind the endeavor, but it won't impact very many people.

Think of Wash U as a collection of independent businesses (individual PIs) that are housed under one roof. They have no mechanism or even real desire to act in a concerted manner, i.e., to do anything with the pool of talent in the area.

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11. John on February 17, 2010 1:50 PM writes...

Rick you're right in many ways. About PI's and everything else. The only thing I disagree about is the 5 years after graduation, the average post doc is now 5 years. I've seen profs hired here at wisconsin 8 years after grad and the average age for the first RO1 is in the low 40s.

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12. J-bone on February 17, 2010 1:59 PM writes...

the average post doc is now 5 years.

Please God don't let this be true

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13. MCHammer on February 17, 2010 4:01 PM writes...

well, having been through some layoffs including firing my whole team and spending time trying to find them jobs, there are jobs out there, just not necessarily in mid-to-big size pharma. there are startup biotechs that hire. many of my friends have kept jobs in science but moved into non-med chem positions. Others have taken scientific jobs in FDA, which may not be as stimulating but probably more secure. Some of them have taken up residence in the "academic drug discovery institutes". There are a growing number of these institutes now, each one growing slowly but I know colleagues that have positions in 3 different academic discovery labs now.

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14. Louie on February 19, 2010 5:15 PM writes...

Something tells me that Wash U will have the last laugh. The big boys haven't played their hand yet.

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