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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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

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

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« Drug Patents in India | Main | Biology By the Numbers »

February 17, 2010

Merck Announces Cuts

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Posted by Derek

Merck reported earnings this week, and dropped the other shoe: they're going to make the Schering-Plough merger work by trimming the head count at the company by 15%. Where are the cuts coming from?

As of Dec. 31, 2009, Merck had approximately 100,000 employees. As part of the first phase of its Merger Restructuring Program, by the end of 2012, Merck expects to reduce its total workforce by approximately 15 percent across all areas of the combined company worldwide. The company also plans to eliminate approximately 2,500 vacant positions as part of the first phase of the program. The reductions will primarily come from the elimination of duplicative positions in sales, administrative and headquarters organizations, as well as from the consolidation of certain manufacturing facilities and research and development operations.

Merck said that certain actions, such as the ongoing reevaluation of manufacturing and research and development facilities worldwide, have not yet been completed, but will be included later this year in other phases of the Merger Restructuring Program. Merck also said it will continue to hire new employees in strategic growth areas of the business throughout this period.

Well, OK, the cuts are coming from. . .everywhere. Looks like sales and administration will be first, since those are the easiest to figure out, with R&D coming along later. It doesn't appear that there's any hard information to be had, which doesn't give anyone much to work with. Basically, everyone in research at Merck can, I suppose, just hang out for the rest of the year waiting to hear something. That'll crank up the productivity, as the scientists at Pfizer, GSK, AstraZeneca et al. can tell you.

Comments (114) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. hell to the chief on February 17, 2010 12:11 PM writes...

With over 10% unemployment, how is it possible to have 2500 vacant positions?

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2. milkshake on February 17, 2010 12:33 PM writes...

Merck bottom line won't be affected by the morale-busting research reorganizations for the next decade... and their efficiency experts will move up and away in the meantime - to do more nuking elsewhere.

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3. PharmaHeretic on February 17, 2010 12:49 PM writes...

They could cut everyone except the board members and a few PR shysters and sell that as a new paradigm. It would boost their stock prices to the heavens for a short time.

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4. Anonymous on February 17, 2010 1:30 PM writes...

The by reductions by Merck and Pfizer were a primary rationale from GSK Sr. management when discussing their recent cuts. It seems big pharma Cos. are trying to outdo each other to appease share holders.

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5. E on February 17, 2010 1:37 PM writes...

With over 10% unemployment, how is it possible to have 2500 vacant positions?

Hiring freeze coupled with natural attrition.

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6. David P on February 17, 2010 1:42 PM writes...

Just the term Merger Restructuring Program gives me the shivers.

Good luck to all the folks at Merck.

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7. milkshake on February 17, 2010 2:17 PM writes...

these reorganizations and cuts come as a belated realization that mergers do not work and big pharma management method tend to ruin the research productivity. So the logical next step is to keep the management because there is where the real value is, keep on doing mergers and dispose off with the research. India and China and US academic labs are supposed to do a better job at drug discovery and the pharma management will then have the option to license in the goodies without risks or upfront commitments... At least that's the shape of the house of cards pitched to the shareholders.

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8. Pharma Conduct Guy on February 17, 2010 2:50 PM writes...

Holding on to big pharma stock in the hopes that that the industry is going to unveil a truly innovative plan for future growth is akin to holding stock in White Star Line just after the Titanic set sail.

Those nice dividends being paid to widows and orphans will be long gone in 3 years. Although the executives will be out of jobs too, what does someone who gets millions in severance care if they're uneligible for unemployment?

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9. SRC on February 17, 2010 3:10 PM writes...

Cue the MSM: "where will get the scientists and engineers of tomorrow? How can we encourage more American kids to go into science and engineering?"

Not treating the existing scientists and engineers like used Pampers would be a good start.

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10. DonB. on February 17, 2010 3:18 PM writes...

Of course "scientists" fudging data to show global warming & get huge grants has really helped the reputation of honest scientists.

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11. Barak Obamma on February 17, 2010 4:11 PM writes...

American kida that go into science and engineers will have a great opportunity for long as they are in areas that I agree with: building wind turbines, better batteries for electric cars, and high-speed rail. Great stuff.

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12. Skeptic on February 17, 2010 5:56 PM writes...

Scientists should put blame on the middlemen, the general practicioners and pharmacists.

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13. Hap on February 17, 2010 6:19 PM writes...

I think we get more deference than used diapers - I don't get any money when I take out my daughter's diapers.

I think we get something of the deference chicken farms give to their chickens, if that helps any.

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14. me on February 17, 2010 6:46 PM writes...

I saw on CBS news yesterday about 134/month for chinese worker as compared to 2784/month for american worker. Can we do any thing to stop outsourcing????

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15. yossarian on February 17, 2010 8:01 PM writes...

When you count all the money spent vs. productivity of offshore CRO’s you will quickly arrive at a conclusion that the cost to do effective research offshore is quite similar to the cost of doing research in USA. The industry has a herd mentality – since the current trend is to outsource research, everyone is doing it. It does not matter that it makes no sense.

The herd mentality also manifests itself in obliterating in-house research in all large pharma companies in hope of in-licensing lucrative projects in the future from small companies. However, if all big pharma powerhouses follow this path, there will not be enough projects on the market to in-license to satisfy their needs.

It seems that pharma companies will do absolutely anything possible to actually avoid hard work and innovation.

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16. Skeptic on February 18, 2010 4:51 AM writes...

"It seems that pharma companies will do absolutely anything possible to actually avoid hard work and innovation."

The financiers aren't interested in innovation. They are demanding competentcy. There is simply too much monetary rot and time has run out.

Medicinal chemists influence is on the wane in favour of mathematicians. Because of the new technologies, a more rigorous language of measurement is necessary to properly frame and evaluate experiments.

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17. bboooooya on February 18, 2010 8:19 AM writes...

"When you count all the money spent vs. productivity of offshore CRO’s you will quickly arrive at a conclusion that the cost to do effective research offshore is quite similar to the cost of doing research in USA."

Really? Can you provide some actual data to suppport this conjecture, as I do not believe that this is true. I find these "but everybody knows" arguments troubling and likely wrong.

Quick fact is making molecules is about mixing ingredients (cooking): it ain't rocket science. One smart gal directing things in the US can achieve many more different cpds/$ in the PRC or India than in NJ. it may be little comfort after spending years in grad school (which I also did, but jumped to banking, much more fun), but chemistry is going the way of cotton mills in the south, or leather manufacturers in New England.

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18. wierdo on February 18, 2010 8:25 AM writes...

Your absolutely right. I hope current and future students are paying attention to these layoffs and the employment situation. I know alot of us scientists would redo things if we could. If your good at science, you should go into fields that cannot be outsourced, like medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, etc. You can have lifetime employment, good pay, good prestige, and you don't have to relocate your family every few years.

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19. anchor on February 18, 2010 8:50 AM writes...

Like other companies before them, Merck is doing more of the same. What I am also hearing is that Merck has a "rolling" layoff's in place (20-30 people a day in various department) so that the bad news would not be sensationlized. We have not heard from Dr. Peter Kim in along time and what is he up to? When he is silent it is unbecoming of him.

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20. get real on February 18, 2010 9:25 AM writes...

What? How many of you really felt that there would be no efficiency exercise with loss of jobs after Merck acquired SP? It's the way it's done, part of the reason for mergers and aquisitions in all industries, including big Pharma. Further, there is no other proven sustainable way for big Pharma to continue to stay big or get bigger in the early 21st century except through consolidations. Unfortunately, this means a continual bleeding of many jobs in this industry, independent of the other econmic problems across the world.

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21. processchemist on February 18, 2010 9:56 AM writes...


"Quick fact is making molecules is about mixing ingredients (cooking): it ain't rocket science. "

Maybe you're talking about the chemistry you know and practice. In *my* line of work, almost nothing works this way.

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22. Thomas McEntee on February 18, 2010 10:11 AM writes...

#17 has hit the nail on the head. Industrial cotton milling began in England in the 1770s and began in the US in the early 1800s in New England. The cotton mill workers in New England watched their jobs increasingly move to the South after the Civil War. By 1929, the US cotton milling had surpassed that in what is now the UK. Mill workers in the South saw their jobs begin to leave after WWII. By 1972, India had overtaken the US and by 1977, China surpassed India. I'm certain the same arguments were being made by workers and management where jobs were being lost that are being made by chemists today in the US. Good luck.

We need to start thinking seriously about sustainability, first here in the US and next on Planet Earth. The world population was 3 billion when I graduated from high school, and 4 billion when I started working in pharma after grad school. It's now approaching 7 billion. We all need food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and energy and none of this is "guaranteed." Beyond trades such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy that Wierdo names (#18), what can we as a nation _produce_ that others in the world want and are willing to spend their income to buy? Unless we revert to a pre-industrial mode of living in an agrarian society, we're going to have to figure this out. The US is blessed with land that could support this type of existence but we're unlikely to go back to everyone living off the family farm.

7 billion people live on home cooking every day. Cooking (chemistry), as #17 says, ain't rocket science. For anyone starting out in pharma, other areas of chemistry, or for goodness sake, grad school, think long and hard about the path you're on, especially if you have a family or are thinking about being a provider for any future dependents.

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23. molecular architect on February 18, 2010 11:10 AM writes...

"Quick fact is making molecules is about mixing ingredients (cooking): it ain't rocket science. "

This comment, while based on seriously flawed logic, aptly summarizes the mindset of financial/legal/management types.

First off: Making molecules may be about mixing ingredients but drug discovery/development is much more complicated and difficult. Besides the huge uncertainties of the basic science (e.g. will inhibition of this target effect the desired modulation of the biological process underlying the disease and lead to a clinical improvement?), it requires effective cooperation of scientists and clinicians from disparate fields. These fields often do not share a common terminology (language) or approach to science (painfully obvious to anyone who has ever lead a drug discovery group) Getting chemists, biologists, pharmacologists, etc. to effectively communicate is no easy task. Adding in the business development folks and the lawyers exponentially increases the difficulty. Drug discovery/development is risky and difficult even when everyone can meet face-to-face. Outsourcing medicinal chemistry here, biology there, PK somewhere else, process chemistry ...., etc. just makes the whole process less efficient. By dismantling in-house research and outsourcing, Big Pharma is building their new competition. Once their Chinese and Indian "partners" learn how to develop drugs, they will no longer need the Pfizers and Mercks of the West.

Secondly: Rocket science AIN'T science. It's ENGINEERING. We already know how to build and fly rockets. Attempting to build an effective medicine fails more often than it succeeds, that's why it's call RESEARCH.

Sadly though, these truths will fall on deaf ears in the boardrooms of Big Pharma and the trading floors of Wall Street. As long as today's executives and investors earn $$$, they will pursue the long-term destruction of the industry in the West.

I'm currently in the process of interviewing candidates for summer internships in our labs. Can't tell you how often I feel the urge to advise them: "don't even consider science as a career, run, run, run to a stabler and more lucrative field".

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24. Thomas McEntee on February 18, 2010 11:40 AM writes...

#23: No argument about the differences between running modifications of Organic Synthesis preps and drug discovery. Apologies for suggesting a literal interpretation of the figure of speech "rocket science." But given your very likely accurate views on the deaf ears in the boardrooms of Big Pharma and the trading floors of Wall Street, what _do_ you tell the candidates coming in for interviews? Do our own needs for survival prompt us to put others' survival at risk?

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25. bbooooooya on February 18, 2010 12:14 PM writes...

"Making molecules may be about mixing ingredients but drug discovery/development is much more complicated and difficult"

And I would never suggest otherwise. Designing a drug discovery program is a value-add function (yes, I picked that term up in MBA school. I think it was after "pie chart" class) that doesn't require thousands of worker bees. Reality is that any idea, correct or not, takes many molecules to prove/disprove. My suggestion is that generating molecules is low value work (which I consider rote organic synthesis to be) is more effectively sent to low wage countries. Look around labs at most US universities: the Chinese graduate students who we teach can do the job just as well here as in China: if they're willing to go back there (and many are), why pay them 5X what we'd pay them in the US? Further, once in China they can manage others who are paid even less.

Please note, I also get that economics dictates that this will force equilibration of wages in this country with those in places like the PRC. This can be avoided, but only through protectionist measures that are unlikely to occur (especially given the amount of US debt China holds). Waging against the immutable econimic force of globaliztion (which has been on-going since humans started living in clans) is about as useful as trying to get the sun to set in the east.

This economic reality is already being noted. have a look at NSF statistics on % of US students engaged in graduate degress in chemistry. The number is getting shockingly close to 50%. That is, Americans are already realizing that chemistry is not a growth field, and are voting with their feet in terms of course of study. Chemistry is hard. Why spend 4-5 years in grad school (and a couple years as a PDF for those who don't go to top 20 schools) to enter a field that is bound to shrink?

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26. Timbo on February 18, 2010 12:19 PM writes...

The next generation of scientists have to be diverse in there direction and be able to adapt easily. Also, I think graduates in the top 10% of their class won't have a problem but the other 90% or so will have to be more competitive in ways other than their grades.

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27. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on February 18, 2010 12:30 PM writes...

Every time one of these big layoff threads hits this blog, everyone starts howling about the ineptness and ingrained evil of management, and how this is leading to the decline of the noble profession of chemistry. Come on! It's not an evil plot. Labor that can be performed more cheaply somewhere else will go somewhere else. It's economic reality, not an evil plot. If a good chemist in Chindia can make 20 quality compounds per month for $1,000, and a good chemist in the US or Europe can make 20 quality compounds per month for $5,000, it's a no-brainer where you get those compounds made. It's easy to argue that the quality in Chindia is low, but good management can correct that, and is correcting it. The landscape for this industry is changing dramatically, and it will only keep changing. People need to adapt. No jobs doing chemistry available? You need to do something else. What choice do you have? Reinvent yourself. You don't have any other skills? Better develop some quickly. Think of the skills your career in chemistry gave you (attention to detail, organization, critical analysis, data management, etc) and find ways to apply those skills in other industries. It may be satisfying to ooze sarcasm and whine on blogs and message boards, but the fundamental fact is that chemistry jobs are going away, and I doubt many will come back to this country. This is happening to just about every industry, globalization is painful. Adapt.

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28. Hap on February 18, 2010 1:06 PM writes...

That's fine, just so long as you don't expect a torrent of people willing to spend ten years in school for the next big/important thing so they can spend the remainder of their lives trying to reinvent themselves. People in fields requiring large fixed inputs of time or money are resistant to moves that decrease the value of those inputs, and if the inevitable economic trend is to make it impossible to repay those fixed costs, then lots of people aren't likely to be following them to the unemployment lines. If you discard people like used toilet paper while expecting knowledge and loyalty from them, you shouldn't be surprised when not so many people are willing to follow in their footsteps.

It should also be noted that if there's nothing to create (or no one to create it), there's nothing to manage, either, and no expansive profits to be made hyping and selling it. The layoffs don't really go well with the "we need scientists" line gov't and business keep repeating. They also ask the question that, given that we're laying off the information and manufacturing economies, what kind of economy are we planning to be, exactly (other than an imaginary one or a large Ponzi scheme)?

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29. bbooooooya on February 18, 2010 1:09 PM writes...

Just a comment on "Rocket science AIN'T science. It's ENGINEERING. We already know how to build and fly rockets".

I just don't buy that. We also know how to build and test molecules. The big contribution of guys like KCN and Dale is simply to prove that (almost) anything you can draw you can collect in a flask. There may be more artisitc ways to do things, but to simply get a molecule to test, who cares: we'll worry about it when (and this happens rarely) we need a kilo.

There's a reason one rarely sees articles on organic synthesis in JACS, and it's been ages since I've seen a synthesis paper in Science or Nature: it's just not cutting edge anymore.

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30. PH.D.#6785 formerly known as a biologist on February 18, 2010 1:10 PM writes...

David (#27) spot on.........

After losing my job as a PH.D. research/drug discovery biologist twice in a couple of years during my middle age, I reinvented myself and now work in Regulatory affairs and really enjoy my work/get paid well for my expertise and skills. I'm never looking back....................

I have told my kids NEVER get a Ph.D. in science unless you have the interest in truely academic work and can compete at that level. Otherwise get a med, law, pharm professional degree........

At least I can translate that to my kids. It was too late for me so I have to transition/reinvent myself but if you don't you will become a dinosaur.

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31. Chemjobber on February 18, 2010 1:14 PM writes...

it's been ages since I've seen a synthesis paper in Science or Nature: it's just not cutting edge anymore.

Unless you're referring to pure total synthesis, you're just wrong on this.

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32. milkshake on February 18, 2010 1:35 PM writes...

I think what keep medchem research in US is not the quality of chemists but the discovery biology. Medchem projects work best when the chemistry is within walking distance from biology, the labs are filled with motivated people who chow in cafeteria at the same table etc.

Sure you can find decent chemists in Shanghai who will work for half of the pay of a chemist in US but the biology isn't there yet. It will change - Singapore is investing quite heavily into biotech, for example.

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33. J-bone on February 18, 2010 1:41 PM writes...

it's been ages since I've seen a synthesis paper in Science or Nature: it's just not cutting edge anymore.

What are you talking about? Some group synthesized a reactome array and did like 1600 organic syntheses. That's enough synthesis for a whole year!

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34. retread on February 18, 2010 1:54 PM writes...

If pharma were producing blockbuster drug after blockbuster drug radically altering the course of vascular disease, CNS degenerations, psychiatric diseases, etc. etc., there would be no downsizing of chemists.

The problem does not lie with the chemists, but our understanding of fundamental biology.

For an elaboration of this go to the last two posts on Chemiotics II (it's much long to put in a comment here). Start with the post before the current one.

See if you can come up with reasons why the known genetic defects and one exogenous drug causing the disease actually cause it. No one would have predicted them as drug targets (except perhaps one). If you don't know the targets, how can you come up with drugs?

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35. zane on February 18, 2010 2:54 PM writes...

"Merck also said it will continue to hire new employees in strategic growth areas of the business throughout this period." translation - more and more executives

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36. bbooooooya on February 18, 2010 3:04 PM writes...

"it's been ages since I've seen a synthesis paper in Science or Nature: it's just not cutting edge anymore.

Unless you're referring to pure total synthesis, you're just wrong on this."

For example....

if there are more than 3 synthesis papers in the past 6 months in Sci or Nat I'd be amazed.

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37. RandDChemist on February 18, 2010 3:33 PM writes...

Strategic incompetence will be rampant.

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38. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on February 18, 2010 4:06 PM writes...

Hap (#28)...

I have no expectations whatsoever of people spending 10 years training for jobs that aren't there. Fortunately, here in the US people are freely able to choose what they want to do, from education to employment. If one spends 10 years training for a career path that evaporates while you're in training, or evaporates soon after you complete training, that's a risk everyone takes. Plenty of people in finance, real estate, journalism, law, etc have faced the same thing. Hell, I faced it (12 years between BS, PhD, and postdoc). I was a damn good chemist, but now I'm a former chemist. It hurts, it's an identity crisis of sorts, but it was either reinvent myself or move around the country from job to job like some nomad. Too disruptive for my family, so I changed direction. My choice, but I'm happy with it, even though I still miss the drug discovery and development work I used to do. If the job prospects for chemists are dim, fewer and fewer people will choose that path. If they ever become more attractive, people will flow back in that direction. The market has an uncanny way of balancing supply and demand over time.

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39. molecular architect on February 18, 2010 5:14 PM writes...

#29 "We also know how to build and test molecules."

You missed my point. Drug discovery/development is much more than synthesis of new molecules. It's an interactive process that benefits greatly from personal interactions among the chemists, biologists, pharmacologists, clinicians, etc. (as Milkshake reiterated).

If it was just a matter of synthesis and HTS, every second rate academic lab in the country would be inventing drugs at a fraction of the cost of outsourcing to Chinidia! If the leaders of Pharma and Wall Street understood this, they would understand how mismanagement has undermined pharma R&D over the past 20 years.

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40. Me on February 18, 2010 5:33 PM writes...

China has more than 1.3 billion citizen, and India has more than 1.2 billion mouth to feed. Face it! it will be tough. Supply and demand.

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41. PhD formerly known as chemist on February 18, 2010 5:53 PM writes...

#27 - David, I couldn't agree more (and certainly couldn't have written it so eloquently).

A lot of people suggest that they wouldn't do a PhD if they could wind back the clock. This is something I don't really get. To me a PhD isn't just training in a specific scientific field, but training in how to write, orate, collaborate etc etc. All of these traits are useful out of science, and are precisely what folks should be highlighting on their resumes right now.

The jobs are going - as painful as it is accept it and move on. But do what you can when you are still there - just before I made the leap I supervised a student. I sat him down one day and explained, in some detail, what was happening in the industry in general and exactly why I was leaving. I hope he read between the lines, and never looks back.

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42. bbooooooya on February 18, 2010 6:00 PM writes...

"Drug discovery/development is much more than synthesis of new molecules. It's an interactive process that benefits greatly from personal interactions among the chemists, biologists, pharmacologists, clinicians, etc. (as Milkshake reiterated)."


Making is drugs is about finding the receptor you want to modulate, and figuring out a way to do it (insert admet and scale up here). This requires some sparks of ingenuity, and then a ton of mindless grunt work to actually make it happen. I agree the biological assays are tougher to outsource, but that's OK. Nothing wrong with making stuff overseas and shipping it back on a plane the next day. I get this will require some additional QC/QA, but those are now automated steps.

These grandiose notions of how "special" drug discovery is (and, ya, the creative aspect is fun, but the drudgery of 90% is not) will be one of the reasons Wuxi et al will soon be doing most of the world's chemistry.

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43. SanjayK on February 18, 2010 6:05 PM writes...

It is not technical prowess that we are talking about. It is all about cost. IF one person in US is getting more in productivity than 3 researchers abroad. How does it stack up?

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44. Hap on February 18, 2010 6:09 PM writes...

I understand lots of people have faced career change with differing levels of investment in their old careers, and survived. To hope that things won't change for one's sake is foolish. However, the career choices of students seem to be shifting away from highly technical jobs because of the significant risks of employment loss (relative to the input costs) and low pay (again, relative to the time, education, and intelligence necessary to do them) and it's hard for me to see how we will create other jobs without people to perform those jobs. People go where the money is, and if the money is not present to make useful things, people will learn to make useless ones. But that probably can't go on forever.

As we switch from a manufacturing economy to an information economy to an innovation economy, we still need people who can make new things, requiring investments in manufacturing and technology, because the development of new things requires lots of in-depth knowledge of how the old things work and of the factors that affect how something new might work. If those people don't exist, or are outsourced to oblivion, there won't be jobs to switch to. Ultimately, we have to produce something if there's going to be any jobs for people to learn again, and making it unlikely that people will want to learn the knowledge necessary to produce things seems less like creative destruction and more like the uncreative kind. It's hard to separate self-interest and one's own perspective from reality, and I don't know if I'm doing it right though.

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45. Hap on February 18, 2010 6:23 PM writes...

#42: There's this pesky problem of biology and chemistry being real, rather than theoretical (or, rather, either not having a good enough theory to explain it all or not being able to have one) - things have to be found by lots of hard work rather than being thought out. The combination of deep thought and lots of work is what makes drug discovery (and lots of other things) hard. Outsourcing the drudge work out to increase efficiency isn't necessarily going to work, because then the leaps of imagination that discovery requires won't happen either. (You have to outsource the right stuff, which takes a level of thought that doesn't appear to be present in the job cuts - if you cut stuff that's inefficient, and doesn't make you more able to discover drugs, then you can save money and still discover drugs. this doesn't appear to be the case, however, since that would have required deep analysis rather than "let me bump my stock options now".)

If no one here does the down-and-dirty work, then no one here will be finding new stuff, since the only ones who might be able to discover stuff by thought alone (the geniuses) will be doing something else that's more secure and makes more money. Most of your discovery won't exist anymore.

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46. PhD formerly known as chemist on February 18, 2010 6:41 PM writes...

Hap, I think I understand what you are getting at (#44). But isn't the problem with this arguement the lack of productivity of big pharma itself? You mention repeatedly the need to 'produce' things - but isn't it often the case in companies you may have 20+ people in a single lab (many of who are drawing significant wage checks, esp in the US) 'producing' next to nothing for years at a time?

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47. Anonymous on February 18, 2010 6:49 PM writes...

There will always be jobs available for the young PhDs coming out from the top synthetic labs. The caveat is once they hit a certain point in their career (~10 years or less) they will become replaceable with the newer PhDs coming out from the same labs, as they will be shiny, new and cheaper!

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48. milkshake on February 18, 2010 6:52 PM writes...

Myself, losing job recently, would accept a pay cut if the project was any good and one had some hope of making a difference. What really breaks the spirit of motivated people is death of good projects for non-scientific reasons - such as, someone re-organizes/merges your company, your project gets transferred to another site where it dies because the people there prefer to work on their own series, or it is cut off altogether because company choses to "re-align its priorities withing the existing therapeutic areas".

I have no problem with calling quits on project where the chemistry does not get anywhere or the biology turns out to be complicated and unsound for drug development. But what really gets me is the management's indifference to wholesale research project destruction - you live through this couple times, see years of your hard work going down the tube and even when you keep your job you get to the phase "why do I even bother" - it is very hard then to get excited again. I believe this, together with red tape and micromanagement is the main reason why research is not productive in big pharma.

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49. Hap on February 18, 2010 7:09 PM writes...

The lack of productivity in pharma is a problem, but I don't know if outsourcing or layoffs solve it (unless they're well-targeted, which the latest bout doesn't appear to be). They do, however, seem to make it harder for there to be any productivity in the future, by driving good people out of the field and inhibiting others from entering it. To make sacrifices now to preserve the future is hard but probably good, and to make sacrifices likely to preserve the company now and threaten it later seems less good but understandable. The layoffs don't seem to do either - they seem to ensure that a few get rich and lots of others are left with the ruins. (Because of the many inputs into drug discovery, it's pretty possible that productive people may not make a useful drug - lots of discovery isn't immediately useful, but pays off in other ways. It makes it harder, though, to figure out who's worth the money, and hence, to make the correct cuts even if you intend to do so.)

Useful and productive people gain new skills and change their careers when the previous skills are no longer useful, but they usually do so on the basis that their skills and productivity will be rewarded rather than punished. Making a high-stakes bet with one's life that might pay off and might not is life - while doing so and knowing that if it does pay off, it will do so only to others is also life, but isn't right, and is more like a sick joke than anything else. It's hard to try to kick the ball after Lucy pulls it back five or six times, and there's a lot more at stake than a bruised butt.

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50. bbooooooya on February 18, 2010 7:32 PM writes...

"I don't know if outsourcing or layoffs solve it ...To make sacrifices now to preserve the future is hard but probably good"

And herein lies the problem. Outsourcing may not be a panacea, but it may also work more effectively than the current system. I do know there have been errors in the past but, hopefully, managers have figured this out. It's a tractable problem: protect IP by limiting overall knowledge offshore, expand QA onshore, etc.

You comment about sacrificing for the future is a nice idea, but it will never sell on Wall St. Company shareholders (read, OWNERS of the company) want results ever quarter. If you're going to sacrifice the next few years results for longer term gain, well, I'll buy back in before you post those gains. In the meantime I'll make some $ elsewhere. Yes, this is shortsighted, but that's capitalism. Portfolio managers have to show returns every quarter or they lose their bonus/jobs. Like it or not, employees of public companies work for the shareholders, not some grand notion of greater good.

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51. SRC on February 18, 2010 7:44 PM writes...

To me a PhD isn't just training in a specific scientific field, but training in how to write, orate

Are you kidding? The scientific literature is nigh unto unreadable, it's so badly written. And speaking skills? Please. ("Orate?" WTF?)

Anyone who develops speaking and writing skills does so strictly on his own initiative. Nothing to do with a Ph.D. I used to work with my students on writing skills, but I'm not aware of any other faculty member who ever did the same.

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52. Hap on February 18, 2010 8:44 PM writes...

True, but they could have invested in a lot of places with their money - presumably they chose to invest in pharma because they thought it had products and technology that would earn money. If cashing gains in the short-term compromises the long-term success of the company, then 1) why'd you invest in pharma (where the timelines are long) and 2) you'd be better off liquidating the company while you can get full value - otherwise, you'll be cashing out pieces at lower stock values as the company teeters to death.

As a bonus, taking short-term profits at the expense of long-term survival/success sacrifices long-term investors for short-term ones. It doesn't benefit all shareholders equally, and is probably the least likely way to succeed (because you attract people whose interest is to take the money and run and discourage those who share your aims).

If the short-term is king, then maybe pharma can only survive as a set of private businesses rather than on the stock market. If getting money from investors means repudiating your goals and setting the time bomb for your patients and employees, why bother? There's got to be more lucrative openings on Hollywood and Vine, and less abusive ones, as well.

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53. zapper on February 18, 2010 8:53 PM writes...

Pharma scientists work for the patients' good.
You are obviously just a self-centered hack, (well paid - of course!), and should be kept as far away as possible (a million miles?) from healthcare research.

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54. bbooooooya on February 18, 2010 9:50 PM writes...

"Pharma scientists work for the patients' good."

Hey, that's a nice idea, it really is. No basis in reality though. Scientists work for the shareholders. If they really worked for the patients' good, those who've recently been sacked by AZN, PFE, et al. would keep going to work "for the patients' good", regardless of paycheck. I can say for certain that that ain't gonna happen.

The other bogus notion to this "patients' good" tripe is the work many in pharma do. No one will argue that trying to cure cancer or Parkinson's is noble, but devoting your life so that oldsters can still get a woody, so lardos can keep stuffing themselves, to treat the scourge of "gastroesphogeal reflux disease", or "restless leg syndrome" (sorry XNPT, you're done), seriously?

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55. CMCguy on February 19, 2010 12:04 AM writes...

#51 SRC "Anyone who develops speaking and writing skills does so strictly on his own initiative" is largely true in science/engineering from my observations and unfortunately although always proclaimed as valuable skills/requirements for employment it does not seem to get taken into account with layoffs and outsourcing trends. Of course the other side is that R&D types often do not necessarily communicate at that well with execs/other areas (unless one counts the brown-nosers that seem to succeed in spite of real contributions).

I will say a PI can both set an encouraging environment and solid example of speaking/writing for PhD and other students that can help. Sounds like you may be doing that and thus express gratitude for such efforts that benefits us all to a degree.

As to "Pharma scientists work for the patients' good." IMO by and large that is (still) accurate for individuals but the way corporations have shifted to profits as prime motive that gets lost in a tangible way.

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56. zapper on February 19, 2010 1:41 AM writes...

You don't get it, so I am probably wasting my time, but......
For example, development and manufacturing staff don't spend a vast portion of their time following GLP and GMP (good practices) to satisfy the REGULATORS, they do it to minimize the risks of the occurrence of quality defects which might potentially harm the PATIENTS, (not to mention the reputation of the company should a quality disaster actually occur).
We don't ALL live in monetarist/ capitalist hell. Stop tarring all people with your own dirty brush and wake up to the diversity of humanity!

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57. alig on February 19, 2010 7:50 AM writes...

Re: bbooooooya
You do not understand workers at all. Not a single worker comes to work to make the shareholder money. I personally come to work for a paycheck. I used to work hard because I felt that if I did, the company would be loyal to me. As the company laid off everyone around me regardless of their performance, I realized there was no point to work hard. Study after study has shown that layoffs hurt long term stock prices. So the shareholder should be cursing the management that is constantly laying off workers. However we both know that there are too many shareholders in large companies for any shareholder to actually influence the decisions of management.

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58. bbooooooyua on February 19, 2010 8:47 AM writes...

Not to belabor, but

"Not a single worker comes to work to make the shareholder money. I personally come to work for a paycheck"

the 2 sentences are inconsistent. Your paycheck is dependent on investors. If the majority of shareholders decide they want to sell off the company and get back their stake (and yes, groups of institutional investors hold sufficient shares to do so in most public companies, in aggregate) then you will no longer get your check. i get this doesn't happen often, but it certainly can. pretty simple.

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59. Anon on February 19, 2010 8:47 AM writes...

"A lot of people suggest that they wouldn't do a PhD if they could wind back the clock. This is something I don't really get. To me a PhD isn't just training in a specific scientific field, but training in how to write, orate, collaborate etc etc. All of these traits are useful out of science, and are precisely what folks should be highlighting on their resumes right now."

If I knew then what I know now, YES, I would have chosen a scientific career that cannot be outsourced.

Your point about highlighting XYZ skills in your resume and transitioning to new careers where they might be applicable is just not realistic in this CURRENT economic climate. One person suggested "regulatory affairs". When big Pharma is tossing folks overboard from all divisions there will be a generous supply of trained "regulatory affairs professionals" to choose from. Why should a company go for a "medicinal/synthetic chemist" instead who needs to be trained / transitioned? The "career coaches" who are rolling in $$$$ as a result of the Pharma carnage like to toss out these "career transition principles" without qualifying the current economic circumstances.

"There will always be jobs available for the young PhDs coming out from the top synthetic labs. The caveat is once they hit a certain point in their career (~10 years or less) they will become replaceable with the newer PhDs coming out from the same labs, as they will be shiny, new and cheaper!"

This point cannot be emphasized enough and those who have decades of Pharma experience and have been cast adrift during this orgy of reorganization can attest to this. How many times do you have to see a Pharma job posting with the words "PhD in synthetic organic chemistry with 0-5 years experience" to get the "message". When was the last time a laid off chemist saw a Pharma job posting or heard from a headhunter (they still prefer to call and harass the chemists who have not let been let go) who was interested in a medicinal chemist with more than 10 years experience? Don't raise your hands all at once. If you have over 10 years experience and you don't have the word DIRECTOR on your resume forget it. The pickings are VERY slim. On another blog a recruiter posted on the Pfizer and Wyeth scientist boards asking how they could find organic chemists who were being let go? Yes there was a catch. They were only interested in directors.

"Company shareholders (read, OWNERS of the company) want results ever quarter. If you're going to sacrifice the next few years results for longer term gain, well, I'll buy back in before you post those gains. In the meantime I'll make some $ elsewhere. Yes, this is shortsighted, but that's capitalism. Portfolio managers have to show returns every quarter or they lose their bonus/jobs. Like it or not, employees of public companies work for the shareholders, not some grand notion of greater good."

You would think that these Wall Street gurus who got hosed by Pfizers decade of promises about the glories of mergers, acquisitions, mass firings and outsourcing would have learned their lesson from the losses on Pfizer stock and the "up yours" by cutting their dividend but like sheep they cheer all other big Pharma as they embrace the Pfizer model and race towards the cliff spouting their slogans about efficiencies and synergies and stock upside potential. Pfizer's former CEO has 180 million reasons to sit back and laugh at the folly of the heard mentality. Most of us guys who were in the medchem trenches for decades and then kicked to the curb to satisfy Wall Street's appetite for short term profits will likely not be as sanguine in our analysis of the issues.

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60. Annette B. on February 19, 2010 9:04 AM writes...

The pharma industry is contracting due to the poor management over the past 15 years. There are a lot of egos floating around and this made change difficult until now when companies are focred to do so.

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61. processchemist on February 19, 2010 9:09 AM writes...


"the 2 sentences are inconsistent"

Not at all. An employee is not asked to put his capabilities and work as some kind of "risk stake" in a company. Shareholders put their money and *take risks* hoping for a return. If they won't to take risk, they should put their money in obligations not in shares.

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62. milkshake on February 19, 2010 10:36 AM writes...

I think the roots of bad management in pharma go back to 80s. There were times when pharma companies were delivering double digit gains every year and big pharma stock seemed like a safe and lucrative buy-and-hold component in the portfolio. This investors heard mentality kept boosting the stock value of large pharma, which then made the mergers and acquisitions paid by stock possible. This also brought ridiculously lavish bonus schemes for the top excecs, which then caused people with law and business background to flock to pharma companies and populate the upper layers of management. This change of culture from science-based to finance-based model was actually seen as a good sign - business-people speak the language that investors understand better. Unfortunately the typical instrument that was widely supposed to motivate the top management to keep the companies growing - stock options - was totally geared towards short term gain. Lots of completely unrealistic promises were made to the shareholders, ridiculous money got spent on the next best thing that should revolutionize the drug discovery - genomic, proteomics, combichem etc. Waves of expensive management fads and mergers and reorganizations decimated the motivation in research. Scientists who put their whole career into learning the drug discovery trade found themselves treated like a commodity, people with actual experience ended up replaced with fresh graduates (because those are cheaper, fresher and more clueless about the management bullshit).
Eventually the reality caught up but it took at least two decades because the pharma business model is so slow. Its the slowness that makes such massive corporate irresponsibility possible - in a large corporation the top management is decoupled from the effects their decisions have on the research productivity.

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63. alig on February 19, 2010 11:05 AM writes...

Re: bbooooya

Here's an experiment for you. Look at the performance of Pfizer's stock over the last ten years. During which time they purchased Warner-Lambert, Pharmacia and most recently Wyeth. If stockholders truly had any power, why did they approve the last merger? Clearly the first two failed (-50% return compared to 0% for the Dow). The CEO certainly likes the merger, because he'll get a raise and a bonus (CEO pay correlates fairly well with company size), but the shareholders will surely lose money on the deal. Where is the shareholder revolt? When is the last time that a management team of a fortune 500 company proposed a merger that the shareholders voted no? I can't recall one in my lifetime, maybe you can enlighten me.

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64. molecular architect on February 19, 2010 11:44 AM writes...

#42, bbooooya

If your analysis of the role/contribution of medicinal chemistry to drug discovery and development was correct, combichem would have solved all Pharma's productivity problems back in the 90s. DD&D is much more than throwing a multitude of compounds into assays. Having worked with Wuxi and other CROs in China and India, I am well aware of their strengths and serious limitations.

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65. milkshake on February 19, 2010 12:55 PM writes...

I think no-one understands drug discovery too well but at least one needs to learn from past mistakes, and that means you need at least some seasoned medchem people in the mix that could warn you about known pitfalls. Crystallography-driven kinase projects are particularly vulnerable to sins against good drug design, for example. You need to decide at what stage go with what assays, and the management people without appreciacion of science should not be making these kinds of decisions for you.

The problem is that the outcome of a medchem project is hard to plan out and chart it as a deliverables in the pipeline that will produce such and such sales once the drug is developed and approved. I suppose one can do such projections about a drug that is already tested and approved but applying the same wishful thinking on research in progress is disastrous. The management folks and especially the investors are uncomfortable with uncertanity, they don't want to be backing and open-ended research scenario that focuses on good science rather than on a deliverable, so they try to get grip on the project and teach some sense to the scientist how to run their research which then produces micromanagement, reporting morasse, insistence on formal productivity indicators like number of compounds rather than their quality.

Another problem is the blockbuster mentality: I mean if would be great profit if one could find out a superior drug to treat diabetes or obesity. What the management does not appreciate is that the blockbuster drugs like Lipitor were not charted out in the boardrooms but were stumbled upon, the rationales behind their discovery and development were quite messy and the drug almost did not make it. Everyone in the top management pretends to possess the understanding - and the actual business model to discover the next Lipitor but they don't. People who say that they will discover blockbuster drugs and bring 4 INDs a year are only fooling themselves and their investors.

At the discovery stage one needs to start with a good science, persevere for perhaps five years at it, and if the team does not screw up eventually they might just get lucky enough to have a good drug candidate molecyule. The group doing the research needs to be small enough, and in the same building, for the scientists to know each other, they need to have to have direct financial stake in the project and they need to be protected from bureaucratic interference. (Now go and try to sell this business plan to the investors...)

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66. Jazbot on February 19, 2010 1:43 PM writes...

I am so sick of reading how "I used to work hard but now I don't because layoffs taught me it doesn't matter." If the only reason you have to work hard is career advancement, then YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. This is a tough business and it needs people who are passionate about solving the problem at hand. Even if the problem changes quarter to quarter, a trained PhD should have the curiosity and enthusiasm to learn it, master it, work on it and solve the problem. The best and most successful scientists solve problems because it's in their blood, not to get paid. Anyone else are just interchangeable widgets.

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67. alig on February 19, 2010 2:12 PM writes...

Jazbot, you are an idiot. I am a scientist. I learn from data. When I see passionate, hard-working, problem-solving scientists laid off and sycophant middle-managers retained, I learn what the company values. The best and most succesful scientists know how to get paid for their work. The ones who don't get paid, disappear.

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68. Anonymous on February 19, 2010 2:18 PM writes...

"The best and most successful scientists solve problems because it's in their blood, not to get paid. Anyone else are just interchangeable widgets"

Right! Keep looking for brilliant scientists working for the lowest wages as disposable commodities is for sure the best business model for this sector, and will fix every problem in this industry. If you're involved in such a quest, my best wishes.

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69. Hap on February 19, 2010 2:40 PM writes...

I'm sure it'll fix his problems. After all, he'll have enough in savings to retire before the raptors come home to roost and feed.

Self-sacrifice and dedication are great other people.

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70. Hap on February 19, 2010 2:47 PM writes...

Expecting a system that punishes the best in their employees (and expects them to continue to give their best at their cost), enriches those who do their worst, and expects people not to learn those lessons to survive for very long is not the smartest thing.

Everyone in those Albanian pyramid schemes hoped to be the last one out before the schemes collapsed. You can see how well that worked for most of the Albanians (other than the criminals, who made out well in any case).

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71. bbooooooya on February 19, 2010 2:48 PM writes...

"The best and most successful scientists solve problems because it's in their blood, not to get paid"

Do you also believe in the tooth fairy?

I assume you would never think of backing up your statement with concrete action, for example, by asking your boss to donate all your salary to charity in lieu of payment? Nope, didn't think so.

I work to get paid. If I had a choice between working in a lab/office or going to the beach, 100% of the time I would go to the beach (even in the rain).

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72. bbooooooya on February 19, 2010 2:56 PM writes...

"combichem would have solved all Pharma's productivity problems back in the 90s"

Seriously? Did anyone ever believe that testing 100s of compounds at once was a smart idea?

Combi chem is a great example of MBAs run amok (if 12 compounds are good, 1,000 are better!).

Outsourcing low value work (i.e. mixing and then purifying chemicals) is completely different. nice thing here, is iterative aspects can still be implemented in US once assay results are known.

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73. Laid Off Medicinal Chemist on February 19, 2010 3:01 PM writes...

Taking Jazbot's Pharma PR department Kool-Aid drinking logic one step further, physician's should do the honorable thing and decline payment for their services. After all it should be about the patients and not about being paid right? Teachers and college professors should also work for free. What is more noble and satisying than teaching kids? Add politicians to the list too. Why should a "public servant" expect to be paid? Why not do it out of the goodness of their heart?

AIG's shennanigans almost brought this country's economy to its knees. Even after a 180B bailout, the top guys who were responsible for the near collapse, demanded bonuses, not out of the goodness of their hearts but because they thought they deserved it. If they didn't get it, they threatened to walk, further threatening the government's ability to ever get its bailout money back.

Most of us in the Medchem trenches over the past decades never demanded unseemly bonuses. We were in fact happy to be paid for our work and expertise doing something that we truly found intellectually stimulating and challenging. We had no choice in the decision to toss us in the trash like used diapers and hire the next newly minted PhD or contractor chemist or any number of cheap Chindian replacements. Pardon us if we don't feel all warm and cuddly waxing poetic about being part of the problem.

Wall Street has a really twisted sense of right vs wrong, who deserves to be paid for their services and who doesn't. It is easy to cheer Pharma companies for laying off dedicated, long term employees simply because they "cost too much" but when was the last time you heard them or the sycophants atop the companies they advise, advocating the same for themselves.

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74. CMCguy on February 19, 2010 4:13 PM writes...

I maybe would defend Jazbot as I think he is suggesting that scientists should be motivated more by pursuit than only rewards. Although relative to general populace scientists are paid well, most lab people I know realize they could have made better salaries with greater security/job flexibility in other fields so from that view are not in it to get paid. I personally understand the demotivation of layoffs (from both sides), particularly if is done arbitrarily or with favoritism, however if as a "survivor" you can not get over it and (continue) contribute then agree you do become part of the problem (as perpetuate low productivity).

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75. Anonymous on February 19, 2010 4:38 PM writes...

Well, the way I see it (you know as one of those mindless grunt workers), Pharma is history so what's the next industry we can outsource? (We need to invest our severance money in something and get rich....) I think I know! Healthcare!

Pretty soon, your insurance carrier will be putting everyone who needs surgery on a plane to China or India (coach, of course) to have their next surgery. Turns out doctors work there for 1/5th what they do here in the states and they have some nice rehab "places" that overlook the Yellow River (where you'll get the water for your IV for free!). Need an xray? Send the films to China? Need an MRI read? Send the file to India. Mammogram? get the picture.

Why not? With the arguments above, please tell my what's the difference!??? It's just a matter of time. I mean we're only talking about brain surgery after all! Any mindless grunt can do that! So every argument that says that R&D are replaceable in Chindia could be made for healthcare. They are cheaper so tough for you.

One minor difference though, the insurance provider won't care if you're an MBA, a Wall Street investor, a Pharma executive or just some unemployed "mindless grunt worker" who has coverage under Cobra. Either way - we're all going to China or India for any procedure that costs less than tacking on a roundtrip coach trip to India or China. (I suspect that with time they'll drop the transportation cost.)

After all readers, those insurance companies answer to their shareholders not to the patients and if they can send you for surgery on your colon in India for $2K less than at Beth Israel..........Well sorry then, hope you like curry.

As perfect as it sounds, the rich will still find an insurance carrier that won't outsource and things will be just like they are now.

I better go hire me an MBA to put together some pie charts and a business plan to sell to Cigna, United Healthcare and Blue Cross/ Blue Shield. I'm rich! I'm rich! I'm rich! Now the rest of you don't copy my idea..........

PS: Don't bring along any family pets for your sugeries. They may be mistaken as part of your meal plan.

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76. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on February 19, 2010 5:30 PM writes...

In response to bbooooooya (#72):

It's hard to pin the sins of combichem on MBAs. I have an MBA, and at one point directed a combichem department (prior to going the MBA route). I tell you, the combichem party was being driven solely by scientists throughout the latter half of the 1990s. I attended numerous conferences focused on combichem, and everyone, EVERYONE, was selling this combined with HTS as the panacea. And even the skeptics went along with the herd. It made sense for a few years. Sure, we all feel pretty stupid looking at it in hindsight, but at the time it made sense. The thought was to make large libraries of mainly amides, sulfonamides, esters, all the easy pieces you could throw together, get some nice active leads, and quickly build more sophisticated molecules with better drug-like properties. It sounded good at the time, it really did, but we all know the outcome.

Getting my MBA was the best thing I ever did for myself, because it opened numerous doors for me outside the pharma industry. Sure, MBAs sell a lot of crap, but so do scientists, as I witnessed with the combichem debacle. Scientists have also tried to sell cold fusion, stem cells that didn't exist, and climate change data that was hidden while trying to silence skeptics. Scientists aren't necessarily altruistic angels as a group, there are bad actors everywhere. But mostly good ones, at least that's what I believe.

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77. Hap on February 19, 2010 6:12 PM writes...

A job probably isn't worth your soul. If a career path demands your soul of you, though, 1) you probably don't want to be there, and 2) the career path is broken (jobs that demand one's soul can't be worth it, and whoever remains probably won't be worth much, either).

I don't know that the idea of generating lots of compounds was flawed. Making libraries that couldn't cover much chemical space, and were often impure and crappy, though, wasn't such a good idea. It's probably hard to optimize a reaction to be really robust, and so lots of people rolled what they had on out for their J. Comb. Chem. papers and neglected that their methods would give lots of useless crap. Fishing in the Newark sewer system wasn't going to keep pharma's customers in red snapper and sole.

One of the commenters at The ChemBlog said "One failed reaction is a mistake. A million failed reactions is a combinatorial library."

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78. John on February 19, 2010 6:23 PM writes...

Here's a big part of the problem. Outsource to China and push out US researchers in the states.

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79. M-urk on February 19, 2010 7:53 PM writes...

Maybe MRK would not be in this position if a decade ago they had not been rationing scifinder crossfire and a bunch of other tools, and letting the IT people run R&D.

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80. Anonymous on February 19, 2010 8:01 PM writes...

jazbot farted that:

"The best and most successful scientists solve problems because it's in their blood, not to get paid."

Bend over, and I'll solve your problem of brainlessness with a long trochar.

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81. wierdo on February 19, 2010 8:02 PM writes...

Jazbot is right.
You guys have nothing to complain about. Lets look at the typical synthetic organic chemist career path. You study hard in high school while your friends are out partying, but it is worth it, since this will-
Get you in a good college, shelling out $200,000. While your friends are out partying in college, your writing lab reports, but it is worth it, because if you get god grades it will-
Get you in a good grad school, where you can work for some unnapreciative tyrant, working 80 hours a week for below poverty level pay. You can do this for 5 years, but it is worth it, because if your lucky, you can-
Relocate and get a postdoc. Doing more 80 hour weeks for below poverty pay, and after 2 years, and you are lucky you-
Get a Pharma job, where you now can enjoy a little bit of life, but then you get laid off in 7 years, and you find you can't get another job because-
a) your job got outsourced to Chindia, and/or
b) You have over 5 years of experience and all of the job advertisements from Pharma only want someone with 0-5 years experience. So you find you can't get a job in your field, your skills make it tough to get a job in another field, and you have a family and mortgage so you can't go back to school full time and get a marketable degree. And you guys are complaining.

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82. Thomas McEntee on February 19, 2010 11:14 PM writes...

There you have it,'s all in #81 for everyone except for those who have the "right stuff" or who luck into a team that finds one of the diminishing number of blockbusters. I'm certain that in those cotton mills that I mentioned way back in #22 that there were stellar performers, but in the end it didn't matter...the jobs moved on. 150-200 years ago, people in the East put what they could into covered wagons and headed west. US chemists are going to have to start thinking in those terms.

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83. Bewildered on February 19, 2010 11:24 PM writes...

Wierdo, have you heard of spellcheck programs? Anyway, as a recently laid off chemist, I can understand the anxiety and anger expressed on this forum. However, complaints will not deliver jobs. My current career choices include whoring my skills to temp agencies, sending my resume to online HR purgatory, or leaving chemistry altogether. Whatever the outcome, I have no regrets about grad school and would not actively discourage others from pursuing science PhDs.

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84. Please don't vote me off the island this time. on February 20, 2010 12:22 AM writes...

When I first came into the industry I met someone who used to work at Kodak prior to the film to digital transition. This person was well respected as a scientist and a fascinating fellow to converse with.

I used to wonder what it must have been like to work at a place which was once an 'Industrial Mekka' of world class expertise in chemistry and innovation. I wondered what it must have felt like to watch round after round of destruction of something beautiful (but made obsolete) without a clear light at the end of the tunnel. What must it have felt like if your only goal was to avoid surviving until the next round of 'voting folks off the island', and of course hoping for a respite of peace in between rounds.

Now I work for Merck at the drug discover/development interface in Rahway. I don't have a PhD, so perhaps I can survive several more rounds of layoffs than others who are more expensive.

I don't wonder what it must have been like to work at Kodak any more.

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85. skeptyc on February 20, 2010 3:43 AM writes...

Simple equation applies to an industry which is not productive enough. Stay in R&D (for now) on the off chance that you get lucky and do find a new blockbuster (a bit like the difference between having a lottery ticket and not having one) but given that R&D isn't productive (in the traditional business sense) then why pay more than you have to for it. China and India may not provide the same quality but that doesn't appear to make much difference anyhow. Can't really argue with that (even if it seems wrong deep down). Find another way to use your skills as this way of life is over.

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86. Lucky D Chemist on February 20, 2010 5:06 AM writes...

"it's all in #81 for everyone except for those who have the "right stuff" or who luck into a team that finds one of the diminishing number of blockbusters."

You mean like Lipitor? Every member of the Parke-Davis / Warner-Lambert Med Chem team that discovered Lipitor, the biggest blockbuster drug of all time has been "reorganized" i.e. euphemistically laid off by Pfizer. Those guys put Billions in share holders' pockets and in the end they were treated like toilet paper for their hard work and success. I'm sure some 28 year old MBA had some nice Power Point slides to show that the Lipitor discovery team was no longer a "fit" in the "new" organization i.e. they were expensive, cost too much in terms of salary and benefits, and were "overqualified" for their position. The lawyers made sure no one used the word "old" to describe them......bad for PR.

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87. retread on February 20, 2010 10:09 AM writes...

God, it is sad reading this stuff. Regardless of what happens in medicine the patients can't be shipped overseas (although their Xrays can). The worst thing, is that none of this is the fault of the chemists. See #34.

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88. Frank on February 20, 2010 11:29 PM writes...

Since this is a blog run by a chemist for chemists, I can't help thinking, from the current situation, would it be practical asking how 'newly laid-off chemists,' if they would be so kind, found new occupations. Considering the latest Pfizer moves, would this help our colleagues? If not, does anyone have better/alternative suggestions. Best Wishes to the unfortunate.

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89. milkshake on February 21, 2010 6:55 AM writes...

I think there are still few available positions these days but it is hard to learn about them because they don't get advertised much and are filed through grapevine among friends - simply there would be too many desperate applicants if the open positions were listed publicly. And again, the preference is for fresh graduates from good groups who just finished their postdoc.

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90. r & d guy on February 21, 2010 11:46 AM writes...

whatever it is merck has been doing, the damage has been done, it is going to be a true wakening for their productivities, and qualities. I am quiet certain the business managers are aware about the consequences for their strategie or they are just simply very dump with no vision what so ever for not thinking ahead on how their action will affect their employees moralities and productivities, not to mention looking for their way out

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91. bbooooooya on February 21, 2010 3:35 PM writes...

"Regardless of what happens in medicine the patients can't be shipped overseas'

Sadly, this is likely to start happening, at least for non-emergency settings. Countries like India and Thailand have set up hospitals to cater to US patients seeking elective surgery: doctors are often US trained, but costs are a fraction of those in US. At some point, insurance companies are going to start saying, "ok, you can have that lifesaving operation, but will be in India". The idiot republicans will counter what a great example of the free market this is!

Sorry folks, but economies wax and wane. The US has had a good run, but it ain't gonna last.

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92. Jazbot on February 21, 2010 4:26 PM writes...

At least I got to learn what a trochar is.

#71 booya (I saw the BooYa Tribe play once, long time ago):

I think you made my point for me. You're a clock-puncher, you don't really give a s**t about your work. This field is too complex and difficult for people who daydream about the beach all day. Go make widgets.

#81 Weirdo

You make my point too. If getting an education was such a drag, then why did you do it? It sounds like you did it because you thought it would give you some sort of job guarantee. Pretty naive. I took the same path, not for any guarantees, but because I enjoyed it. If you feel entitled to something because you worked and sacrificed once upon a time, than you're a clock-puncher. Go make widgets.

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93. bbooooooya on February 21, 2010 4:33 PM writes...

"This field is too complex and difficult for people who daydream about the beach all day."

Hey, that's funny. 90% of dd (for the chem side) is mixing and purifying chemicals, a trained monkey can do it. heck much of synthesis can now be done by machines who don't care about the nuances of "how complicated it is".

There's a reason Science and Nature rarely publish synthesis papers---it hasn't been cutting edge for decades.

The field is simple enough so that most of the jobs will be outsourced to Asia. I guess folks there can day dream about the beach while worrying if they choose the right the correct ligand for the 5000th Suzuki coupling they've done.

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94. PorkPieHat on February 21, 2010 4:43 PM writes...

Milkshake, I know you're long in the tooth...your analysis laid out in #62 is spot on (having seen it firsthand myself). What strikes me is the devaluation of experience in an industry which absolutely NEEDS a blend of institutional memory and willingness to try new things to move forward towards greater efficiency in producing products (which are not widgets).

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95. wierdo on February 21, 2010 5:11 PM writes...

#92 Jazz-snot,

You make my point too,
Investing in an education is no guarantee of job security. The problem is that this is such a specialized field, and it is difficult to transition to another profession with such specialized job skills. For example, if your job skill is sales, and your selling something in industry A, and that industry is shrinking, you can easily transition to industry B.
Alot of us came into this field for our love of science, and to help human suffering by discovering medicines. It is not unreasonable for us to be pissed when we spent the first 30 years of our lives training for a profession, just to be considered too old to practice it after having done it for > 5 years.
But we have people like you, who are probably the ones sending our jobs to Chindia, thinking us scientists are at fault. Now go make a widget. I'm going to the beach!

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96. milkshake on February 21, 2010 6:27 PM writes...

the one nice thing though, about being unemployed, is that after the years of all-consuming drudgery of lab work finally one gets the time and motivation to do with his life what one always dreamed of - for example, getting drunk early in the morning and spending the day by writing suggestive letters to unsuspecting young women

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97. Chemjobber on February 21, 2010 6:49 PM writes...

if there are more than 3 synthesis papers in the past 6 months in Sci or Nat I'd be amazed.

In 2010, there have been three papers by synthetic organic chemists in Science (Jacobsen, MC White and Jin-Quan Yu (TSRI)). (3 papers, 8 issues). Of the last 12 issues of 2009, there were 4 papers that were organic chemistry papers.

If organic synthesis hasn't been cutting-edge in decades, I suppose that the Nobel committee screwed up by giving the prize to Grubbs in 2005.

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98. bbooooooya on February 21, 2010 7:10 PM writes...

"If organic synthesis hasn't been cutting-edge in decades, I suppose that the Nobel committee screwed up by giving the prize to Grubbs in 2005."

So, how long ago was olefin metastasis invented?

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99. wierdo on February 21, 2010 8:03 PM writes...

#96 Milkshake,

I don't know Milkshake. You sound like your having fun, and are not in the lab day and night. According to Jazz-snot, you would be a clock-puncher. You may have to join me in the making of widgets.

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100. Chemjobber on February 21, 2010 8:24 PM writes...

So, how long ago was olefin metastasis invented?

Metathesis has been around for a very long time, but I seem to recall that the first big JACS paper from Grubbs was in 1990 (not that long ago.) Other may disagree as to which JACS paper is/was most relevant.

No offense, but it appears that you've left the field. It may comfort you to think that nothing has changed since you've left, but I don't think your assertions bear that out.

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101. Jose on February 21, 2010 8:53 PM writes...

bbooooooya: This blog has been a troll-free haven for eons, so please take your tiresome schtick elsewhere, and let the adult continue their conversations of a serious and mature nature.

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102. milkshake on February 21, 2010 9:17 PM writes...

weirdo, I would not mind joining your widget factory. My gmail address is tvojkovsky

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103. bbooooooya on February 21, 2010 10:10 PM writes...

"I seem to recall that the first big JACS paper from Grubbs was in 1990 (not that long ago.)"

Only 2 decades, pretty fresh!

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104. retread on February 21, 2010 10:32 PM writes...

Please people, metatTHESIS is the reaction, metaSTASIS refers the the spread of cancer from its site of origin and is almost always fatal (Lance Armstrong excepted)l. Grubbs on the other hand is going strong after 20 years.

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105. Chemjobber on February 22, 2010 8:01 AM writes...

You should forgive the banker, doc.

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106. Almost Ph.D. on February 22, 2010 5:28 PM writes...

I'm finishing up grad school right now in organic chemistry and am secretly *not* looking for a postdoc. My advisor will be horrified and disappointed; I still can't bring myself to tell him. I love research and I love academia but things are seriously amiss in the field right now. Rather than choose a path of long slow inevitable defeat in academia (or family, I'm not good enough to be a pro at both, sorry to say)- I'm choosing the swift grim realism of forming a start up. Even the grandiose delusions of entrepreneurialism seem like a safer bet than a career as a chemist. If 90% of all tech startups fail, what percent of career chemists find themselves without tenure, job security, or out of their field by middle age?

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107. milkshake on February 22, 2010 6:29 PM writes...

Well a startup is not a bad career choice these days but since you are talking about you starting it yourself I suppose it is going to be a custom synthesis lab. Good luck - you will need it. Contract research organizations are now dime a dozen and the required investment is steep (how you are going to take care of NMRs and LCMS??) and you will have to compete against China. I know a very good synthetic chemist who is a faculty at not-so-good university in US who thought a custom synthesis lab like this would help to supplement funding of his own academic research, and maybe he could quietly use his school NMR and his wife would help to run the business and his desperate ex-postdocs with visa problem would synthesize the compounds cheaply. He got burned a big way when his first customers passed on him irreproducible procedures to scale up.

On the other hand, Aldrich started as a custom synthesis lab under very modest conditions, and from what I heard they earned their initial income from making Diazald in a bathtub. I have seen as a curiosity one of their early catalogs - it was without the classic painting and it was only about 40 pages thick.

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108. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on February 23, 2010 3:40 PM writes...

Re Milkshake #107...

You're right, custom synthesis labs are indeed a dime a dozen. Anyone need proof? Go to Informex and wander the exhibitor hall. This used to be a pretty small industry (well, about 15 years ago), but now there are little businesses everywhere. Instrumentation is expensive, that's for sure, but most people who ponder starting such a venture don't think of less obvious expenses like waste disposal, the costs to put HVAC into a lab (do you realize how much air a fume hood sucks out of a room?), benefits for employees, the cost to market your services, etc etc? Youch! There are many easier ways to make a living than that business. It's pretty much gone the route of the used record store, not enough profits left to justify adding yet ANOTHER company to the mix.

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109. Anonymous on February 23, 2010 11:00 PM writes...

We all need to eat, provide shelter for ourselves and family, and so we all need the pay. To argue that we should stop claiming that we are driven to work hard for the greater good is simply the bitterness of the unappreciated. Boooya can go to the beach if s/he wants to. Therapy can ease the pain too.

Most of my colleagues come to work, aside from the necessity of the pay, because they actually do want to have some positive impact on improving the human condition. But the fact that the companies that pay our checks no longer share that goal, if they ever did, puts us all in a poor position. We will have to reinvent ourselves in order to continue to be able to feed our families.

My child is very interested in science. Although I am certain he would make an excellent scientist, I am carefully steering him towards other career paths. In fact, I am actively seeking exit from the US. I do not see a good future here or many professionals. My grandparents left Europe for a better future in the US. The tide has turned around, and the days of opportunity are going away. Sad, but we will all have to deal with this disgusting anti-science, anti-intellectual, unreasoning trend, in our own ways. Best to all who try to make something work out for themselves and families.

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110. DrDoom on February 24, 2010 7:33 AM writes...

I'm moving into high-school science teaching, despite having a career that saw me co-invent one drug and have another 3 Phase II starts. Why ? Because the small molecule drug era is over (or at least the drug companies have decided it is) so it's time to move on. Science itself isn't a bad choice as a career but you have to pick the right field. I'd guess that today's students could still make a fair living in advanced materials, energy generation, electronics and other physics-related applications. But personally, I can't afford to spend five years or more building my knowledge in another completely different field. As the balance of economic power shifts to the east, who is to say anyway that non-scientific fields will be untouched either. If people don't make things they can't afford to pay for the service sector industries - a long steep decline is ahead for the whole of the west.

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111. Anonymous on February 24, 2010 8:40 AM writes...

The long steep decline for the whole of the west has already begun. The last two years show a definitive trend. 10% unemployment is here to stay - and the "jobless recovery" is viewed as perfectly OK by Wall Street. Americans are not proletariats - there is no uprising, just more lotto playing and frivolous lawsuits.

And predatory merging continues to systematically dismantle the US pharma research engine. The chemistry and biology worker bees are disposable commodities now - Lipitor is a great example of this. Anyone who believes that they deserve any respect for being creative and contributing directly to the company's revenue is just delusional. Respect for institutional knowledge is gone. And so are the new drugs. Hmmm...wonder if there is a correlation here...? We are worker bees that must "fit" into the appropriate boxes generated by HR. And the gods (of your choice) help you if you complain.

Its over for us, and the US too.

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112. processchemist on February 24, 2010 9:04 AM writes...

About the startup of new custom synthesis companies (I've more than my share of experience in this field): maybe 15-20 years ago it was a good idea, now can be an expensive suicide. In the field of scaled up operations (100l - industrial scale) many people burned cash to expand facilities or upgrade to GMP just before the crisis: now some of them are surviving only with custom bench chemistry.
I just started working on a process validation job (phase II-III): when I saw the budget it was ludicrous (one fourth of the usual). I don't have direct experience in the field of contract med chem (chemistry+biology). Some folks I know say that the outlook is grim also there.

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113. CanChem on February 24, 2010 10:13 AM writes...

There ain't much happening in contract med chem either, at least not in my North American neck of the woods. Start-ups haven't been formed to the same rate in the last 18 months (no cash), and while big pharma reorganizes and identifies cost savings (*ahem*) they've been slow to start new projects externally. This has caused a rather precipitous drop in people with cash looking for people like me, and a few anxious moments here too.

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114. caprock on March 31, 2010 5:25 PM writes...

I can understand why they have so many vacant jobs-they post and repost the same jobs but never hire anyone.

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