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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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March 8, 2010

Bad News at Exelixis

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Posted by Derek

I'm hearing from more than one source that Exelixis has laid off about 40% of their work force, which is somewhere around 250 people (the numbers I get don't all agree). This seems to be across the board, all departments, and most everyone is being asked to leave today.

The Bay area biotech scene doesn't seem to be at its healthiest these days (although it's still in better shape than San Diego, from the sound of it), but this isn't going to help it one bit. . .

Comments (89) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. You're Pfizered on March 8, 2010 3:07 PM writes...

And the hits keep right on a-coming....

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2. Underworlds on March 8, 2010 3:29 PM writes...

Thanx for the heads up. Sorry to hear that so many people are being added to the unemployment statistics.

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3. Hap on March 8, 2010 3:54 PM writes...

Those kind of layoff fractions usually come from small companies with one or two potential drugs of which at least one just failed. Why is Exelixis laying off so much of their workforce (or why did they get so big with so few products)?

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4. Hap on March 8, 2010 4:00 PM writes...

Apparently Exelixis's fourth-quarter 2009 and full-year 2009 results are supposed to be announced tomorrow. Anyone want to guess how good they're going to look?

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6. Steve on March 8, 2010 4:30 PM writes...

Are those who were terminated asked to attend an early morning meeting? Were they handed a note by a security guard or did they find a note on their desk as they arrived asking them to pack up and leave? What would it say? "As of immediately, we won't be needing your services anymore, and, oh, would you mind selling that house you just bought, take your kids out of school, and get ready to roll over that retirement account?" There's no loyalty anymore. You are a commodity just like a barrel of salt out in the warehouse. That's exactly why I'm so glad I didn't pursue a job in the pharmaceutical industry. How do those of you in industry handle the idea that you could be fired/laid off/let go at any moment for no reason? How do you just pick up your lives and your families and move on?

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7. Steve on March 8, 2010 4:35 PM writes...

Are those who were terminated asked to attend an early morning meeting? Were they handed a note by a security guard or did they find a note on their desk as they arrived asking them to pack up and leave? What would it say? "As of immediately, we won't be needing your services anymore, and, oh, would you mind selling that house you just bought, take your kids out of school, and get ready to roll over that retirement account?" There's no loyalty anymore. You are a commodity just like a barrel of salt out in the warehouse. That's exactly why I'm so glad I didn't pursue a job in the pharmaceutical industry. How do those of you in industry handle the idea that you could be fired/laid off/let go at any moment for no reason? How do you just pick up your lives and your families and move on?

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8. Thumperska on March 8, 2010 4:54 PM writes...

Steve, a good way to deal with that type of instability is not to pretend that stability exists. Keep up your contacts and reputation. Stay current with the literature. It's not complicated, just takes diligence.At least with Boston there are many choices for employment in biotech and pharma. The Excelixis folks could have had it worse.

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9. Anonymous on March 8, 2010 4:57 PM writes...

"We are convinced that the restructuring is the right step for the company and positions us well to move into the future. However, it is extremely difficult to release many people who have contributed substantially to the company over the years and who are our friends and colleagues."

Does every damn pharmaceutical company use the exact same PR / "transitioning" firm? Can't these guys even be bothered to put together a few different versions of the "we need to treat you like used toilet paper so that we can satisfy our share holders" song and verse so as to at least give the appearance that they thought about it long and hard and aren't just jumping on the what's in vogue in pharma bandwagon?

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10. Hell to the chief on March 8, 2010 5:04 PM writes...

Looks again like a bigger blow for San Diego rather than Bay Area. Unconfirmed report says the Exelixis SD site is to close.

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11. Anonymous on March 8, 2010 5:05 PM writes...

"Keep up your contacts and reputation. Stay current with the literature. It's not complicated, just takes diligence."

So diligence is all it takes for the thousands being kicked to the curb by pharma every month to find jobs? Even the hundreds and hundreds of "overqualified ones" or the ones who don't meet the high demand "PhD with 0-5 years experience" requirement? That is so comforting to know. Thanks!

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12. CanChem on March 8, 2010 5:07 PM writes...


Boston's a happening place for jobs in Bio/Pharm? Coulda fooled me. Everyone I've been in contact with (at least for MedChem) has been fully staffed or reducing headcount. Be more than happy to hear differently though.

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13. Hap on March 8, 2010 5:13 PM writes...

The only problem with instability as a permanent part of a pharma career is that the fact that 1) your partner will have to find a job, rendering almost all moves two-body problems and 2) other parts of one's life (such as children) depend on some level of stability.

Being in places with lots of jobs, particularly lots of kinds of chemistry jobs, might help - it at least minimizes the dislocation when one is laid off because there will likely be jobs nearby that one can take. Pharma centers help some unless (almost) everyone in pharma is laying off (like now). The problem is, those places are expensive to live in, generally, and so you have to have saved lots of money to afford to stay there while unemployed. Networks can't hurt, but the number of out of work people is probably straining everyone's networks - there aren't enough jobs. Having a resume (or at least a core list of what you have done and can do, since you don't necessarily know what jobs you might have to apply for) probably would help. I don't know anything else constructive.

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14. Joe on March 8, 2010 5:20 PM writes...

"At least with Boston there are many choices for employment in biotech and pharma"

Boston is full of Boston-centric snobs. If you didn't go to school in the area, don't expect to be hired.

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15. HelicalZz on March 8, 2010 5:24 PM writes...

No it isn't good and it isn't fun, but when a company moves from being primarily discovery to being primarily clinical this kind of restructuring should surprise no one.

The company doesn't need more shots on goal, it needs to put its capital to use proving out the ones it has already taken.


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16. Cloud on March 8, 2010 5:27 PM writes...

Steve- I consider Exelisis closer to biotech than pharma. It wasn't that big even before the layoffs. Most people working at a small drug discovery company know that their jobs are not secure. I personally handle this by keeping up with my network, keeping my resume updated, and keeping a hefty financial reserve. Hap is right that my husband has to work- but he wasn't too interested in being a stay at home dad, and I wasn't too interested in being a stay at home mom. I do have friends that work in this industry and have a stay at home partner, and they tend to handle it by having an even larger financial reserve. You figure out how long it is likely to take you to find another job from a standing start and given your restrictions (i.e., would you relocate) and then make sure your reserve covers that.

I also never blow off a headhunter, and always try to help anyone who contacts me via my network. What goes around, comes around.

Most companies provide severance, but I never count on that.

Also, after working in a couple of companies, you get a bit of a spidey-sense about when bad things are about to go down, so you aren't generally starting your search from nothing. I saw my last lay off coming, and was already well into a job search when it finally hit.

It also helps to be willing to make lateral moves and not get hung up on staying in a particular field.

None of this is to trivialize how much it sucks to work at Exelisis today. Good luck to all of them.

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17. bluefoot on March 8, 2010 5:46 PM writes...

Steve @6: I am told there were a couple of large meetings this morning at Exelixis where people were told.
Unfortunately instability has become part of the biotech/pharma "career path". The best you can do is try to mitigate the damage when you're laid off, because everyone is laid off in this industry at least once in their career. No matter how good they are. Cloud @16 pretty much nails the standard operating procedure of all the people I know in the industry.

The problem right now is that there just aren't enough jobs.

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18. Vermeer on March 8, 2010 5:57 PM writes...

"...for we must first descend if we wish to be raised."

-Dutch proverb.

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19. J-bone on March 8, 2010 6:19 PM writes...

high demand "PhD with 0-5 years experience" requirement

A lot of people keep talking about this, but I don't see it in the job postings I'm looking at. Most of what I'm seeing is "Ph.D w/8-10 yrs exp" (obviously a director/PI position) or "BS w/5-8 yrs exp, MS w/3-5 yrs exp (these are the former entry level Ph.D positions).

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20. Anonymous on March 8, 2010 6:35 PM writes...

My husband was one of the 270 to have been laid off today. Needless to say, it is unnerving.

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21. Hap on March 8, 2010 6:37 PM writes...

Has the "focus your cashflow on development rather than research" strategy actually worked? I'm used to seeing it as a flatline on a company's financial EKG - a preliminary to the forthcoming death certificate. At best, the company might be able to get itself sold to someone looking for a readymade product (particularly when no one in pharma seems interested in adding domestic research headcount), but usually it means that if the products don't hit, you're dead (in other words, you're dead).

The problem with assuming you have enough candidates is, well, that's what the big companies said too, until their candidates ran out. So many drugs fail, and lately, fail expensively, that it seems like no one has a clue which ones will succeed and which ones will fail. If you knew which drugs would fail ahead of time, well, you wouldn't be laying people off, because you'd own the pharma industry. Assuming you have enough candidates seems contrary to recent experience, sort of like assuming you have enough money.

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22. Cloud on March 8, 2010 6:43 PM writes...

Hap- look up the history of Amylin. That is the example that comes to mind of a company that was big, shrunk down to almost nothing, and then came back.

I think the general plan is to focus resources on getting a drug into the clinic, and then regrow the discovery side from that point. The shrinkage usually occurs when it is obvious which drug the company wants to bet on. It isn't so much that they want to bet on one or two compounds, but that they have to because they don't have enough cash to do otherwise.

I vaguely remember a twist in the Amylin case. I think they had a collaboration that tanked or something? I'm sorry, I can't recall the details. I think they were down to just a few people at one point, and now they're reasonably big.

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23. Been there on March 8, 2010 6:59 PM writes...

Agree with cloud...almost every biotech that has "made it" in the last 10 years or so has gone through a major restructuring. Typically this is accomplished by cutting research to focus on a few development projects. As I understand, EXEL is across the board, which suggests to me that they have (appropriately) decided that their pipeline is filled withe too many programs that are not sufficiently differentiated to be competitive. A good business move perhaps, but not exactly good news for the folks laid off. Been there and it sucks, particularly in today's environment when there are so many great people being laid off by biotech and pharma alike. Hope everyone gets thru this OK!

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24. Hap on March 8, 2010 7:08 PM writes...

Apparently Amylin cut their workforce by > 75% and still exist (they now have 1900 employees, according to Wikipedia) - they also survived losing a partnership with J+J on one of their two drugs and then a committee vote against its use for diabetes (and yet got an approvable letter anyway). Wow. They now have Byetta (which can't hurt), but I don't know what happened to their original drug.

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25. Chemjobber on March 8, 2010 7:31 PM writes...

It was a year and a half ago or so that Amylin was hiring folks like crazy; as I recall, they were actually "sponsoring" (advertising) their career fair on the local public radio station. Lots of open positions for folks with experience with protein chemistry -- not me, sadly.

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26. hell to the chief on March 8, 2010 7:32 PM writes...

#24 Hap
I think Byetta was one of their 'original' drugs (along with pramlintide aka symlin?). Sure it's on the market now, but they are still yet to make a profit. Hence another recent round of job cuts there to cut the bleeding of $50m per quarter.

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27. Wade on March 8, 2010 7:34 PM writes...

It is sad story of our dying pharma industry. Dear fellow chemists, try to learn something different, like Steve here. I know it is tough, I learnt the hard way, when I got laid off for third time in my biotech career of over 15 years. Second time I was a part of Pfizer layoffs.

However, eventually it works out with good planning and rock solid determination. Just remember, when we work with molecules, that nobody have seen; we can do anything. The chemists are by nature entreprenueur. I wish all fellow chemists best of luck.

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28. dd on March 8, 2010 8:30 PM writes...


I don't this Amylin is exactly the poster child for coming back. Its major new BLA is held up at the FDA, it's got major personnel issues internally, and it looks to have some major competition in the making. That's hardly a poster child for "coming back".

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29. Cloud on March 8, 2010 8:47 PM writes...

dd- my point wasn't that Amylin is some sort of example of a great company. I don't really have an opinion on that. My point was just that it is a company that went through a drastic restructuring and survived.

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30. Skeptic on March 8, 2010 8:56 PM writes...

Where in this chain: (Consumer --> Pharmacist --> Doctor --> FDA Approval) is the chemist influential? The consumer relies upon government nutrition studies which are statistics (mostly nonsense)...the Pharmacist is beholden to the Dcotor...the Doctor (his chemistry content being less and less in university) simply looks up drug interactions on a database...and FDA is all about statistics. Nobody needs any knowledge of chemistry. They know nothing at all.

And the dumb money (pensions, etc) investors? They increasingly rely upon Hedge Funds which couldn't care less about success of chemistry ventures...just stock volatility in whatever direction.

Stop your obsession with the physical world. Statistics education is all you need.

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31. milkshake on March 8, 2010 9:04 PM writes...

a good friend of mine, an outstanding process chemist, got laid off from Exelexis some time before this latest round - as soon as he was done with improving the scale-up process to one of their clinical compounds and and there were no more new clinical candidates in development the management realized no process chemist was needed any longer... He found a new job since then but he is still very frustrated about that place. Because just like with his previous company (where we were together) the harder he worked to finish his project the sooner he found himself without a job.

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32. ron richardson on March 8, 2010 9:08 PM writes...

My uninformed analysis, looking at the exelixis pipeline on the website, is that they didn't go after any interesting or novel targets--you're just not going to beat the big boys at making a PI3K inhibitor, etc.

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33. Skeptic on March 8, 2010 11:58 PM writes...

Milkshake, if you and your buddy find the kitchen (in-vivo biology) is too hot then I'm afraid your membership in the Goldman Sach's Yacht Club is denied.

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34. Jack Bauer on March 8, 2010 11:58 PM writes...

A lot of bad news coming from the industry. Could I ask for a little advice? In this sort of "job climate" we are in, would it be advantageous to stay in grad school as long as possible? Will this clear up in 5 years?

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35. Skeptic on March 9, 2010 12:25 AM writes...

Jack, ask yourself why speculators will ever care about compartmentalized US scientists (chemists, physicists, biologists,) when the story stock era of basic molecular biology is over. Now you have to deliver.

And when a poster says med chemists are not to blame because "We are just finding out how hard it is..." then I think the proper advice is self-evident.

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36. Bob on March 9, 2010 3:01 AM writes...

Real sorry to hear this. Just read this article:

Can't see it getting better any time soon if ever!

#34 I'd think about retraining if I was you. Seriously!

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37. Jose on March 9, 2010 3:13 AM writes...

Jack, my estimate is that 4-6 years is going to be the bottom of the free fall in the US job market for chemists. Based on the timelines we saw in the combichem era, it will take another year or two to gut most everything stateside, and then 3-4 years of anxious waiting for the new India/China sites to (not) deliver their massive pipelines of blockbusters. At that point, mgmt will freak out, poop their skivvies again, and hire McKinzey and BCG to draw up yet another grand vision for a bright and shiny pharma future. This could include new chemistry stateside, but might not.

Many chemists will not be willing/able to make it through such a huge wasteland (too many hyper-experienced unemployed for too few jobs with marginal security) and will move to other fields. This means it could be a good time to finish, or we might all be watching the Götterdämmerung for an entire industrial era....

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38. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 4:41 AM writes...

#37 The problem with taking the wrong path each time is that the companies get smaller each time. So you've got to ride out at 7-8 year wasteland (that's just based on development time) and then whoever is left will still be getting smaller. Add to that the fact that the western economies will be increasingly impoverished (because they don't make anything) and your problems get worse - no-one is going to be prepared to pay for new drugs. You have to hope that your future employer probably based in China wants to use your skills over there.

Alternatively switch fields, but to what I really don't know.

The best tactic is probably to buy a small ranch in the middle of nowhere, stock up on food and ammo, and prepare for the end of days. It's not going to be pretty.

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39. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 5:28 AM writes...

Exelixis is one of the most successful small biotechs in recent years -- they've already partnered 11 early stage compounds.

#32 says "they didn't go after any interesting or novel targets--you're just not going to beat the big boys at making a PI3K inhibitor". That is exactly wrong. Exelixis went after the same targets as everyone else, and then sold almost every compound back to big pharma on great terms. e.g., Sanofi gave them $140M upfront cash + downstream royalties for their PI3-K program (for a Phase 1 compound!). They got $240M in upfront cash, plus downstream royalties, from BMS for a couple of Raf and Met inhibitors in phase I and II. The list goes on. You can't do better than that.

The reason that Exelixis is firing everyone is just what they say. They've partnered everything in their pipeline, and they need to wind down discovery in order to do development. Sucks if you are in discovery, but every small biotech dreams of getting to the point where they can do exactly what Exelixis is doing now.

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40. alig on March 9, 2010 7:27 AM writes...

Actually, every biotech dreams of putting drugs on the market. How many drugs does Exelixis have on the market?

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41. KinaseNerd on March 9, 2010 8:01 AM writes...

Morgan Stanley told big pharma rather recently to shut down in-house small molecule research and spent their money on in-licensing clinical compounds from small (biotech) companies. Great idea unless those biotech companies decide to kick out their own research staff to focus on supporting what they already have in the clinics. Bottomline, 10 years from now we will see a dramatic shortage of early clinical candidates and an inflation for licensing costs of phase I/II compounds. Will be interesting to watch how the Morgan Stanley guys will react to such a situation. I don't expect them to tell big pharma to reinvest into internal small molecule research ...

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42. Survivingfor now on March 9, 2010 8:38 AM writes...

I am a med chemist with >30 years in the industry. I've had to change jobs after layoffs in recent years but got something interesting and challenging outside Big Pharma but still in the industry. I'm one of the lucky ones who got out of BP earlier I guess. Anyway-I have told my kids that in no circumstances should they consider a career in science as I don't believe scientists are valued highly enough and I don't think that the jobs will be there in the future.
The sad thing is though is that in about 20 years there will probably be a scientist shortage and too many finance guys, lawyers and doctors around.

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43. Mike G on March 9, 2010 10:09 AM writes...

I agree with the posters who argue that the restructuring makes sense given Exelixis' situation. They've partnered out a bunch of anticancer compounds, most recently to Sanofi-Aventis ($140MM upfront), earlier to BMS ($195MM upfront plus an add'l $45MM in 2009). I assume these deals are still in place. I expect one of the BMS compounds may trigger milestone payments this year. The point is, they're in decent financial shape, and want to focus on advancing a handful of compounds into late stage development and beyond.

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44. Hap on March 9, 2010 10:28 AM writes...

#40: I don't think pharmas dream of putting compounds on the market anymore. That would require lots of money and lots of risk, and why do it if you don't have to. If big companies don't have discovery, they can outsource their risk to bigger companies and make lots of money. Of course, that puts the onus on bigger companies to be sure they aren't getting fleeced, which based on things like Sirtris, they might not be able to do.

I guess the concept of an economy where people trade goods and sell them for money is old-fashioned - now, you make money by making stuff up and hoping people are stupid enough to buy or by finding a captive audience who can't run away and bleed them dry, and in both cases hope no one notices before they're dead.

What happens when Exelixis's compunds tank? At a failure rate of 90%, there's a good chance of that, and then what? Heck, even if some do hit, what then - after all, you got rid of the people who found your last batch of drugs, and have to rebuild their knowledge and ability from scratch. And that's the best case.

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45. RB Woodward on March 9, 2010 10:29 AM writes...

"The reason that Exelixis is firing everyone is just what they say. They've partnered everything in their pipeline, and they need to wind down discovery in order to do development. Sucks if you are in discovery, but every small biotech dreams of getting to the point where they can do exactly what Exelixis is doing now."

This is the same business model I followed on my dairy farm. I had a herd of really productive cows, so once my tanks were topped off, I killed them all to concentrate on selling the milk.

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46. 2mrklr on March 9, 2010 11:01 AM writes...

@ RB Woodward

That's exactly the right strategy. After all, you can always get more cows from China, and they're real good at providing low cost milk too. Of course, it may come with a little melamine, but isn't that a good source of protein?

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47. tyrosine on March 9, 2010 11:01 AM writes...

RB Woodward,

Your sarcastic, but erroneous analogy would be applicable if Exelixis could borrow the money from big pharma or venture capital to "sell their milk". Unfortunately in this climate, they can't. And lest not forget that somewhere in their business model, they need to have something to sell.

I agree with the other posters who say that Exelixis is putting what little resources they have where they should. You cannot give up on your promising late-stage candidates. They are all you've got to lead you to success and at this point, succeeding in trials is far more important than discovering more drugs.

Finally, for everyone who is so negative on companies that keep on doing this, keep in mind that if Exelixis succeeds, more investors and more venture capital will flow into new startups. With that said, if Exelixis ends up as another failure, well...

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48. Hap on March 9, 2010 11:32 AM writes...

While milk doesn't cost much to sell, and developing a candidate into a drug does cost a lot, wasn't that development what all those great deals Exelixis was making were supposed to cover? They weren't supposed to have to flay themselves to the bone to cover their trial costs. In addition, their ability to get money from precisely those sources to develop candidates was supposedly what made them successful. Not so much, perhaps?

While RBW's analogy ignores the significant sales costs of the milk, there's the problem that killing the source of your goods is not a long-term business model. Unless you have no better choice, destroying the future of your business to survive a few minutes longer seems meaningless. Since they have so much revenue, it doesn't seem like that ought to be the case. Celebrating self-destruction for no one's betterment seems, well, stupid.

If more VC money flows in because of Exelixis's success, it will flow in to businesses in boom-and-bust flows, because people will be looking to cash in and out, with the result that anyone not running the show will have the job expectancy of the waitstaff at a chain restaurant (and perhaps the pay as well). If the best case for success is being a fattened calf, I don't think I need to worry about what the worst case is.

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49. Ed on March 9, 2010 12:02 PM writes...

Do they have big chunk of venture debt that might convert to stock, is due for repayment or something? Seems like they have been pulling in some big amounts of cash, so I'm wondering that although their burn is probably pretty harsh, they seem to be paring down a bit aggressively.

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50. jay on March 9, 2010 12:33 PM writes...

XenoPort Restructures to Focus on Key Programs

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Mar 05, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- XenoPort, Inc. (Nasdaq:XNPT) announced today a restructuring that includes an overall reduction in its workforce of approximately 50%. The restructuring is designed to focus the Company's resources on advancement of its later-stage product candidates. On February 17, 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Complete Response letter regarding the new drug application for Horizant(TM) (gabapentin enacarbil) Extended-Release Tablets, an investigational, non-dopaminergic treatment for moderate-to-severe primary restless legs syndrome (RLS).

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51. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 3:13 PM writes...

What a vicious cycle. After 20 years of giving them your blood, sweat and tears, big pharma lays you off because you cost too much in salary and benefits because you've been around too long and performed too well (hence the high salary). Nothing personal. They need to do what is in the best long term interest of the company's survival. They tell you not to worry because there are tons of biotech jobs out there just begging for experienced scientists. You accept that you have to start your life over from scratch and churn out resumes continuously, targeting the "tons of biotechs" and begging for jobs paying significantly below your previous salary. Some of them want nothing to do with big pharma rejects with their big pharma mentality. Others only want "experienced" "young" PhDs. Others say "why should I hire you at a significant discount to your previous big pharma salary when I know when the market turns around and you find a better opportunity you will be out the door. You beg, get your network involved and finally someone shows you some mercy and gives you a position. Things go well for the company so they need to cut you since they don't need you. Nothing personal. Just prudent business. They were indignant at the thought of you leaving for a better opportunity but have no problem showing you the door after you have helped contribute to their successes. The cycle begins a new.

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52. Steve on March 9, 2010 3:47 PM writes...

Wow, reading this healthy comment thread has been quite informative. Most of those who have contributed are either aged, wise, and cynical, or aged, wise, and pessimistic. The thick skins and emotional resiliance with which you endure the world of industry are admirable. I think scientists are so valuable, both for original and applied research, as well as to teach the future generation.

Two years ago, I grabbed a tenure-track position in academia, but those are drying up rapidly, at least in organic chem. Of course, enormous and rich R1 schools are always hiring (Michigan, Stanford, etc.), but most other institutions, particulary state schools I would guess, are transitioning to non-tenure track/adjunct positions. They get paid less (about 20% less here), have no job security (if a position is cut, they're the first to go), may be less qualified to be excellent teachers, cannot involve students in research, and may be less committed to the department's future and mission. I should consider myself lucky to have a job, others keep telling me, but I worked my butt off in school for 25 years to get where I am today, a place I feel I deserve to be. If I continue to work hard to publish, improve my teaching, and serve my university, I can earn tenure and do this job that I love for LIFE. I don't really know what to tell my advisees when they ask about jobs. I was trained for a career as a pharmaceutical scientist (Med chem or scale-up), but I sure don't want to steer anyone that way anymore, at least with the current economy and culture of shareholder pleasing and "what have you done for me lately?" corporate sentiment. It's sure a hard world out there. I can echo earlier sentiments about hoarding money and food, preparing for the worst in future years.

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53. Anon on March 9, 2010 4:31 PM writes...

"I should consider myself lucky to have a job, others keep telling me, but I worked my butt off in school for 25 years to get where I am today, a place I feel I deserve to be. If I continue to work hard to publish, improve my teaching, and serve my university, I can earn tenure and do this job that I love for LIFE."

Many of us who went into pharma, did so after 4 years of college, 5 years or more of graduate school and 2 years or more of postdoc, sometimes at the feet of some not so nice people just to get to a place where we were in big pharma 10 plus years after that and where we also felt we deserved to be based on our hard work. We continued to deliver development candidates and or drugs, we worked hard, we published prolificly to improve ourselves and serve our corporate bosses and the shareholders to whom they are so forever beholden. It was unwritten but well understood and acknowledged that these actions would also afford us tenure doing a job we love for LIFE. A couple of years ago a couple of folks at the top decided to throw cold water on that idyllic claptrap and the result is the carnage we are witnessing today and have ZERO control over. It's one thing when you are in your 20s with limited obligations and have the rug pulled out from under you. It is a completely different thing when this happens when you are 50 with a spouse, kids and a mortgage.

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54. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 5:49 PM writes...

This is all well and good.........but the sad part is "us" scientists are padding the pockets of the executives of said companies.

How much will their salaries/bonuses/stock options go up for "saving" the company money. I at least hope that they get a really generous severance package. It is the very least the discovery groups deserve.

I understand "its just business" but it business done on my (and my families) back.

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55. Shake on March 9, 2010 6:37 PM writes...


Or just become orthodontists and rake in the big bucks.

So how's that ACS representation working for you? I hear a sick desperation in many of the comments here.

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56. bbooooooya on March 9, 2010 7:30 PM writes...


Hey, good idea, that certainly worked out well for GM and Ford and Chrysler. As much as it sucks to be a middle aged chemist out of work in Boston on SF, try being a middle aged autoworker in BF Indiana or Michigan. Oh, and don't forget, a lot of the pension benefits that the old timers worked for have been cut or swapped for 1X payments. To be fair, part of the issue there was mgt stupidity, but that already exists in pharma, so the union would make the full circle.

Here's a thought to job security: try doing something that people value: and science really isn't it. Even Einstein, decades ago, was smart enough to say:

"Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one's living at it."

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57. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 9:42 PM writes...

Scientists generate the IP that enable launch of profitable products. The social contract that existed between the innovating scientists and the pharma managements which traded IP for tenure, has been broken - by management. By greedy pharma managements - big and small alike. We are not making widgets, true - we have become the widgets...

It is time that scientists demand a piece of the IP pie to protect ourselves in times of famine (ie poor management decisions). Else, there is no reason to be a pharma scientist, which leads to no IP (already on the decline), then no products (also on the decline), and so no money for the company. Of course, the current management will be gone by the time the effects of their current poor decisions are felt - IBG-YBG mentality. We need a new contract.

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58. bbooooooya on March 9, 2010 9:55 PM writes...

"Scientists generate the IP that enable launch of profitable products."

You left out the "in return for which they are (usually) well compensated". This is the real contract.

If you develop the IP by assuming all the risk (i.e. you pay for the infrastructure and don't draw a salary) it's yours, if you're paid to develop IP by someone else using their infrastructure, it's their.

Can you imagine a GM worker claiming part ownership of the car he/she just built? Preposterous.

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59. Anonymous on March 9, 2010 10:10 PM writes...

Factory workers at GM do not contribute to the IP of GM. The analogy above is entirely erroneous.

And scientists are no longer well compensated - those days are over.

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60. cook on March 9, 2010 11:10 PM writes...

I worked in the agchem business for one of the big chemical companies out of Europe . By the mid-90’s, it became clear that the agchem business was a dying business and that research chemists like myself were superfluous going forward. The US facility was summarily closed and the researchers were laid-off. I was 48 at the time and immediately began looking for another job, as I really needed the money to maintain my life style.

I quickly came to the realization that no one wanted to hire a forty-nine year old organic chemist with 20 years experience discovering and synthesizing agchemicals. In nine months of searching, I received one job interview that I could not close, despite my willingness to take a substantial pay cut. As my severance and unemployment pay were rapidly running dry, I began to seriously think about a career transition. The problem was that aside from skills in organic synthesis and new agchemicals discovery, I had no training to do anything. I literally had nothing to offer an employer that any twenty-two year old collage graduate could not offer. Plus any twenty-two year old was at least up to date in their education, excited about their future life potential and infinitely elastic for any job. I was an old chemist hyper over trained and over skilled in a low demand trade.

As my prospects for finding chemistry position grew ever dimmer, my personal life began to come unglued. My oldest daughter was in school at Michigan , but as an out of state student she was paying full tuition. My son was slated to go to NYU the next fall. My wife is a school teacher. We just could not continue paying education bills, so my daughter came home to work and attend the local JC. My son went to work at the local Wal-Mart. After a second year without a job, my marriage began to fall apart. Eventually my wife and I decided to liquidate our house and trade down in automobiles to save on money. This turned out to be just a prelude to the dissolution of our marriage. I admit I was about 90% responsible for the eventual failure of our marriage. My wife could no longer stand my depression over the loss of my career in chemistry which had started as a lovely hobby when I was a child and now had ended at the most inopportune time in my life.

Four years into to my career transition, I was living alone out of a suitcase in a semi-slum studio apartment feeling very sad about where my chemistry profession had taken me in life. I desperately need money by this time, but making illegal drugs did not seem like a viable career option, although God knows I had the skills to do so and did think about it. I was just pitiful, feeling very sorry for myself wishing my government cared as much about me as it does about unemployed Russian scientists. It was under these severe emotional circumstances that it occurred to me that there was one thing I was in fact trained to do: cook.

I quickly landed a position as a short order cook making enough money to pay my slum landlord. As time has progressed my skills and creativity as a cook have greatly improved, and I hoped to eventually become a chef at one of the finer eateries in town. I managed to change jobs to ever better restaurants - three times so far. The owner of my current work site is nearing retirement, and we have had discussions about me buying the place from him as I can not afford to retire anytime soon. I don’t make as much money as I did as a chemist, but I really enjoy meeting with the patrons and the all regulars call me “Doc.” I can tell by the expressions on their faces that they appreciate my cooking by orders of magnitude more than people appreciated my discovery of pesticides when I told them what I did for a living.

My life has really turned around. I’ve reconciled with my children after several years of estrangement. My ex-wife and I have established a new warm relationship. Both of my children graduated form NC State and are looking to start their own careers. Thanks to my example they stayed as far away as possible from chemistry because they sure did not want to relive my life!

So in the end my life has turned out pretty well. This career transition was successfully completed, and it only took the better part of my 50’s to do so. Now I have more respect than I ever had as a chemist; I have a more financially secure profession; I earn a good living and can take care of my family again; and I have more fun on the job than I ever had practicing chemistry. When people meet me in the restaurant, they tell their kids that I was once a doctor of chemistry which is why they call me Doc. I do my best to tell those children why they should avoid chemistry at all costs because in the end no good can come of it for them, their families or society.

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61. milkshake on March 10, 2010 1:10 AM writes...

#61: Your story is completely depressing me :)
But at least there is something hopeful - one does not wish to work forever stuck with backstabbing management assholes, in a frustrating job - with no self-respect and satisfaction. Now you have something that you do well and the colleagues and patrons who appreciate what you do.

Myself, I was fired three months ago - and even in that short period of time (and with savings to pull through) this was bad enough. So much frustration and time on my hands and little drive to do anything. I just learned tonight that I got a job interview to a place that I really want to go - but its too early and too late to go out and celebrate.

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62. SW engineer on March 10, 2010 3:31 AM writes...

Same thing has happened in the high tech industry. I'm a highly trained engineer, and layoffs and job instability are everywhere. The people with the knowledge and creativity always end up paying for bad management or short term decisions.

Maybe the career of the future is management. Don't bother studying sciences/engineering. It is management where the money and the no consequences for your stupid actions lies. Heck, you don't even have to have a good work drive to be in management, or a sense of understanding science or logic, or a sense of the physically elegant and beautiful.

If smart scientists and engineers are really as smart as we think we are, we should be able to dominate the ranks of management as well.

It is unfortunate that management careers are so...boring though. Maybe that's why they make the big bucks. Because no one at all interested in intellectual stimulation would want to do such jobs...

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63. bbooooooya on March 10, 2010 9:03 AM writes...

"Factory workers at GM do not contribute to the IP of GM."

So? They get paid to make cars. Chemists get paid to make drugs. Collect your paycheck (while you can) and be happy about it. Company owes you no more than this. if you don't like it, stop your whinnig and start your own company. Maybe once you realize no one is going to fund you to sit in a lab and "develop IP" you'll realize the grim truth.

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64. MedChem on March 10, 2010 10:49 AM writes...


Wow and wow! Glad it's a happy ending. That's very inspiring.


There's certainly an element of truth in what you said, but boy did you take it to the extremes! I have a feeling you're one of those big pharma CEOs :)

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65. Hap on March 10, 2010 10:51 AM writes...

#63: That's fine, as long as you understand that your target audience can also make the same calculations. While "there's a sucker born every minute", most of those suckers don't have to go through ten years of school to get suckered, which should lower the population of masochists considerably. If you have no ideas to sell or manage, and not enough people to implement those ideas, how do you expect to make money, exactly? (Also, if your workforce is elsewhere, why would anyone think you'd need managers here? Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, after all, and if the workers are elsewhere because they're cheaper there, do you think the higher-ups will fail to make those calculations for management (other than themselves) as well?)

What the market seems to value is managers who can help a company to bankrupt itself faster than you can say "Enron" and imaginary inventions on late-night TV and day-trader blogs. I think Albania tried to run their economy that way with their investment networks...errrr, pyramid schemes. You can probably guess how that turned out.

#55: I'd be curious to know how unionizing is going to prevent layoffs and outsourcing, rather than accelerating them. People keep repeating the "unionize" mantra as if saying it often enough will somehow render it real and effective (sorry, W's gone, so you can forget about trying to get a job in the intelligence organs for now). Politically, you could put pressure on the federal government to change how foreign revenue for corporations is taxed (though the Democrats don't seem able to do anything, and the Republicans wouldn't change the tax law in that way), but you don't need unions to do that, just lots of organized voters. Unions also don't help people to do anything useful - and one of the many dispiriting aspects of the layoffs is that they spring from the idea that people that can actually generate tangible and useful things are not valued, while people who create fantasies and lies are. (We probably should have seen that coming, I guess.) Unions only help to force others to keep you despite what they wish to do, and can't get them to value what you do. If you're paid whether or not what you do is valuable, do you want to guess what others are likely to get from you?

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66. MedChem on March 10, 2010 10:56 AM writes...


Wow and wow! Glad you had a happy ending and best wishes to you. Your story is very inspiring.


There's an element of truth in what you said but boy did you take it to the extremes! I have a hunch that you're one of those big pharma CEOs in disguise :)

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67. leftscienceawhileago on March 10, 2010 11:00 AM writes...

amazing story, thank you for sharing.

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68. Anonymous on March 10, 2010 11:40 AM writes...

By reading comments on all layoff stories, I got impression that it mostly affects small-molecules area. Are the biologistics safer carrier choice right now ?

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69. pete on March 10, 2010 12:11 PM writes...

#60 cook
So when your fellow gastronomes are leaving their greasy fingerprints on the pages of James Beard, you're the one who's leaving greasy fingerprints on the mouse while reading In The Pipeline. Cool - eccentric, too !

Thanks for sharing your story and I'm very glad it worked out for you. And best wishes to all who been rudely displaced from their science career.

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70. bluefoot on March 10, 2010 12:23 PM writes...

Anon @68: In a word, no. I wouldn't reommend a science career to anyone right now. Most of the comments on this post are spot-on. Many years of training, demonstrated expertise and flexibility, many years of proven successes (compounds from research into clinical development, drugs to market, bringing in large deals/collaborations, etc.) and you can still be out on your ass for no good reason. Someone mentioned earlier that there are cases where people have been too sucessful and found themselves out of a job sooner. I've definitely seen that too. Hell, just ask some of the people from Exelixis.

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71. Anon on March 10, 2010 1:44 PM writes...


Or just ask the discovery team that delivered Lipitor at Warner Lambert and following its acquisition, were then Pfffired....or in keeping with the current pharma-legal-dept-approved euphemism, "separated from the company" "because they were no longer a fit for the new organization going forward". Does anyone know if and where these guys landed on their feet?

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72. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on March 10, 2010 3:59 PM writes...


Your story is...well...depressing. I think it's imperative that everyone, EVERYONE, but these days especially chemists, start looking at ways to expand their skill base beyond making molecules. It took you a long time to come to terms with that, but I'm glad you did. I as well faced that painful identity crisis when I no longer answered "I'm a chemist" when someone asked me what I did for a living. But as you found, there are many satisfying career paths that don't involve grunting away in a lab. As I've mentioned before, I completed my MBA back in the early 2000s, which was the best thing I ever did for myself.

I was very disturbed by your last sentence: "I do my best to tell those children why they should avoid chemistry at all costs because in the end no good can come of it for them, their families or society." I think that's a little on the side of, uh, hyperbole. There are still plenty of chemists out there that enjoy their work, that provide for their family, and that produce useful goods and services for our economy/society. This is a very unstable period with a lot of "shaking out" going on. It will eventually stabilize, and the balance of supply and demand for chemists will find itself again. But these changes happen over years, even decades, and are painful to go through. We're unfortunately the generation going through it.

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73. wierdo on March 10, 2010 8:50 PM writes...


I agree,

I think chemistry can be a very good choice as an undergraduate degree. One could pursue medicine, dentistry, and so on. However, I would avoid a chemistry PhD at all costs.

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74. AlchemX on March 10, 2010 10:06 PM writes...


I think that was what Cook was getting. Thanks for pointing it out.

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75. Mason on March 11, 2010 2:43 AM writes...

Really sad tales and bad times. I wonder what y'all including Derek think of these misguided and ill informed folks at the link below who are quite bullish on science careers.

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76. J-bone on March 11, 2010 10:17 AM writes...

I wonder what y'all including Derek think of these misguided and ill informed folks at the link below who are quite bullish on science careers.
No wonder they are, look at the posting requirements.

"We are a group of scientists and engineers who have chosen this career track. Postings that "warn" against pursuing STEM careers are misplaced."

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77. Anonymous on March 12, 2010 12:02 AM writes...

Anyone have any idea what happened to Exelixis San Diego site? Are they moving some employees to Bay area or closing completely and sending everyone home?

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78. Anonymous2 on March 12, 2010 1:27 AM writes...

San Diego site was completely closed.

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79. Evans2 on March 13, 2010 9:39 PM writes...

I am a chinese student face the graduation in the coming month, I am thinking to transit my career path from organic synthesis to some others, but where is others for organic chemists?

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80. milkshake on March 14, 2010 12:47 AM writes...

#79 how about NMR spectroscopy or material science (organic photovoltaics and semiconductors, liquid crystals, printer inks and pigments, functional polymers and coatings) or even fragrance research

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81. Anonymous on March 14, 2010 1:08 PM writes...

The "career coaches", "career transition managers" and "talent acquisition managers" are constantly pushing alternative careers like those mentioned in #80 as the job solution for the 1000s of medicinal chemists being displaced from Pharma. How does one get into these alternative fields when the job postings always demand years of specialized experience? Why would a company with a vacancy for an NMR spectroscopist consider a synthetic organic chemist (who reoutinely uses but is not an expert in NMR) when they can hire an experienced NMR person instead? In the current environment, hiring managers are displaying no interest in persons who require any sort of specialized training because they don't have to. With the industry wide carnage as severe as it is, they don't have to. How exactly does one train as a synthetic organic chemist for 5 years and then land a position in materials science? Why would a hiring manager not go with the candidates who trained for 5 years in materials science?

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82. Anonymous on March 15, 2010 12:38 PM writes...

#81.....I think what they mean by "alternative" careers for scientists is outside the scope of the lab: public policy, regulatory, marketing,development etc etc.

As scientists we have alot to offer technical based positions outside the lab in pharma/biotech. Alot of what we do as scientists transitions well to other careers. Leverage that Ph.D.................

I myself moved to Regulatory after 15 years of research. Was it hard...yes BUT with planning and a bit of work it can be done.

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83. Chemjobber on March 15, 2010 3:03 PM writes...

Anon #82: Are you willing to be interviewed on your experience? Email me at chemjobber -at- gmail dotcom.

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84. okemist on March 15, 2010 3:19 PM writes...

I grew up in a restaurant, "cooked" my way through college and have been doing scale up for 23 years. Yea there are a lot of simularities and maybe after 4 years I could go back, but it is a tough way to make a living. Godspeed to you!

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85. Martin on March 22, 2010 4:54 PM writes...

Look, you people were highly paid and had lots of benefits for a long time. If you are having financial trouble now because you spent exorbitantly and didn't save, no one wants to hear about it.

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86. L188188 on April 1, 2010 1:18 PM writes...

Something is happening at Exelixis - check out the stock price today (4/1/10)- up over 10% all of a sudden...

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87. Notachemist on April 1, 2010 10:24 PM writes...

From someone outside "the industry" I have found this entire forum fascinating (If I was in the industry I would probably find it depressing as hell!). Even though I am an outsider, I hope some of you pharma geeks (I use the term affectionately and with respect) will hear me out just because of the "outside" perspective I bring. I will start with the bad news:

If our ability to "manufacture" knowledge follows the same path as our ability to manufacture "stuff" then I see all of your jobs moving to China and India over the next couple decades. Why should drugs be any different than cars and toys and clothes. The pharma business and all of your jobs are just following the same path as all those other "good" jobs that would "never" be outsourced. Our country just does not place any value on anyone who can make anything (cars, molecules, IP). So buck up, stop whining and either go down with the ship, or make a plan for the next "opportunity."

Now for the good news: My undergrad transcript is as geeky as anyone with a biology degree heaped with tons of engineering, math, and other science classes. The chance to fly lured me away and I spent eight years in the US Air Force learning zero hard marketable skills except how to lead, and how to suck it up when everyone else was ready to pack it in. My masters degree was just the degree I could get that sucked the least to me at the time. I have been a civilian for 13 years now and after much stumbling and bumbling (I lived with mom and dad for a few months when things were really crappy) I am a sales manager for the biggest company in our industry (global in scale). I do not directly use my undergrad degree or my masters degree, but all that experience helps me be pretty darn good at what I do today. And I don't have a single regret of the path that brought me hear or all the wrong turns or "wasted education". Wouldnt trade it for anything.

So I guess what I am saying is that if I can do it--transition from science geek, to Air Force Officer, to Sales Manager--anyone can do it. Good luck to all, and even though I am a positive person, I am stockpiling guns, ammo, and gold--just in case we have another meltdown. It could get ugly...

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88. Jose on April 2, 2010 1:19 AM writes...

"As scientists we have alot to offer technical based positions outside the lab in pharma/biotech. Alot of what we do as scientists transitions well to other careers. Leverage that Ph.D................."

IMHO, this is simply not the case. Let's say you need to write a non-research CV. Skills: 1) I'm really organized! 2) good critical thinking skills! 3) works well in multi-disciplinary environments! 4) solid communication skills!

That's it. That is all we chemists have to offer, along with every Tom, Dick and Harry with a MBA.

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89. Ivonne Livsey on March 29, 2014 1:04 PM writes...

This article is at its strongestand invaluablein its discussion of mapping.

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