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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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May 4, 2010

Merck Rumors?

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Posted by Derek

I've heard rumblings from more than one source that Merck may be close to making good on those hefty job cuts that are surely coming as a consequence of the Schering-Plough merger. Anyone have anything to add? No specifics here, but several bits and pieces that all point in the same direction. . .

Comments (25) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. Data Police on May 4, 2010 12:09 PM writes...

I heard that people have been given the opportunity to take a package and leave voluntarily. This package will be the same as in the case you were let go. I have also heard that some have taken the first option. I don't think this time it will be slow surgical culling....

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2. hapless on May 4, 2010 1:01 PM writes...

#1, my understanding was that you offer yourself for that package and that it is left to Merck to decide, if you can be a recipient. Right?

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3. Data Police on May 4, 2010 2:51 PM writes...

#2. Yes, that is what I have heard. The previous unfinished BRGOS (brainchild of Kathleen Metters) had no provision for anyone to self-nominate. At least this time, if you wanted to leave, you could nominate yourself for a spot at the sacrificial altar.

I guess utlimately, the priests at Aztec Temple will choose the best heads they need for the appeasement of the gods.

I also heard that Merck-Frosst is on the chopping block.

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4. Julio Peironcely on May 4, 2010 4:05 PM writes...

There is no merger or buy-out without job losses. For many positions they have to employees, so one is extra.

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5. Anonymous on May 4, 2010 6:28 PM writes...

#3- just because cafe pharma says MF is in trouble doesn't make it so.

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6. X-Wyeth on May 4, 2010 8:27 PM writes...

If the Pfizer merger is any clue, you small molecule guys better watch your back. 1 + 1 = ~0.8.
If you have any doubts, check out the latest predictions for the top selling drugs in 2016. All but two are biologics....

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7. Anon on May 5, 2010 3:45 AM writes...

#6. To be fair, Pfizer was upfront in stating their intent to use the 1+1 = 0.8 formula. If you also take Merck at their word, 1+1 = 2 x 0.85 = 1.7 which is no way nearly as bad.

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8. AlchemX on May 5, 2010 4:49 AM writes...

We chemists need to be far more creative. We aren't going to get by just synthesizing molecules anymore. If it can be parameterized, it can be outsourced, sorry. American scientists need to get creative if they want to stay in this game and have a fulfilling career.

One solution? Abolish FDA, market recreational and lifestyle drugs, lol. That'll open up some research opportunities. Or, market them in other countries....hmmm. Just a thought. When it comes to disease, small molecule has picked that low lying fruit, gonna need some serious capital to find the rest of that fruit.

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9. Unemployed Chemist on May 5, 2010 6:34 AM writes...

@8. The hundreds (possibly) thousands of chemists already laid off erred by not being more creative? The hundreds (possibly) thousands scheduled to be laid off this year and the next few, need to just be more creative to "stay in the game". This is the kind of trite but useless career "advice" that the armies of "career coaches" out there just love to toss out as seemingly unique pearls of wisdom. It is meaningless. These hundreds or thousands of chemists have invested decades of education and on the job sweat equity for a very narrowly defined occupation with limited real transferable skills in the current marketplace. Do a handful manage to successful transition to completely new careers. Yes, but they are the exception rather than the rule. It is myopic to suggest that all that is needed to solve the unemployment of these thousands of chemists is just some creativity. Maybe if you are a young chemist with time on your side. However, most of the chemists being laid off are not the young chemists who can benefit from your pearls of wisdom.

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10. bbooooooya on May 5, 2010 8:07 AM writes...

" American scientists need to get creative if they want to stay in this game and have a fulfilling career."

Hey, great suggestion! I suppose that in addition to "getting more creative" chemists should also try to "better synergize their paradigms".

Great example of useless management drivel: use some nice sounding words with no meaning, while bein gyourself fully cognizant that you have no clue what "be creative" specifically entails.

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11. Anonymous on May 5, 2010 10:51 AM writes...

Think how biological sciences have transformed in the past decades. Think how medicinal chemistry has unchanged in that period (other than some less impactful, if at all, experiments such as combichem and rational design, etc). It's been upto chemists to come up with some innovative ways (quicker and easier ways) to help translate biology into medicine. And we grossly failed. The result is biology bypassing chemistry and going straight to medicine (biologics) despite many obvious limitations. How to be creative and innovative? I wouldn't know (if I did...).

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12. RandDChemist on May 5, 2010 2:24 PM writes...

"We chemists need to be more creative" does little to advance the dialogue. The same goes for "evil MBA's". Both ignore the complexity of drug discovery and development.

While biology has advanced, can it tell us exactly what to do to find a treatment? No, it cannot.

The goal is to know which targets to pursue and get to something that can be drug in very short order. That means a good mix of molecules that have the best chance of success.

Then? Be able to make it in a cost effective manner.

Then? it's up to the people running the clinical trials. Here is where the costs increase dramatically. It's also the hardest part.

Creative? How so? Right now there are even more synthetic options than ever before to get to a target molecule.

So telling a good chemist to be more creative is completely disingenuous. Same in saying chemistry has been passed by.

The biology is a highly complex part of drug discovery and it does not have all the answers. Nothing does.

Chemistry does not always work the way we want it to. Neither does life.

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13. Skeptic on May 5, 2010 6:09 PM writes...

Chemistry Innovation falls under:

Science Problem --> New Paradigm Required

But its a Machine World controlled by Finance and the Science Guys are so unreliable so lets worship The God of Levers instead:

Value-Creation Levers --> Cost, Speed, Decision-Making.

Cost - Outsourcing, Distributing risk
Speed - Parallel development techniques
Decision Making - Pharma Portfolio Theory

Whew...thank god. Now we can quantify everything so machines can crunch numbers at break neck speed and arbitrage those poor suckers called Sovereign Nations and their Workers to death for our amusement.


International Bankers Union

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14. Ty (anon 11) on May 6, 2010 8:06 AM writes...

"The goal is to know which targets to pursue and get to something that can be drug in very short order. That means a good mix of molecules that have the best chance of success."

Exactly my point. That's why chemists should have been more aggressive and more effective in bringing under-validated targets to the decision point, be it animal or human proof of concept. Chemists tend to wait until biologists provide them with a perfectly validated target to work on, when there's no such thing. And they blame the biology when things go wrong. No. Chemists should be a part of the process of "knowing which targets to pursue".

Identifying and (biologically) validating targets used to be the bottleneck. No more. The number of papers (in PubMed) that contain the phrase "therapeutic target" have increased 10-fold every decade, reaching 1,500 articles in 2000s. The bottleneck is shifting to pharmacological validation of these targets and it's the burden and opportunity for chemists.

"Chemists need to be more creative" may be oversimplifying the complex problem that is drug discovery. But it at least can advance the dialogue to the next step that is "how so?". It's helplessness and sarcasm that won't take you anywhere.

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15. RandDChemist on May 6, 2010 10:01 AM writes...


"Chemist need to be more creative" is akin to saying "work smarter, not harder". it does not advance the dialogue. Many people will ignore the person who states something like that.

What data exists saying that chemists have not been aggressive? Some of the chemists I've worked with have been incredibly aggressive, learning and using the tools they have at their disposal. Some have not. That's my personal experience and I have no hard numbers. The same goes for the biologists I've worked with in the past. Some are extremely interested in the project and what the chemists were doing. That made it much more rewarding.

It's not helpful (let alone accurate) at all to lay pharma's troubles at the feet of the chemists. Some responsibility lies there, but not even close to the majority.

No more? There is one project I'm aware of where the biology has even come close to keeping up with the chemistry. Developing the biology is laborious and not trivial. So is it the fault of the biologists? No.

Another project was kept alive for far too long, by the project leaders who happened to be biologists. The chemists knew the project had zero chance. The leadership kept the project alive, but I'm not sure why.

Identifying a possible target is a major achievement and not a small one at that. That's a big step. There are many more steps that are needed. A target is the promise of a drug. That's it. It's a hypothesis. It's not locked down by any stretch. Still, I'd absolutely rather have that info than simply relying on empirical data.

So we have a target. Good. Can an assay be developed? It will to have to be robust. Can a molecule be made that has a chance? What exactly is diversity, anyway? How do we know we've covered the area with a given set of molecules? These are just a handful of questions that need to be asked.

Researching and developing a drug is an informed art. The project team needs to work together in an integrated, efficient manner.

The bottlenecks will move, and will be different for each target.

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16. Hap on May 6, 2010 10:25 AM writes...

Lately, it seems like the people creative enough to help make drugs (e.g. Lipitor - the ones with direct inputon the project) have been getting laid off on a regular basis. So either it doesn't seem that creativity or effectiveness is actually valued, or the people paying the bills think that it was random luck that those particular people ended up on that project and that it doesn't really matter who works on what project.

If you encourage crap, why do you think you're going to get flowers?

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17. AlchemX on May 6, 2010 4:02 PM writes...

I think you have a point Hap. Maybe the most creative people have been getting booted out of science. Bell Labs was shut down and like you said the people that produced Lipitor were also booted out. So maybe there is creativity in chemistry, but it's directly at odds with attracting funding and getting above the noise of the brown nosers.

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18. MedChem on May 7, 2010 9:38 AM writes...

"or the people paying the bills think that it was random luck that those particular people ended up on that project and that it doesn't really matter who works on what project.

This describes my management.

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19. MedChem on May 7, 2010 9:39 AM writes...

"or the people paying the bills think that it was random luck that those particular people ended up on that project and that it doesn't really matter who works on what project.

This describes my management, all of whom are biologists. Gee, I wonder why.

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20. anchor on May 10, 2010 9:44 AM writes...

Hap: You are right on the money! In the past I heard rumors from Merck that the guy who made "Januvia" possible (medicinal chemist), was shown the door. Those who benefited (of his efforts) with little or no direct input (intellectually) are still there and some of them even as managers!

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21. MedChem on May 10, 2010 10:06 AM writes...


You're so right about this. I've heard this person's talk on the Januvia discovery story. It's an outrage that he was laid off. My guess is that as usually the case, his manager probably got more credit than he did on this discovery, which might be why HE was shown the door instead of someone else.

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22. Jo on June 11, 2010 8:37 AM writes...

Did anyone else hear about layoff notice coming out next week?

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23. Anonymous on July 14, 2010 3:48 PM writes...

People at West Point (including hand raisers) will be notified by end of October.

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24. labrat on October 7, 2011 5:46 PM writes...

Layoffs are being executed as of now.

Due to corporate management caving into Wall Street, the "job management" is being accelerated to be completed by end of October.
est 13k jobs cut, expected to be middle management and certain areas.

The bigger news is that Corporate management has set itself the goal of reducing overall headcount to original levels pre-merger which was 50k, which means, after this October round of cuts, Merck will be looking at 25k more cuts between 2012-2015.

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