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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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« Bad News: Pfizer Closes Site in Sandwich | Main | Pfizer's CEO Speaks »

February 1, 2011

Pfizer Part Two: Cuts at Groton

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Posted by Derek

Not only is Pfizer wielding the ax in England, but they're cutting 1,100 jobs back at HQ in Groton, while moving some therapeutic areas around. My neighborhood (Cambridge) is going to get more Pfizer-y as a result, but it's for sure that several others are getting less so.

The company's getting out of allergy, urology, respiratory diseases and other areas completely. Who out there can imagine that this is the end of the process?

Comments (101) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on February 1, 2011 2:27 PM writes...

Reading this makes me glad that I left science more than 10 years ago.

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2. SP on February 1, 2011 2:50 PM writes...

But your neighborhood is soon to be Southie, right? Wicked pissah.

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3. MikeyMedChem on February 1, 2011 2:56 PM writes...

"Groton will remain the largest of our R&D sites and will be a center of excellence for R&D services." (from the New London Day,

R&D Services? Does that mean no drug discovery programs being led from there?

Awful. Just awful. It's hard enough trying to find a new job in the Boston area. Try Groton. Or Kent, UK.

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4. Hap on February 1, 2011 3:37 PM writes...

How does someone determine what therapeutic areas to do research in? I assume the financial estimation is better for therapeutic areas than for specific research, but is there any reason to it?

I think there's an executive meeting somewhere where they roll 20-siders to determine who stays and who goes. I guess no one realized that that all those days in your basement playing D+D could lead to a lucrative career in pharma research management. "Congratulations, your job has been eliminated in an attack by a golden dragon and three trolls. Please empty your desk and wait under the bridge for further instructions."

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5. NoDrugsNoJobs on February 1, 2011 3:40 PM writes...

Kind of good timing that the new layoffs coincide with yet another drug failure (contrave; bupropion and naltrexone) at the fda. Apparently the 4 or so phase 3 studies already done by the company on what is already a combination of old and well-tested drugs was sufficient to convince the advisory board but not enough for the fda itself (why do they have advisory committees if they do not take their advice?). Without being able to get new drugs (or even old drugs in this case) approved even with an advisory board recommendation and 4 phase 3 studies, who in their right mind will put good money into pharmaceutical research?

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6. Anonymous BMS Researcher on February 1, 2011 3:42 PM writes...

Sad day in Groton and Sandwich.

As you say "Who out there can imagine that this is the end of the process?" I have some friends at Pfizer, and I'm sure this ain't a fun day for them. At BMS we are still awaiting the next stage in our current wave of cuts. I don't think this is just cyclical, I think this is structural.

But I guess these people are gonna get more sales:

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7. EB on February 1, 2011 3:44 PM writes...

@ Hap

Does that mean you could use that scroll of enchanted destruction youve had lying around since high school to reflect the attack to the boardroom?

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8. Henry on February 1, 2011 3:51 PM writes...

It would have been far more appropriate had they announced the cuts on ground hog day.

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9. Anonymous on February 1, 2011 4:15 PM writes...

At Cambridge North we were told today that there wont be any "wet chemistry" going forward. The only chemists at the site will be what are known around here as "designers" for Inflammation/Immunology, CVMED and Neuroscience. The later two will be moved from Groton to Cambridge. Get rid of the hoods (and of course the chemists) and move in the cubicles! This will most definitely increase productivity and
save the company.

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10. Anonymous on February 1, 2011 4:24 PM writes...


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11. johnnyboy on February 1, 2011 4:40 PM writes...

"Who out there can imagine that this is the end of the process?"

If I was in Pfizer-La Jolla, i'd be pissing my pants right about now...

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12. mchemst on February 1, 2011 5:55 PM writes...

I thought Obama said the recession was over.

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13. any on February 1, 2011 6:47 PM writes...

After going surviving cuts in Kzoo and AA I thought I could not get too upset over news like this. I was wrong. It was a very sad day in Groton today and I imagine it was even worse in Sandwich.

It's a waste. You do what they ask you to do, do it well and do it fast with less resources and it makes no freaking difference.

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14. jacktooth on February 1, 2011 7:03 PM writes...

Sunovion (formerly Sepracor) also had layoffs today. I'm not sure if it effected any chemists, since they outsource most of their chemistry to China.

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15. GrotonChemist on February 1, 2011 8:45 PM writes...

Here's the scoop from someone "on the ground" in Groton:
*All therapeutic area biologists moved to Cambridge. New location - probably not CPD.
*"Wet chemistry" in Cambridge is gone. (note that about 20-30 of those guys were just relocated from St Louis and legacy Wyeth locations just 6 months ago!) Unclear if any of these folks will be moved to Groton.
*"Designers" in CVMED and Neuro relocate to Cambridge. This now completes the separation of "Design Chemists" from "Synthesis Chemists".
*Groton becomes a "technical support" site. Everything going on at Groton is now "outsource-able". This appears to be the beginning of the end of chemistry within Pfizer.
*Sandwich is gone along with all the RUs there - except for pain, which will be partially relocated to Cambridge UK. No relo for Sandwich to the US - only within the UK.

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16. anon on February 1, 2011 9:30 PM writes...

From someone on the outside of Pfizer asking:

How will the division of chemistry go down? The group/project leaders in chemistry move to Cambridge and the lab heads/associates making the compounds stay in Groton if I understand correctly?

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17. fred on February 1, 2011 9:52 PM writes...

"Without being able to get new drugs (or even old drugs in this case) approved even with an advisory board recommendation and 4 phase 3 studies, who in their right mind will put good money into pharmaceutical research?"

I knew the FDA lost their mind when they pulled Vioxx. If "safer than aspirin" doesn't cut it-- what does? Homeopathic doses of chamomile tea?

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18. andreadelsarto on February 1, 2011 9:58 PM writes...

A second part of the announcement from Pfizer was that they committed $5 billion for stock repurchase. I suppose that this act means that if they have that money to spend, the most financially creative and public health improving thing they believe they can do is buy their own stock. They have no belief in their own mission as a pharmaceutical company.

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19. bbooooooya on February 1, 2011 10:21 PM writes...

"Without being able to get new drugs (or even old drugs in this case) approved even with an advisory board recommendation and 4 phase 3 studies"

Contrave was a turd for which an NDA never should have been submitted (but was as it was all the company had and yes, I am aware or Empatic---as bad if not worse). Drug barely did anything

This was a great (sad?) example of all that's wrong with biotech, though: why waste all that effort trying to discover something new to treat a cancer or diabetes when you can combine a couple of old drugs and help lardos get rid of those extra Big Macs and cheesecake with extra whipped cream?

Fortunately, one can make money shorting this type of event.

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20. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on February 1, 2011 10:25 PM writes...

Stock buybacks are a waste of money since management always buys high and sells low (If you can find a buyer for your stock when you need the money.). Better to return the money to shareholders in the form of a special dividend rather than just decrease the number of outstanding shares.

The managers don't care about their "mission." Their product is just a product to sell and it could be sugar water, rock salt or cars that nobody wants to buy. What matters is your next promotion and how high up in the company you get. They're not doctors, scientists or engineers who have some understanding of what the meds do or know about chemistry. They're just there to apply what they learned at MBA school, which is how to manipulate people. It's theater with a little finance thrown in.

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21. bbooooooya on February 1, 2011 10:25 PM writes...

"Drug barely did anything"

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22. bbooooooya on February 1, 2011 10:28 PM writes...

less than 5% weight loss versus placebo, and less than 2% versus placebo in exercize study. Throw in cardio risk, higher BP and HR, and that is a dog that does not hunt. advisory panel was odd

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23. Fatcat on February 1, 2011 10:32 PM writes...

Rightly or wrongly, shareholders are the owner of a public company (Pfizer here). Since Wall Street types and hedge funds are most likely large shareholders, they have bigger say on how to spend the cash a company is generated. They also have to answer to the people who give them money to invest. In this day and age, every one wants their money fast. So there is no long term vision, just what you have done for me lately (this quarter). This might not be in the best interests of long term investors. For Wall Street types and hedge funds, they turn over their portfolios 100+% each year. They do not look at long term. So, it is a system problem. Either you need a seismic system change. Or better yet, have the company go private.

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24. Anonymous on February 1, 2011 10:42 PM writes...

the whole industry is going to the dogs! Watch Roche, they just replaced their CFO in the middle of their layoffs/restructuring!!!! Watch out all you schleps over in're next! heeheehee

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25. Fatcat on February 1, 2011 10:45 PM writes...

Cosmetic companies are doing quite well, P&G, L'Oreal, Estee Lauder to name a few. At least, we don't see they lay off R&D staff. Given the difficulty of developing blockbuster drugs, big pharmas perhaps should take a closer look at cosmetics. With their highly trained chemists and biologists, super moisturizers and hair dyes are well within the reach. And on top of that, we do not even need FDA approval to see the stuff. MBA will have to earn their stripes to see the stuff.

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26. Mike on February 2, 2011 8:53 AM writes...

How much would you pay for a drug that might save your life?

Absolutely nothing. If it could possibly be of benefit it should be provided free to anybody who needs/wants it.

No wonder the cosmetic companies are doing so well - people are willing to spend any amount to look better, but nothing at all to stay out of the hospital.

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27. 4th year on February 2, 2011 9:28 AM writes...

Can anyone define "design chemist" as referred to in comment 15?

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28. Hap on February 2, 2011 9:52 AM writes...

How much would you pay for a drug that might save your life?

Absolutely nothing. If it could possibly be of benefit it should be provided free to anybody who needs/wants it.

No wonder the cosmetic companies are doing so well - people are willing to spend any amount to look better, but nothing at all to stay out of the hospital.

I don't know...there are drugs like Provenge, for which somebody's paying $90K. Lipitor still makes some money too - heck, with a marginal improvement over generic, Nexium's raking in the cash.

In addition, the supplementeers seem to be making a good living touting snake oil and claiming it does everything but wash your car. If I had to guess, that's the model pharma management is hoping to follow - no cost of goods, no research or trials, just find enough suckers to gull and sell, sell, sell. From snake oil to medicine we came and to it we shall return, I guess. I don't think this is what people like Elion had in mind.

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29. luvyurnmr on February 2, 2011 10:54 AM writes...

Mike, what I think they are referring to as a "Design chemist" is a molecular modeler or computational chemist. Those individuals never set foot in a lab (though, perhaps some of them should). They generate proposals for synthetic chemistry based on some starting point, whether that is a bunch of molecules that behave similarly on a protein target or they have a crystal structure of the target itself so they can see what the heck they're doing.
Drug Design and Med Chem have had a rocky relationship for years. Well, for one, designers have egos the size of small planets. But they can't actually make the molecules. The med chemists do that. So, they really are beholden to one another. I'd give the med chemists the edge. There's a lot they can do without a designer. It's trial and error for both sets of chemists. Still, with a good crystal structure and if the med chemist is willing to try some design of experiments types of things, there can be a good working relationship.
I suppose the designer will have a much easier time of it now. If he/she comes up with an idea, they just call Hyderabad and order it.
Expect designers' egos to expand to size of solar systems.

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30. anon on February 2, 2011 11:21 AM writes...


Cosmetics are regulated by the FDA.

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31. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 11:31 AM writes...


Designers in the Pfizer world *are* the medicinal chemists, designing molecules for synthetic chemists to make, using information from computational chemists, assay results and so on.

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32. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 11:33 AM writes...


#31 here again. Sorry, hit post too soon - of course they also rely on their experience in medicinal chemistry to design their molecules!

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33. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 11:47 AM writes...

I am hunting for jobs these days as a fresh PhD.
These news keep telling me that "Get out of Science ASAP". I'll try.

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34. Fatcat on February 2, 2011 12:14 PM writes...


True, but the hurdle is much lower than Rx drugs. You don't need to conduct clinical trials, huge difference.

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35. CR on February 2, 2011 12:16 PM writes...

#29 and #31:
Pfizer recently went to a model that separated out the medicinal chemists into two "bins" - designers and synthetic chemists. These are not computational chemists or modelers (by and large) they are the traditional medicinal chemists. The "designers" are now just charged with designing compounds for their projects (just like a traditional medicinal chemist would be expected to do) - but they do not then go make the compounds. They hand the "designs" off to the synthetic chemists to make. One SVP from Pfizer "tried" to explain this model and how it made sense because not everyone wants to design and some just want to be synthetic chemists and work at the hood (Ph.D. level). I think everyone in the room during this explanation could see the writing on the wall that the synthetic chemists had a very short shelf life and would be out-sourced very quickly. There was also talk about reward systems for both, yada, yada, yada.

In a nutshell, new hires (if there were any) would come in at the synthetic chemist level and would then have to work up to the designer level (if they so chose). This clearly was a model based upon outsourcing the synthetic portion of the equation - although based on yesterday's news it may not matter at all if you work for Pfizer.

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36. Wagonwheel on February 2, 2011 1:12 PM writes...

There are axes swinging at all levels. The most visible to those working in the labs is severing design and synthetic chemists. Beyond that most R&D has now adopted the same model. Biologists are often separated according to those who work within a therapeutic area and those which offer enabling assays (screen the compounds and do the work). All this separation makes it easy to keep shaving off those doing the work and replacing with external folks. Then of course, there is one almighty axe, which rests out of sight and is more difficult to see coming. It swings down from the upper echelons and severs enture R&D sites regardless of their structure, organisation or previous success. All part of the progression to large pharma operating in development only...

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37. CR on February 2, 2011 1:59 PM writes...

Couldn't agree more that big pharma is moving to the development only stage. Question then becomes: developing what? And from where?

This leads back to the discussion regarding Dr. Collins' NIH "Drug Discovery" institute. I know there were quite a few naysayers on this board (and other boards) about how the government/academics cannot do drug discovery. But I have to say I have zero confidence in the pharma companies actually being successful anymore. Plus with all of these cuts, there are going to be zero discovery jobs in Pharma in 5 years (or at least in the US). So why not have the NIH do some of the early stage discovery work to try and de-risk some projects. Again, there will be those that don't feel this appropriate and that there is no way the NIH will be successful - to that I counter - do you really believe pharma is a.) going to be successful and b.) nobody else can do this? The curtain has been revealed - drug discovery is not some mystical process. I think NIH bureaucrats are not any worse than pharma MBA's.

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38. Hap on February 2, 2011 2:19 PM writes...

How many people will be doing discovery chemistry anywhere, though? People will do it at small companies for the time being, but as it becomes clear that those are the only discovery drug R+D jobs left in the US, how many students will be clamoring to get their spots?

An analogy might be: how many people would be playing Division I football if there wasn't a professional league? Some would because it would pay for school and other would because they love it, but lots of the people who go to school go for football, and as a gateway to a football career. If the only future career is in semipro (or maybe Canada), how many of those people would be in football? If the only career in developing drugs is at small, high(er) risk companies, how many people will continue to find drugs, and what pipeline is there going to be to develop?

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39. Anonlot on February 2, 2011 2:30 PM writes...

The biggest problem in drug discovery and development is that no one would admit that luck is the crucial factor. Every scientist claims that he/she knows the pathway to success (kind of self preservation). The truth is that no one has any certainty that a compound could be a human drug since all the research is done on animal before going into clinical trial. More than 99% of the money spent in drug discovery do not lead to a drug. That's why a government agency should not waste tax money in drug discovery. The tax money is better used in disease prevention. Putting a limit of salt in processed food would significantly reduce the incidence of hypertension.

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40. CR on February 2, 2011 2:38 PM writes...

I don't believe your Division I football - pro football is an appropriate analogy. I would suspect that it is less than 2-3% go on to a pro football career and as such, the vast majority of players know that playing Div. I football is not leading to a football career. If you are going to Alabama et al., maybe you have aspirations of playing pro - but someone that goes to Kansas State does not have those same aspirations (they may because they are 18 and naive, but will soon find out getting an education is their only option). So, a pro football career is not the only option for a Div. I football player. Now, if the schools stopped giving out scholarships, the number of players might drop off because their chances of turning pro and thus paying for their education is quite small.

As it is now, there are too many R&D scientists for jobs. Yes, as you point out, if there are fewer jobs to be had, fewer people will enter the disciplines and maybe that's actually good. Supply and demand and all.

I think people will still go into the high(er) risk companies - they do now and have for the past 20 years.

Either way you look at it, there will be fewer numbers of people/businesses/labs doing drug discovery in the future.

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41. Stubbie on February 2, 2011 2:58 PM writes...

"The curtain has been revealed - drug discovery is not some mystical process. I think NIH bureaucrats are not any worse than pharma MBA's."

On the contrary, given the scarcity of new drugs (from ALL sources), it apparently is some kind of mystical process. My worry about shifting discovery to a governmental agency is that it will be even more expensive than it is in industry and that there will not exist the appropriate checks and balances to end dead-end projects.

And yes, the split of chemistry at Pfizer into design and synthesis has been writing on the wall. No chemists have been project leaders for some time--chemistry has been viewed by Pfizer as a support function for some years now.

My heart goes out to all those affected by the recent announcements. Pfizer closed two sites on me, and I took the package the second time. The writing was on the wall then, too.

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42. CR on February 2, 2011 3:35 PM writes...

"On the contrary, given the scarcity of new drugs (from ALL sources), it apparently is some kind of mystical process."
I don't believe drug discovery is some mystical process - industry has just lost its way recently and has not adjusted properly to the changes at hand (i.e., trying to get PoS drugs approved - dogs are dogs and they should know that). I think most people on this board also know the process isn't something magical either, just that management has gotten in the way all too often.

The NIH initiative is not about going through the entire drug discovery/development process. So the whole argument about government being more expensive than industry isn't a valid argument.

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43. Hap on February 2, 2011 3:42 PM writes...

But my point would be that D1 football attracts the talent it does because there is a pro league afterwards - if there were no chance to go anywhere after school, then much of the best talent in football would do something else.

Maybe there shouldn't be as many drug chemists, but if the problem is "not enough drugs" (which is what the problem seems to be - too much R+D costs and not enough salable drugs), then cutting the supply of the people who find them isn't going to help. Eventually, the big companies will be stuck chasing the candidates made by the decreased number of startups (fewer drug people meaning fewer startups), which will mean that they'll have to pay more to get them while not minimizing their uncertainty. It doesn't seem like an effective strategy for improving drug development.

On the other hand, there aren't anywhere near enough spots in pro football to accommodate the people that play it in college. The process for determining who's good enough to play in the NFL and who's not seems arbitrary, and so most of the people who play football are discarded. Without pro football, fewer people would go to school for football, and would find better ways to use their talents - it depends on the worth of what we get from football versus the improved output of people using their skills for other things. At the moment, there doesn't seem to be anything that looks valuable - if we don't have a manufacturing economy, and we're dumping the intellectual part of the economy, what's left?

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44. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 3:56 PM writes...


"I knew the FDA lost their mind when they pulled Vioxx."

No! Merck voluntarily pulled Vioxx, perhaps the main reason why the FDA is behaving so badly now. Instead of letting the FDA do its job to blackbox (or withdraw) or Vioxx, Merck made the FDA look like idiots not doing their job right with Vioxx. Thanks to Peter Kim at Merck for making the entire Pharma industry suffer the consequences of his stupidity.

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45. 4th year on February 2, 2011 4:12 PM writes...

If medicinal chemist are now separated from "synthetic chemist" can I ask exactly what qualifications the "designer" chemist have? Are they just synthetic people with more experience or do they have other qualifications? This is from a 4th year grad student who apparently wasted 4 years doing synthesis for nothing. Are there any other skill sets that would help in crossing over to the "designer" side?

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46. Not the FDA on February 2, 2011 5:31 PM writes...

The commenters blaming the FDA for the decline of industry are off-base. To get a drug approved, you generally only have to prove it is more effective than placebo. True, FDA has been making that harder to do in recent years, but mostly by requiring more objective endpoints and more robust clinical trial designs. A lot of the drugs that aren't getting approved -- such as the latest three anti-obesity products -- are ones we don't need because they don't actually improve anyone's life. That undermines the business model and makes it harder to run a profitable business, and these are real problems for the sustainability of the industry. But lower approval standards isn't the solution.

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47. Not the FDA on February 2, 2011 5:31 PM writes...

The commenters blaming the FDA for the decline of industry are off-base. To get a drug approved, you generally only have to prove it is more effective than placebo. True, FDA has been making that harder to do in recent years, but mostly by requiring more objective endpoints and more robust clinical trial designs. A lot of the drugs that aren't getting approved -- such as the latest three anti-obesity products -- are ones we don't need because they don't actually improve anyone's life. That undermines the business model and makes it harder to run a profitable business, and these are real problems for the sustainability of the industry. But lower approval standards aren't the solution.

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48. drsnowboard on February 2, 2011 5:35 PM writes...

@35 and @45
The answer is experience, and the prescience to see what's coming. AZ are slavishly following the Pfizer model (why? patent loss) as they see their design capabilities to be their 'advantage'. As +35 points out, it splits the herd so the synthetic part can be moved anywhere, ie outsourced. I had this conversation with a senior manager in AZ and he refused to see it as inevitable, claiming cross functional learnings and synergy(!) which I take as evidence of their groupthink deathspiral.

Sadly, a close coupled, committed team of drug discoverers is an undervalued intangible asset that big corporates and their accountant masters refuse to promote. The challenge is to make the outsourced model as close coupled and effective as people who you have coffee and lunch with virtually every day, because you want to. Crack that and you are the next amgen.

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49. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 5:39 PM writes...

I imagine hope Pfizer will be sympathetic to its employees who want to take equipment and projects to begin start-ups

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50. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 6:12 PM writes...

@48 There is more to being a medicinal chemist than "experience". Some even get degrees in 'medicinal chemistry' and learn drug design receptor theory in course-work/lectures.

Why do organic chemists that join a 'med chem' group think they are suddenly medicinal chemists?

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51. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 6:17 PM writes...

@49 Dream on.

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52. 4th year on February 2, 2011 6:41 PM writes...

@50 Does that mean pharma hires med chem phd's now? Last time I talked to someone in industry that was not the case. I'm not trying to be derogatory I am just trying to figure out what's going on.

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53. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 6:51 PM writes...

@52. Pharma *does* hire med Chem phd's. It use to that they preferred organic chemists and would train them on the job. I think big pharma is slowly learning their lesson.

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54. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 7:28 PM writes...

@39. Pharma runs their med Chem departments with hopes of getting lucky. In my experience, they'd rather make 100 random cmpds than ten well thought out cmpds. Brute force med chem. Hopefully it goes the way of combichem.

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55. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 7:35 PM writes...

"The commenters blaming the FDA for the decline of industry are off-base."

Not at all. When we go to Europe and present to EMEA they are WAY more sensible, responsive, and scientific. The FDA and CBER has clearly changed for the worse since Vioxx was recalled by Merck. They are obviously overwhelmed by submissions (and politics?) and cannot do the job responsibly. A travesty.

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56. Ziggy on February 2, 2011 8:54 PM writes...

Somehow people don't mention the total shove-off of all Antibacterial drug discovery to China. This is an interesting new development which signifies a true transition of research (not just synthesis or testing, etc.) from the US to the Orient.

Watch out - if this is deemed successful, the other RA will follow suit.

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57. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 9:06 PM writes...

@49, in St. Louis everyone who came forward was rejected. 95% of the equipment went in the landfill. All proposals to license IP were shot down.

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58. Anonymous on February 2, 2011 10:22 PM writes...

57 - I've found it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission when it comes to helping myself to equipment out of the trash!

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59. pharmadude on February 3, 2011 12:27 AM writes...

I didn't know that pfizer had institutionalized the role of 'desk bound synthetic chemist who no longer wants to do any labwork' into a formal job title of designer? I've always defined a medicinal chemist as someone who studied total synthesis (or methodology if youre kinda a loser) in a high powered grad school lab, joined big pharma, and by that time was so sick of doing lab work that they made it thier life goal to move into a strictly managerial position. The ultimate med chemist has a pedigree of 100% synthetic chemistry with no other science of any kind to dilute thier purity of knowledge. The ultimate success for a real med chemist is when they've moved up the ladder to the point where they don't even pretend to have a lab bench anymore, which I guess Pfizer likes the idea of so much they gave that job a special title. At that point you live in powerpoint land, tell contracters what molecules to make (in house or overseas), and if a job opening does appear try to give it to someone from your same grad school lab. I can't imagine that someone from grad school would be hired as a 'designer'. It sounds like the job is really the same as an assistant director level position, expect you're in charge of contractors, not in-house staff.

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60. Jason Martin on February 3, 2011 4:39 AM writes...

Maybe I'm getting old, maybe I'm just not up to date, but someone explain "out-sourcing" to me. I think it means "get someone else to do it (for less)" but I'm not sure. Why don't the bean counters let the best brains in the business do it themselves ? Use short words please, and no business-speak. Surely cost cannot rule all - we are making life-saving medicines here, not stuffed toys!

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61. jimbo on February 3, 2011 6:00 AM writes...

@56, Ziggy is that what really happened to antibac? If so, that is even more disturbing.

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62. Mr Self Destruct on February 3, 2011 8:47 AM writes...

Generally I agree with Hap's middle paragraph comments in post #43, including the proposition that start-ups might decrease for some time period -- but probably not forever. Right now I see the entire drug discovery process as something of a scam game. Everyone here knows the trend has been for big companies to blow large amounts of $$ (sometimes obscenely large $$) buying questionable assets from smaller companies. With big pharma employing fewer scientists these days, some of those scientists are starting up the same types of discovery programs at small ventures, simply shifting risk to a different set of investors. Those smaller # of employees and investors just shoulder a bigger burden of risk than when it's spread at big pharma. The same lucky # game applies to finding a potential "drug" though, and the lucky few get bought for big $ by pharma. For most of those assets, sometime later they are determined (rightly or wrongly) to be unprogressable for the same reasons big pharma's internally-discovered compounds die (which will be my second point below in a minute). Meanwhile the original small discoverers, wealthy from the first venture, have already moved on to trying to repeat the first scam. I say 'scam' because much of the time these folks don't really have any special methodology or ideas, but they write their company's mission statement to sound like they do, purely to acquire funds from investors (or sometimes even the gov't!). In the end, few of them care if they find something that can fix a disease, they just want to find something which looks promising superficially -- esp by designing clin trials or analyzing tox pathology in a way which helps tip the scales in the positive direction -- such that they can sell the asset, then rinse and repeat. End result: a few very wealthy 'scientists', many laid-off poor scientists, many investors with less $, and ultimately few actual new drugs.

In terms of who is to 'blame' for lower success rate of pharma getting drugs to market, there are clearly many factors, but I'd say one of the biggest by far is around tox. We have the technology to look more comprehensively and in finer detail for potential tox liabilities. Much moreso than we did 30 years ago. Look hard enough, and of course you're gonna find issues -- either in animals or in humans, or both. Regulators are highly risk-averse, due to public and political pressures. Pharma mgmt is likewise -- our society's incredibly litigious nature these days makes it hard not to sympathize. Afterall, one perceived mistake and it could be billions of $ out the door, even if you don't go to trial! So no one is willing to pony up some risk for perceived reward. One day, when there aren't enough new medicines out there to address needs -- esp in things like antibiotics -- maybe the public and politicians will realize it's worth the money and potential adverse effects to have new options on the market table. But that's a scary point to have to reach first.

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63. drsnowboard on February 3, 2011 9:26 AM writes...

@50 Clearly doing a medchem degree and getting an early start on all that tricky receptor theory stuff has led to the rapid rise of medchem graduates through the ranks to lead what's left of the major pharma drug discovery projects?
Thought not.
I didn't mean experience as the be all and end all, after all, you can learn to fail habitually as well as learn to succeed. And if you didn't learn all that tricky receptor stuff on the job, your biologist colleagues would be laughing at you pretty quickly. You need a team with a range of skills and committment, an undervalued and apparently overpriced commodity in todays pharma.

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64. Snowed in NE on February 3, 2011 9:26 AM writes...

@25 Fatcat

Don't kid yourself my friend. while P&G is doing well, they've cut out almost all of their research. They still have some R&D, but it's a small fraction of what it used to be, specifically in the organic chemistry and biology fields. When I worked there, they had over 1000 PhD scientists, now very few outside of analytical support. Their two main research facilities in Cincinnati have been converted into a business center and other one is a ghost town

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65. Cynical-as-well on February 3, 2011 9:28 AM writes...

@60 - yeah, cost can rule all. I've only been in the business a short time (Ph.D, 5 years in industry) but have seen enough. They always say you can have 2 of the 3 following things: speed, quality, and cost savings. With outsourcing to the far east, you only get one - cost savings.
*It can't be speed - ordering and shipping chemicals from the West (though I'm sure they have some of their own suppliers also), doing the chemistry, and shipping it back overseas takes alot of time. Things get caught up in customs. Once, the company we contracted with was too cheap to buy an advanced starting material (which would take them extra time to make), so we bought it for them (takes time), shipped it to them (takes time), they did the chemistry, and shipped it back (takes time). Can't be that.
*It can't be quality - I've seen mis-assigned material for med chem projects, high level impurities in pre-clinical batches, heck - we even found ground glass in material to make up extra weight for them not synthesizing enough! Can't be that.
*That leaves cost. It's also easier (cheaper) to hire and fire people in the East than in the West. We, in the lab, can grumble about quality and speed and what not, but at the end of the day we end up fixing the mess, the MBA's and VP's never hear about the issues, and the quarterly reports still are good enough the pay a nice dividend to the stockholders. Follow the money...

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66. wwjd on February 3, 2011 9:36 AM writes...

@ #60
Outsourcing is about reducing cost. That is all.

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67. You're Pfizered on February 3, 2011 9:46 AM writes...

This still isn't horrible. Better than some that have just laid people off.

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68. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on February 3, 2011 10:02 AM writes...

So what are you all going to do? The pharma industry has been nothing but misery for chemists for the past 3-5 years. Other than bitch, complain, and drip sarcasm (which I admit is pretty cathartic), what do you chemists plan to do with the rest of your lives? Continue to wander around the country like nomads, taking any chemistry position you can find, or make a change? I'm no longer a chemist (at least that's not what I get paid to do anymore), and I refuse to relocate simply to take a chemistry position. Why? Because the position probably won't exist beyond 3 years. So, what will you guys do? I'm curious.

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69. Anonymous on February 3, 2011 10:07 AM writes...

You cannot help but feel bad for the Pfizer people getting cut. But then again many of these are the same people who thought that anyone who didnt train with a elite group of organic chemists were useless. What was even more surprising that these smart people at Groton havent produced anything worthwhile in 20 years.

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70. NoDrugsNoJobs on February 3, 2011 10:25 AM writes...

To anonymous 55 - Man Guy, you hit the nail on the head. I've been raised in the sort of tradition to believe that the US was leads on innovation and less beurocratic red tape but from what I have seen, the EMEA is much better in their logic and approach than the fda. The fda has become a very scary agency with the level of ignorance approaching comic proportions (unless you have to deal with them). To Mr. self Destruct (62) - so very well put, I think you very nicely summed up the larger challenges and choices we face.

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71. partial agonist on February 3, 2011 10:35 AM writes...

@ #60:

6 or 7 years ago you could get 10 chemists working for you in China or India for the price of 1 in the USA or Europe. That huge cost savings drove the outsourcing boom.

Well, with more competition and it quickly became a 5-for-1 proposition. Now it's about 3-for-1, I understand, or even nearing 2-to-1.

So with all of the drawbacks that cynical-as-well pointed out, we could expect to see a balancing point sooner or later and/or a shift to "new" cheaper countries.

It's still cheap on paper, and it is also flexible- no long-term committments. It is ceratinly getting less cheap though, and that may be a factor that will help Western Ph.D.s in chemistry and other disiplines as well.

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72. Anonymous on February 3, 2011 10:45 AM writes...

Anyone got any thoughts on what the Swiss/German companies will do in response to all of this nonsense? Follow the pack and start slashing? Seems to me that UK/US based medicinal chemistry is on the way out, and rapidly

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73. Anonymous on February 3, 2011 11:02 AM writes...

"Pfizer Inc. will reduce its workforce in the region by 1,100 people over the next year and a half as its Groton campus shifts from a drug-discovery site to a support center for research and development, the company confirmed today."

Sounds to me they are getting out of drug discovery part all together. They will simply focus their "research and development support" on "discovering" the right / next takeover target with the latest breakthrough discovery molecules.

Kinda like what they had been doing, but without the cumbersome and difficult internal discovery part.

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74. StarkChoice on February 3, 2011 11:32 AM writes...

Perhaps this may do something to alleviate the all-pervading gloom, here's a piece on GSK in which CEO Andrew Witty expresses interest in hiring Pfizer people, here's the quote:
"Witty said that Glaxo would be "very interested" in speaking with Pfizer about potentially employing some of the U.S. company's 2,400 staff that are expected to be left jobless after the closure of its purpose-built facilities in Sandwich, Kent in southern England.

"We are not interested in the buildings, but we are very interested in some of the people," Witty said."

As this shows, Andrew and GSK are always on the lookout for good people so let's keep a sense of perspective: Good people are hard to find and they're rarely out of work for long. Nice one, Andrew!

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75. Anonymous on February 3, 2011 11:39 AM writes...

Hey StarkChoice - don't make me laugh you grotty little HR troll. Why don't you go and tell that to all of the Tonbridge and Harlow people laid off last year by the "great" Andrew

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76. quintus on February 3, 2011 11:57 AM writes...

@72, I'm not sure but they will probably jump on the bandwagon, simply because the managers have no imagination of foresight.

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77. pal on February 3, 2011 12:19 PM writes...

As a consultant who makes his living by helping Indian companies get into drug discovery I can say that there is no chance that the next drug discovery will come from India.
The quality and productivity is so poor I can safely say that after may be ? after a couple of generations Chemists in India may reach the standard of today chemists here in USA. So if the smart mangers In Pfizer Sanofi etc are sending jobs to India and china they are smoking something funny and it may be that they are racking up miles for future vacations

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78. Hap on February 3, 2011 12:27 PM writes...

#68: I'm not in that position, but if I were, I would probably try to work at a patent office, maybe with an eye towards becoming an agent or lawyer. Pharmacy would be interesting, but I can't take at least five years (four plus bio classes) from working to become a pharmacist (unless I hit the lottery). Development might be easier, at least for the bio people.

It seems like so many chemists go into mgmt/business that unless they're starting their own companies, there probably aren't enough jobs there, though as the need for big pharma/little pharma transactions increases, the need for analysts with pharma experience and working knowledge should also increase.

This just seems like a frenzy of looting - if the business of finding drugs is inviable for big pharma, why not just liquidate and be done with it - at least the shareholders would get something. As a method for creating new drugs, it appears to be anencephalic.

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79. CR on February 3, 2011 12:40 PM writes...

"This just seems like a frenzy of looting - if the business of finding drugs is inviable for big pharma, why not just liquidate and be done with it - at least the shareholders would get something. As a method for creating new drugs, it appears to be anencephalic."

They will, don't worry. Right now, it's a very slow liquidation because they are still making money. It's not about finding new drugs, it's about riding out the profits and extending those profits until there is nothing left.

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80. Hap on February 3, 2011 1:18 PM writes...

But if the shareholders are the owners (as has been said multiple times, the shareholders' best interest is supposed to take precedence over everything), does this serve them? It seems to make management rich at their expense, which isn't supposed to happen. A liquidation or sale to someone else (while the getting is still good) would benefit shareholders more, no?

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81. Fred on February 3, 2011 1:18 PM writes...

I suppose the 66 people laid off from Arena in San Diego don't count for even a mention. I wonder what kind of severance packages they get?

P.S - @starkchoice - please go scr#$w yourself. Your statement

"Good people are hard to find and they're rarely out of work for long. Nice one, Andrew!"

borders on psychotic doggerel. I suggest you apply for senior writer at C&E news.

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82. CR on February 3, 2011 1:30 PM writes...

Not owning any pharma stock I cannot comment on the shareholders views. But, since there has yet to be a shareholder 'revolt' to what you are suggesting I can only guess they do not see the inevitable end just yet. The other question is: who would buy?

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83. Fatcat on February 3, 2011 1:57 PM writes...

Shareholders who are long term investors might care about what we have been discussing here. But for shareholders who are Wall Street types (traders and hedge funds), they do not give a r@tass about anything longer than 2-3 quarters. They want to make their money fast and move on to next target. Unfortunately, they are most often major shareholders. BTW, I do own a couple of other major pharma stocks (in addition to 401k for my former employer). I am in the money for both. But do I wish a quick pop in the stock price so I can unload some? Absolutely! When I bought these stocks, did I think about a long term prospect? Definitely not. I bought when they were beaten down pretty badly and I thought they were cheap relative to their EV.

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84. Anon on February 3, 2011 3:39 PM writes...

Thanks to the bureaucracy, R&D has become busywork that resembles R&D.

Depending on stupid people to do smart things is a bad business strategy.

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85. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on February 3, 2011 3:45 PM writes...

Though it would suck to know you're getting a less generous severance package than the people let go in earlier rounds, the packages are still pretty generous. When my former employer shut down, there was NO severance. In fact, I know people that never even received their final paycheck! 12 weeks plus 2 weeks for every year of service isn't bad. Well, it's all relative, getting laid off is pretty traumatic and generally awful, bit I personally know people that had it far, far worse.

The long term outcome of all this will be a complete absence of company loyalty. Everyone will have a contractor/union mentality.

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86. drug_hunter on February 3, 2011 4:09 PM writes...

Has anyone ever calculated the loss in productivity that must accompany the steady stream -- over a period of years! -- of news like this? I would guess it is 50%. So by cutting R&D one limb at a time, as Pfizer has done, they are not in fact saving ANY money.

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87. Anonymous on February 3, 2011 6:43 PM writes...

@63 "And if you didn't learn all that tricky receptor stuff on the job, your biologist colleagues would be laughing at you pretty quickly."

Biologists know drug-receptor theory? Baaahhhaaaa! Now I'm laughing at you.

How well did all those organic chemists do that climbed through the ranks at big pharma? I'd say they failed miserably.

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88. Rob on February 3, 2011 8:48 PM writes...

Very simple question -- when bio/pharma companies close divisions, do they sell their used equipment? Where and how? I'm in an academic lab and we're always looking for stuff.

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89. stroke on February 3, 2011 8:59 PM writes...

#60: Outsourcing is when you send all of the good paying jobs overseas so the top executives can make a few more bucks.
Outsourcing is when you contribute to the decline of the US from a first world country with a strong middle class to a third world country.
Outsourcing is when you replace high quality service to cheap service.
Outsourcing is when you assist in the decline of certain fields, such as chemistry.

I agree. I have never seen a bunch of highly educated, intelligent, highly trained people treated so miserably.

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90. GrotonChemist on February 3, 2011 9:07 PM writes...

Rob, Pfizer equipment is generally auctioned off on Dovebid. The problem is that most of the "better" stuff is shuffled around internally, only the old stuff goes to Dovebid. But that may change this time since Groton is now pretty well outfitted from the Wyeth aquisition.

One other rumor I'm hearing is that Groton chemistry might be moving towards a on-site "CRO" model. In other words, they fire all the chemists and re-hire them as contract workers. Probably at the same pay, but with few benifits and no severence. Hopefully that scenario is some years away.... But this move certainly sets the stage for it. (note that a similar excersize was done in Sandwich in recent years)

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91. Ziggy on February 3, 2011 10:40 PM writes...

:92 - this is the new model for chemistry. It's happening in Boston with the newly moved/hired/re-hired chemists. Almost all of them will be contractors with very limited benefits.

:61 - Jimbo, yes - this is happening right now. Hasta la vista antibacterials in the US, ni hao ma antibacterials in China.

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92. petros on February 4, 2011 7:12 AM writes...

And just to make things worse, at least for the guys in the US,

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93. CR on February 4, 2011 8:43 AM writes...

@90 - GrotonChemist:
To your "on-site CRO" model. If that happens and they hire people back, it most certainly will NOT be at the same pay AND without the benefits. See Lilly/Covance for an example.

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94. petros on February 4, 2011 9:11 AM writes...

@90 Groton Chemist

That was going on at Sandwich. There were ca 50 chemists working there who were employed by Peakdale!

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95. Anonymous on February 4, 2011 1:39 PM writes...


One can infer that all Pfired people who apply to GSK but never hear back are incompetent hackers?

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96. Pulltheotherone on February 4, 2011 2:56 PM writes...

@37: "do you really believe pharma is a.) going to be successful and b.) nobody else can do this?"

I'm sorry but I think you're missing the point. Early stage drug discovery in big pharma, where I've worked for 15 years, is cheap and effective. Yes, most of it drops out in Phase I/II (i.e. the expensive stage) hence our problem. But are you seriously saying anyone else knows how to stop this happening any better than we do? The current trend to inlicense everything in sight certainly isn't based on any data to show that it has better attrition. Quite the reverse, from what I've seen, except that inconvenient fact is generally hushed up by whichever bigwig signed the deal in the first place (in the unlikely event that they're still around...)

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97. Drsnowboard on February 5, 2011 5:01 AM writes...

@87 Well, if your 'biologists' don't know what they're doing then you really don't have a paddle...
Not saying the 'organic chemist' hegemony has been successful but I still don't buy that a generalist medchem degree is going to offer a better training than the need to interact in a project on a particular target day-in day-out.
Obviously if you're stuck in your hood with the label 'synthetic chemist' stuck on the back of the head, that knowledge might as well be in a different time-zone...

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98. Jose on February 6, 2011 1:47 AM writes...

Re: Lilly/Covance, as soon as I heard about that I knew it was going to be the next wave of horrific behaviour.... 50% (?) of salary packages are benefits, which CROs can ignore.

Lilly has a *slightly* stronger position since Indianoplace is 500 km from any other likely employer, but.... I simply cannot believe the legal or HR departments let that idea go forward. Gutless swine, all.

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99. JT on February 6, 2011 5:32 AM writes...

@74 -- Witty says that kind of stuff because it makes him look good in the press and to people like you. As someone already pointed out he has already overseen the shedding of huge numbers of jobs with no attention to skill sets. This can only mean one thing - more to come! There is no point sorting the wheat from the chaff if you're going to do it all over again in a few months. You can bet he doesn't give a flying Pf**k about the Sandwich folks.

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100. WhatAJoke on February 6, 2011 4:44 PM writes...

@74 -- Just keep writing crap like that and you'll go a long way at GSK. All this buddy-buddy "Andrew", "Moncef" etc crap makes me want to throw up!

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101. TSH on May 8, 2011 11:33 PM writes...

It's all about Animal Health... why convince 500,000 consumers when you can convince half a dozen farmers and sell the same amount? Makes sense, makes money.

:--] my 2c

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