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

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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

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

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« New Cures! Faster! Faster! | Main | The Key Player in the Sanofi-Genzyme Deal Speaks Out »

February 15, 2011

Noted, Through Massive Self-Restraint, With Almost No Comment Whatsoever

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Posted by Derek

Update: call off the dogs! I've heard from a colleague of Dr. Pepys, who strongly believes that this was a tongue-in-cheek remark. He assures me that Pepys has been around the clinical development block a number of times in the field of amyloidosis, which is a hard enough area to give anyone a good idea of what discovering a useful therapy is really like.

This would not be unheard of - both for a newspaper story to quote a flippant remark out of context, and for the tone of such a remark to be completely lost once it appeared on paper. After looking the situation over, I think that's just what's happened here. It's a sad thing, though, that a remark like this is close enough to some real opinions that it could be taken as read. . .

From the Financial Times:

GlaxoSmithKline aims to sign up 10 academic “superstars” this year for long-term partnerships to help develop medicines more effectively and cheaply. . .

The move comes as the UK pharma group cuts back on costly but unproductive early-stage in-house research and attempts to shift from investment in fixed assets towards more flexible partnerships with external developers.

GSK has recently finalised its first such contract with Professor Mark Pepys, head of medicine at the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London, designed to develop a treatment for a rare form of amyloidosis. (Glaxo senior VP Patrick) Vallance said he planned to sign 10 such deals this year. . .

“It’s a wonderful idea,” said Prof Pepys. “We all agree that big pharma is useless at discovering new drugs and has to get its ideas from somewhere else."

Were I working for GSK, I would be very, very excited. Finally, a clear statement of what the company thinks of its own employees. The Sirtris deal (and others) have hinted at the contempt under the surface, but it's good to get it out into the open. Isn't it?

Comments (118) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Press Coverage


1. wwjd on February 15, 2011 8:40 AM writes...

It's funny, what Pepys feels about big pharma is what GSK employees feel about Moncef & Patrick

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2. milkshake on February 15, 2011 8:47 AM writes...

"O wrangling schools that search what fire shall burn this world, had none the wit..."

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3. DrSnowboard on February 15, 2011 8:48 AM writes...

I love Prof. Pepys' smugness, especially considering the prototype molecule mentioned in the patents is licensed from Roche, from a Roche screening campaign...? Surely they didn't just sell one old drug onto someone else, with a bit of know-how added?

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4. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 8:59 AM writes...

Academics and Industry are just two of the same.

Industry loves to farm out work to underpaid and overworked grad students, in return the academic institutions get funding.

:Pats on the back all round:

Sometimes I seriously can not believe how mismanaged Pharma has become. I don't know whats worse, manage all MBA's or puppet scientists.

All these "silver bullet" desperate moves by GSK gives me the mental image of a very fat man drowning.

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5. Mark on February 15, 2011 9:01 AM writes...

Not to be cynical, but does anyone else think these academic collaborations are unlikely to pan out? From the time I spent at Pfizer, I realized there was no lack of scientific talent. Some of the most productive, creative scientists I've ever met worked in industry.

So if it's not a lack of talent, what is it? I would argue it's the corporate environment and culture at these big pharmas.

So if you take a top academic scientist and put him in this environment, what are you going to get in the end?


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6. Agilist on February 15, 2011 9:02 AM writes...

No need for cynicism or sarcasm here, Patrick & Moncef have made no secret of their collective desire to tap into the best talent when needed. Within GSK this is regarded in a very positive light and most definitely not regarded as a slight on the very excellent scientists within the company. Moncef gave a very robust defense of this strategy at a recent all-hands meeting where he won over an initially skeptical audience in some style. He fielded a lot of initially quite hostile questioning with brio and panache, so much so that by the end he received a rapturous ovation at the end. Most now realize that the industry is undergoing a period of unprecedented change and the status quo is not an option. This message has permeated all levels at GSK and I believe most of the hostile commentary in the blogosphere emanates from disgruntled former employees. It may come as a disappointment to these individuals, but a recent survey has shown that morale within has not been so high since 2002!

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7. Analytical Scientist on February 15, 2011 9:02 AM writes...

It's a constant theme in our business--if there's a problem that requires significant action, but you don't know what to do:

1) demonize the status quo
2) reorganize or otherwise significantly turn the business on its head
3) wait two years and then rinse and repeat (without any personal responsibility or acknowledgment of irony).

VPs get paid a lot of money to churn through this viscous cycle over and over.

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8. Ed on February 15, 2011 9:05 AM writes...

Is the same joyous, enlightened spirit of academic cooperation that sees GSK "employ" undergraduate chemistry students at the University of Nottingham to do bench work for them?

They sure are racing to the top!

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9. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 9:10 AM writes...

#6 Thanks Moncef for your thoughts.

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10. Analytical Scientist on February 15, 2011 9:15 AM writes...

I guess that exploiting grad student labor is still better than shipping discovery over seas. Anyway, all drugs are developed in academia and NIH, right?

Whether it works or not, though, Prof. Pepys is going to make a lot of money...

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11. AnonInCanada on February 15, 2011 9:22 AM writes...

Awesome! Big Academia and Pharma partnered in job creation!... for those of us willing to work 12 hour days 6 days a week for less than $30k per year and a degree of increasingly dubious value.

Some big-name professors will enlarge their salaries, reputations, and egos. Some MBA's and CEO's will (temporarily) continue to rake in the cash. And I'm sure Madeleine Jacobs and her cohort at the ACS will be telling us how wonderful all of this is for chemistry.

Ever feel like Boxer? the horse from Animal Farm?

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12. Ed on February 15, 2011 9:23 AM writes...

That horse had it lucky!

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13. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 9:28 AM writes...

Thanks for the Tuesday giggle #6! Anyone who uses the phrase "brio and panache" can work nowhere other than 1) GSK's HR department or 2) Moncef's office

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14. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 9:34 AM writes...


It's one thing to bring in outside help to energize drug discovery efforts, it's quite another to call your in-house researchers "worthless".

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15. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 9:51 AM writes...

Any GSK insiders want to confirm/deny the "rapturous ovation" that Moncef, I mean Agilist, is talking about?

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16. ppp on February 15, 2011 9:53 AM writes...

I'd like to know Pepys' track record in drug discovery, I mean marketed drugs.

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17. Will on February 15, 2011 9:55 AM writes...

"...he won over an initially skeptical audience in some style. He fielded a lot of initially quite hostile questioning with brio and panache, so much so that by the end he received a rapturous ovation at the end."

Not unlike the climax of Rocky IV in which Stallone defeats the Soviet Union with his inspirational "if I can change, you can change" speech

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18. anthony nicholls on February 15, 2011 10:02 AM writes...

I do wonder what "Agilist" is smoking. Having observed GSK and other pharma for almost two decades I can't think of a time when morale has been lower. This new insanity is, admittedly, one of the more stupid things GSK, or any other pharma, has done for a while, but to actually think this is a positive development requires a reality distortion of immense proportions. As such, I can only assume Agilist is in management at GSK.

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19. Will on February 15, 2011 10:02 AM writes...

For those that have Youtube and sparse knowledge of 80's movies

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20. watcher on February 15, 2011 10:11 AM writes...

Conceived by a former academic (PV) who is pretty clueless himself about how drugs come about.

SB/GW/GSK has tried this type of academic collaboration before, never to see any drugs emerge but always able to provide nice funding to well known academic labs who already have good funding. The academics have little incentive to deliver requirements of drug-discovering, drug-development. How does this work? Where do the actual patentable compounds come from in these collaborations, which are largely in biology based labs? Guess it provide more job security for people in areas to interface / and assigned to (nominally) manage the academic collaborations.....if they can be managed.

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21. rogi on February 15, 2011 10:11 AM writes...

A classic case od dis-pepsy-sia, that no amount of peptobismol will cure. Like a bad meal, repeating on you. We in pharma, need to get use to haggis like quality of Glaxo and other big pharma's

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22. MTK on February 15, 2011 10:19 AM writes...

OK, I didn't read the full article (didn't want to register), but with that caveat let me be a bit of the contrarian.

First, it was Pepys that made the most disparaging, and asinine, remark above, not GSK management. That statement is going to come back with a vengeance.

Second, I don't find anything wrong in the least with these types of agreements from an industrial standpoint. 10 in a year is really not large outlay of cash and if viewed as an adjunct to internal efforts I think its OK. If viewed as a replacement then that's different.

Third, the value/cost/effectiveness of such an agreement is really dependent on how its structured. It would be interesting to see the details.

Unfortunately, whatever value it may have just decreased due Pepys' statement. Good luck getting enthusiastic cooperation from GSK scientists.

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23. Hap on February 15, 2011 10:22 AM writes...

Prof. Pepys:

When people talk about drugs, they mean "compounds they can actually take that help palliate or cure illnesses", not "perturbagens" or "ligands". If academics have come up with any of the former (no, actually developed, not sold as a lottery ticket), it would actually be a very big surprise, unless JACS or Angewandte Chemie articles are actually found to cure illness by themselves.

I'm sure your ego will fit in well with GSK management, but your mouth is writing checks that your brains can't cash. At least you can cash the ones GSK gives you. That's something.

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24. Mike W on February 15, 2011 10:22 AM writes...

I thought this was brilliant, until I realized it wasn't April 1.

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25. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 10:23 AM writes...

#Agilist: Spare us the verbiage, it might cut the mustard @gsk but in the wider world people know horse s**t when they smell it! As a recently made "former employee" who is happy to be out, I can say that as of the period up to end of 2010, Slaoui was known as the invisible man in the UK. Word is that he's been sidelined and Vallance is now running the show.

An obvious question for Vallance & Slaoui: Both of those guys have been in place for 5 years now so what have they delivered apart from a shattered R&D organisation? Nada, Zilch, Nought, Rien! A cynic might say that Vallance is "pre-feathering" his nest in preparation for his own exit when he'll return to academia.

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26. JB on February 15, 2011 10:24 AM writes...

What a stupid, ignorant comment by the smug Pepys.

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27. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 10:31 AM writes...


If not a sarcastic joke, judging by the name I would bet he/she is a consultant.

Ask me how I know.

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28. A Nonny Mouse on February 15, 2011 10:45 AM writes...


Click on his name to get details! Underlined means that it is hyperlinked.

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29. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on February 15, 2011 10:48 AM writes...

If you read the entire article, there's another interesting tidbit of information revealed:

"Under the terms of the agreement, Prof Pepys’ company Pentraxin Therapeutics receives a small upfront fee allowing GSK to gain an exclusive licence on the patents he has filed on his experimental drug."

This guy's quotation about big pharma being useless at discovering new drugs is simply asinine. Pharma has its problems and challenges, but where does he think the majority of drugs have come from? Wow, what an ego.

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30. Malkavian on February 15, 2011 10:49 AM writes...

Well this seems to tie in nicely with your post from a few days ago about Outsourcing. Except that instead of paying real companies with experienced scientist doing the work, GSK will now employ students...
Also note the irony, since UK is trying to rise the cost of entry into its Universities: anyone wants to pay a few thousands UKpounds to be working for GSK?
On a totally different subject, I'd really like to hear your 2cents about the recent withdrawing of Sanofi-Aventis' Anzemet (Dolasetron)?

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31. Donough on February 15, 2011 10:51 AM writes...

"We all agree that big pharma is useless at discovering new drugs"

What arrogance.

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32. petros on February 15, 2011 10:53 AM writes...

Pentraxin Therapeutics Ltd, has acquired the full rights to (R)-1-[6-[(R)-2-Carboxy-pyrrolidin-1-yl]-6-oxo-hexanoyl]pyrrolidine-2-carboxylic acid (CPHPC), a small molecule drug which targets serum amyloid P component (SAP) for treatment of systemic amyloidosis and other diseases associated with local amyloid deposits, notably Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. This approach was devised by Professor Mark Pepys FRS of UCL and he developed CPHPC in collaboration with Roche in Basel, Switzerland.

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33. Innovate on February 15, 2011 10:54 AM writes...

Glad to know it was a lack of ideas at GSK, was the problem with the company with this explaining all the failures. Rather than crap senior management, no interest in research and no funding to do the no research.

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34. RB Woodweird on February 15, 2011 10:57 AM writes...

It would be cheaper and just as effective to spend $20 on a Ouija Board and contact a consultant from beyond the grave. I mean, who would you rather have in your corner? Professor Pepless or the shade of Woodward?

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35. Hap on February 15, 2011 11:02 AM writes...

#22: It doesn't sound like a bad idea in theory (because someone always knows more than you do, or almost always, and the agreements might help GSK to get in on the ground floor of new tech), but the "attempts to shift from investment in fixed assets towards more flexible partnerships with external developers" strongly implies that the hiring of outside professors is a replacement for rather than an addition to internal research.

As an adjunct, the use of professors would be helpful, but as a replacement for internal research, the use of profs seems like a horrible idea (because academics don't generally study what makes drugs, and so their ability to find drugs is likely to be less than that of the employees you're running out the door). The only advantage is the cheapness of the labor, but the more jobs GSK runs out of the country, the harder it will be to get a pipeline of cannon fodder to work for peanuts and make their drugs. In addition, I was not the most clueful undergrad, and I wouldn't have wanted lots of money to be riding on my lab skills. I assume that I can't be the only one.

The question might be who GSK management doesn't have contempt for. Their own employees and investors are a good start, and I can't figure their customers are far behind. Who's left?

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36. dogbertd on February 15, 2011 11:02 AM writes...

Pepys' arrogance is pretty breathtaking and shows the usual academic lack of understanding of the business constraints on science within big pharma, but what is being suggested here is a variant on the "external innovation" concept. The notion being that you're more likely to get a drug by picking ideas from wherever they come - within or without your company. Don't know of an example where this has worked yet.

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37. luysii on February 15, 2011 11:04 AM writes...

Hopefully, this Pepys will keep a diary, during which time there will neither be a great fire in London nor a plague.

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38. Hap on February 15, 2011 11:07 AM writes...

Ideas are good, and no one knows everything, but who at GSK is going to be left to recognize good ideas and incorporate them into drugs? The same people that have helped put GSK where it is (their management) are the only ones in a position to recognize and incorporate academics and other information sources into GSK.

Swapping the backseat passengers doesn't help if the people in the driver's seat don't know how to drive and don't care.

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39. processchemist on February 15, 2011 11:13 AM writes...

Few years ago Moncef declared that the next generation of drugs would be invented in China (talking about the Shangai CEDD). Then the Sirtris deal was charged with the greatest expectations. Now the announcement of this new strategy.
The suspect is that some R&D executive has no idea about how to find a way out of the situation (after the destruction of some of the internal teams that really delivered drugs).

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40. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 11:14 AM writes...

if viewed as an adjunct to internal efforts I think its OK

Why would they need adjuncts? The internal R&D is useless at discovering new drugs. Might as well show them the door while academia ushers in the new golden age.

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41. MoMo on February 15, 2011 11:28 AM writes...

Take any stock you own in GSK and sell if off immediately. If Pepys is the first buy-in they are clearly not thinking straight. Read his publishing history and you will see few compounds to his name and many papers on biological paradigms that have long since dissipated.

Now if he was an academic who made newer and better compounds I would say it was a savvy move, but this should be followed.

This move beats the Sirtris deal and is way cheaper with the added bonus of letting all of us see what money and its pomposity can do to science.

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42. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 11:33 AM writes...

There is just no upside for the chemist anymore.

Big Pharma doesn't want to pay you. Outsourcing and in licensing red wine extracts.

Small start-ups are no better. High risk but no reward. Either they:

a) run out of money

b) sell the company and close the doors.

I'm leaving pharma and will watch it burn from the sidelines.

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43. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 12:14 PM writes...

Re: Startups.

What do entry level organic chemists make at a pharma startup in the Boston area?

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44. Anonymous on February 15, 2011 12:34 PM writes...

Bigshot academics (especially organic synthesis) and big pharma MBA's are almost always arrogant jerks, and they deserve each other!

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45. pete on February 15, 2011 12:41 PM writes...

I'm late to this affair but here goes my poetry for GSK's coming out party:
"If we've CEDD it once, we've CEDD it a hundred times: CEDD professors are going to be the greatest this since sliced CEDD !!"

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46. David on February 15, 2011 12:55 PM writes...

Oh, man, this is the funniest thing I have heard in a long time. Especially the "We all agree that big pharma is useless at discovering new drugs and has to get its ideas from somewhere else."

I'm an academic at the periphery of this area. So, you might expect me to agree with him, I suppose. But no. That's ridiculous. Who in their right mind would hire someone this arrogant? And how can someone this arrogant possibly be at all helpful?

I can't decide whether it is hilarious or sad.

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47. wwjd on February 15, 2011 12:58 PM writes...

#32 Nice structure Pepys has there for a brain targeted compound. Diacids are the key to getting through the blood-brain barrier, yes?

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48. DCRogers on February 15, 2011 1:18 PM writes...

Thanks are due to our business schools, that discovered you can increase "Return on Assets" by divesting yourself of said assets, esp. "costly but unproductive early-stage in-house research".

This is collateral damage caused by finance's exporting of costly executive pay-scales into other fields, causing complete shredding of any long-term investment in search of short-term "ROA".

To quote the commenter "EvilHenryPaulson" from Calculated Risk, "When a business has starved their product, equipment or workers of investment in other sectors, the response has been to import from someone more competent in another country with foresight."

Or just outsource the entire function, the real end-game (if one doesn't count ultimate liquidation). Sad.

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49. Ron on February 15, 2011 1:19 PM writes...

This announcement follows the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) model of using taxpayer dollars (or British pounds in this case) to subsidize corporate research.

Most are not aware that TSRI takes NIH grants then uses them to pay for research with private companies.

So looks like big Pharma will get to privatize all the profits from those new 'collaborations'.
They may even throw the grubby PIs enough money to hire hundreds and hundred of cheap grad students for which there are of course no jobs when they graduate.

I'm very happy about this!

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50. Wagonwheel on February 15, 2011 1:47 PM writes...

Some real lol moments today hey!
I wonder if things are just getting more absurd in pharma. We don't need to discuss the benefit of industry-academia collaborations, that's a given, but the rhetoric from both parties doesn't bode well.

I would agree that the best scientists I've ever seen are within industry. There are people with decades of experience and still doing science. Some of these big named top-profs are just out of touch and just live in a world of conference attendance and travel...Probably they share plenty in common with pharma management.

#47, I guess this di-acid it supposed to reduce serum levels of amyloid and so doesn't need to get in the brain. Seems a bit of a cop-out strategy to me, given the supposed difficulty of getting good brain penetrant bace inhibitors etc, they took a shortcut and hope to hit the peripheral levels. Whether that'll touch brain plaques which have built up over 20-30 years is anyones guess...I'll guess not...let's see if Roche keep progressing this compound

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51. chris on February 15, 2011 1:47 PM writes...

I've known Prof Pepys for a long time and I suspect that sadly a tongue in cheek comment has been taken out of context. Don't let a newspaper "soundbite' cloud some very exciting science.
Prof Pepys is the head of the National Centre for Amyloidosis and has seen many, many, many patients die from these dreadful incurable diseases. This group are very much on the leading edge of amyloidosis research and have pioneered much of the treatments now used throughout the world. Prof Pepys focus has always been on the patients.
The GSK collaboration is to treat systemic amyloidosis and uses a small molecule/antibody combination and is certainly bleeding edge biomedical research, but this is a fatal incurable disease. The published results (doi:10.1038/nature09494) suggest this is certainly worth testing in the clinic, and realistically it is the only chance the existing patients have.

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52. PR on February 15, 2011 2:00 PM writes...

Anyone else find it ironic that GSK is firing people that were trained/got degrees from the same institutions they are now partnering with?

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53. partial agonist on February 15, 2011 2:11 PM writes...

I'd be very wary of how they pick the 10 so-called top academics. They might end up with the 10 best salesmen, the 10 biggest egos, or the 10 most published, but any of that doesn't necessarily help at all. what's the track record of companies founded by acedemic big shots such as Schreiber? Seems like more struggles than obvious successes.

Lots of academics have tremendous respect for the drug discovery process and some (myself included) worked in big & medium pharma for over a decade, which is getting to be somewhat common.

Pepys' commnet puts the whole strategy in an awful light, but it is just another example of a somewhat desperate company trying to validate some future high risk potential targets using relatively cheap manpower. In theory the strategy has value, but the language indicates an already botched execution.

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54. DCRogers on February 15, 2011 2:12 PM writes...

#51: "The GSK collaboration is to treat systemic amyloidosis [...] and realistically it is the only chance the existing patients have."

This approach may or may not turn out to be useful science, but the breathless "only chance" stuff is a straw man, only true if you ignore all the other clinical trials in this area.

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55. Hap on February 15, 2011 2:14 PM writes...

Yeah, but "out of context" is what media do, generally. You probably shouldn't say anything that (in a reasonably) could be taken so badly out of context.

Finding interesting targets is the point of academia. Finding interesting drugs is what drug companies should be doing. If what Prof. Pepys meant was that GSK could help him find drugs for his targets, I'm sorry for my previous slam, but he said it really really badly. Also, if GSK is getting rid of people who find drugs for people who find targets, Prof. Pepys (or anyone else, other than GSK management) isn't going to get what he wants.

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56. Jc dobbs on February 15, 2011 2:17 PM writes...

With enthusiastic collaborators like this is it any wonder why big pharma is pulling out of the UK?

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57. Hap on February 15, 2011 2:31 PM writes...

#48: No, liquidation might actually compensate stockholders and allow them to use their money to start businesses run by competents. It doesn't allow management to bleed the company dry and then abandon the shell for the stockholders. Hence, liquidation is not an appropriate end for unsuccessful companies run by larcenous management.

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58. Wagonwheel on February 15, 2011 2:43 PM writes...

#55 the drugs come straight from HTS, everyone knows that, just look at the long list of PNAS and JPET 'drugs' being published on an annual basis... ;-)

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59. JasonP on February 15, 2011 2:46 PM writes...

Well this is good news for my company. While GSK and Phizer act like fools, we remain comfortably diversified and successful. I predict good times ahead for me.

By the way Derek: WHAT ABOUT NATVIS?!

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60. Hap on February 15, 2011 2:48 PM writes...

Prof. Pepys,

Sorry for comment 23. I thought you were serious.

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61. barry on