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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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March 1, 2011

The Pfizer Sandwich Closure

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Posted by Derek

Thanks to a reader, here's a committee of Parliament in the UK looking into the closure of the Pfizer site at Sandwich. The first part is mostly background on what shape the industry is in these days, then four executives from Pfizer come on at about the 16:02 mark. Many questions are asked about why Sandwich in particular, why Pfizer's doing what it's doing in general, when it was known that the site was going to close, and so on. I've dug through the hearing in several places, but haven't listened to the whole thing, but UK readers might wish to.

Comments (23) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


2. chris on March 1, 2011 12:52 PM writes...

It was a 2 hour meeting so hard to remember everything that was mentioned and I really don't have the will or the inclination to listen again.
It is a shame that we only have Julian Huppert as an MP with any real scientific training and he was not present.
I thought the Royal Society of Chemistry and the APBI(?) representatives missed a chance to push forward ideas to support drug discovery research in the UK, perhaps they only saw their role to put a perspective to the Pfizer decision to pull out of Sandwich.
Whilst the Pfizer reps explained the background to the decision to close the Sandwich site they did not make any compelling case as to why the new business model will produce more medicines. It all seemed to be based on cost and risk reduction from Pfizer, perhaps that is the bottom line.
The talked about setting up units with research hospitals, universities and biotechs to work in areas where new biological discoveries will enable new breakthroughs and medicines. All very well but it sounds like the first in Cambridge will focus on pain, an area for which I thought there are plenty of targets suitable for small molecule research, ideal for a traditional drug discovery program in Pharma?
On the plans for the site I thought they could have been more honest and said there is no chance of anyone taking over the site, but I guess plans are at an early stage.

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3. Ed on March 1, 2011 1:11 PM writes...

Thing that struck me most about the Committee was the absolute lack of passion showed by the first two (RSC/AZ bloke and the ABPI) - sounded like the usual pre-formulated CEO-level bullshit, all political answers dancing round the issues. The Committee seemed to want straight answers but instead got those two. Shame.

I was going to make a longer comment, but like you Chris, I just can't summon the will....

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4. Nick K on March 1, 2011 1:26 PM writes...

Just wishful thinking and vague, meaningless management b*ll*cks from the two guys. I nearly threw my laptop across the room when one of them said the UK needed to train more scientists. Tell that to the people at Sandwich!

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5. op on March 1, 2011 1:35 PM writes...

Well the British Pharmacological Society put out a press release describing the closure of sandwich as a "rationalisation" of big pharma.

I think we need a "rationalisation" of what our future is if we keep allowing companies to devastate regions with absolutely no penalty if they want to continue to sell their product here.

Sad state of affairs.

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6. op on March 1, 2011 1:38 PM writes...


The country needs more scientists? Dont make me laugh. How long are we going to keep trotting out that line.

I suppose its difficult to get kids to sign up to courses at 9k a year if the line is "we dont need anything really"

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7. Al on March 1, 2011 1:59 PM writes...

Read it and weep.

"Richard took up his role as Director General in August 2004 and, during his tenure, has successfully led the organisation through an evolution to establish the ABPI as one of the most effective national associations in its sector worldwide."

God knows what an unsuccessful Director General would have accomplished since 2004?

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8. Jc dobbs on March 1, 2011 3:25 PM writes...

What a bueracratic circle jerk. This is simply a post mortum. No wonder big pharma is leaving the UK in droves. They do not want to have facilities in socialist countries - too costly.

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9. Stud Studulous on March 1, 2011 4:13 PM writes...

This redifines the meaning of FECKLESS.

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10. B on March 1, 2011 7:02 PM writes...

It's good that there is finally some outcry about the steady decline in UK Pharma but unfortunately, I doubt it will help. Too little, too late. It's all very depressing for a young chemist trying to start her career.

@Ed - thanks for that C4 link. Great to see a proper lab on the news. And I thought the Job Losses volumetric flask graphics were quite funny.

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11. Ed on March 2, 2011 1:41 AM writes...

Liked the flasks too, only they forgot about Merck/SP/Organon - the map didn't even go that far north!

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12. Anonymous on March 2, 2011 2:43 AM writes...

The Pfizer execs were a miserable bunch.

What plans do you have for the site?

"....we have a brochure..."


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13. Tony on March 2, 2011 4:01 AM writes...

#8 Last time I looked, the UK wasn't socialist. Now, about China...

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14. processchemist on March 2, 2011 4:34 AM writes...

From the survival of fittest to the survival of the cheapest... If UK is a socialist country I was living in a communist one without being aware of it... And take a look at Germany: strong government presence in the capital of all major industrial groups, unions and representatives of the local governors in the boards... a sovietic republic...

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15. Cartesian on March 2, 2011 5:08 AM writes...

Otherwise in Europe there is something happening about Propofan and Di-Antalvic.

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16. Anonymous on March 2, 2011 8:26 AM writes...

How long are we going to keep trotting out that line.

Probably as long as Americans are. Except I think UK chemistry students might be more keenly aware of how dire their situation is due to the massive site closures. US grad programs continue to enroll, chew up, and spit out grad students directly into the unemployment line and nobody in charge feels even the slightest bit responsible for it.

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17. henry's cat on March 2, 2011 8:59 AM writes...

We need to train more scientists? Don't make me laugh. Had a frank discussion with the wife and inlaws last weekend. I reckon I won't retire as a chemist (I am 37). I am now looking at doing an evening class at my local college. I don't want to find myself in twenty years time lamenting my choice of career so long ago when things were so much better. But I fear that may be the case. I love what I do (though perhaps not neccessarily who I do it with) but its all quickly going down the chute. What a waste. I don't know what possesses new graduates to stick with chemistry at the moment.

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18. londonlad on March 2, 2011 9:46 AM writes...

The RSC is useless in standing up for the professional interests of its members in my view. This will be my last year of membership. How is the ACS viewed in protecting jobs, conditions, salaries, etc?

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19. Anonymous on March 2, 2011 10:02 AM writes...

The ACS doesn't protect jobs/conditions/salaries nor do they believe in such practice. In fact, apparently they think there's so few American chemists that they're now trying to help foreign scientists fill the vacancies.

“Chemistry without Borders – Immigration for International Scientists.”

What should foreign-born scientists, technology entrepreneurs, and investors know to legally work in the US? How can one gain a path to citizenship as a scientist? Foreign-born scientists and scholars have and continue to contribute to the technical wealth and economic growth in the US. According to 2005 ChemCensus, about twenty percent of chemical professionals are foreign-born. Learn from our speaker, Martin Lawler, of Lawler & Lawler, the various US immigration avenues available for scientific and technical professionals.

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20. Anonymous on March 2, 2011 1:16 PM writes...

Obviously there is a shortage of scientists in the UK, or is cannon fodder?

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Joins List of Top Companies Offering Financial Support for Students

Daily Mail -- The country’s brightest are being lured to university by top companies promising to foot the bill for their education. Pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is the latest company to promise financial support for students throughout their university education.

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21. Anonymous on March 6, 2011 5:24 PM writes...

The bottom line is that Pfizer's board of directors are redeploying resources away from research - the drug pipeline - to sales and to expansion by mergers and acquisition.

...And, in all probability, to the use of legal manouvres and political manipulation by the use of lobbyists and publicists to secure their market position.

Research and researchers are far less valuable.

I will qualify that bleak assertion by pointing out that research *may* be more valuable to the Pfizer shareholders; but it has a negative value in the structure (and, most especially, in the timescales) of the financial and career-progress metrics of Pfizer's senior managers.

The societal value of drug-discovery is a matter of interest to governments, who provide all manner of incentives to promote research and encourage foreign investment in pharmacology in Britain. The reason for the Parliamentary enquiry is, in part, an examination of the consequences for the British economy.

The *other* reason for the committee's interest is to investigate the issue of any aid - including indirect assistance through tax allowances - which Pfizer must now repay.

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22. anonymous on March 10, 2011 11:47 PM writes...

For the love of God!

The first two jokers are idiots. I hit a full house on bullshit bingo in the first 10 mins.

Why can't someone just be honest for a change and tell the truth about what is happening to Pharma. That is. The gravy train of the 80s and 90s created more money than the companies could spend. So they hired more managers. Plus the extra revenue created more jobs in the FDA and healthwatchdogs. These public workers need to justify their existence and hence created so much red tape to drug approval that costs spiralled to the pharma companies. Mix together the business oiks with no scientific knowledge and their CEO bullcrap (like ROI) and the over regulation. The result is the non-scientific MBAs have stripped the costs (the doing) out of pharma and the regulators have eaten back the cost savings. Consequence is everything is outsourced to Chindia to keep costs down and only the overpaid managers are left. The hardworking, highly skilled scientists have been tossed into the scrap heap. Hence gone are many R&D sites from Roche, GSK, AZ, Pfizer, etc in the UK. Simple.

And if someone ever says we need to train more scientists again........ What is actually needed is jobs for the thousands of experienced scientists currently unemployed. The last thing drug discovery needs right now is swathes of unexperienced newbie researchers fresh out of college, since there's noone left to train you.

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23. Mark Norman on June 23, 2011 3:34 AM writes...

I am the BBC TV regional Business Correspondent covering Sandwich. Pfizer tell me staff have NOT been told not to talk to press. I believe differently. Any comments gratefully received

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