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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: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Getting Rid of Pesky Chirality | Main | The Ethics of Avastin »

May 26, 2011

Pfizer's Brave New Med-Chem World

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Posted by Derek

OK, here's how I understand the way that medicinal chemistry now works at Pfizer. This system has been coming on for quite a while now, and I don't know if it's been fully rolled out in every therapeutic area yet, but this seems to be The Future According to Groton:

Most compounds, and most actual chemistry bench work, is apparently going to be done at WuXi (or perhaps other contract houses?) Back here in the US, there will be a small group of experienced medicinal chemists at the bench, who will presumably be doing the stuff that can't be easily shipped out (time-critical, difficult chemistry, perhaps even IP-critical stuff, one wonders?) But these people are not, as far as I can tell, supposed to have ideas of their own.

No, ideas are for the Drug Designers, which is where the rest of Pfizer's remaining medicinal chemistry head count are to be found. These are the people who keep trac of the SAR, decided what needs to be made next, and tell the folks in China to make it. It's presumably their call, what to send away for and what to do in-house, but one gets the sense that they're strongly encouraged to ship as much stuff out as possible. Cheaper that way, right? And it's not like there's a whole lot of stateside capacity, anyway, at this point.

What if someone working in the lab has (against all odds) their own thoughts about where the chemistry should go next? I presume that they're going to have to go and consult a Drug Designer, thereby to get the official laying-on of hands. That process will probably work smoothly in some cases, but not so smoothly in others, depending on the personalities involved.

So we have one group of chemists that are supposed to be all hands and no head, and one group that's supposed to be all head and no hands. And although that seems to me to be carrying specialization one crucial step too far, well, it apparently doesn't seem that way to Pfizer's management, and they're putting a lot of money down on their convictions.

And what about the whole WuXi/China angle? The bench chemists there are certainly used to keeping their heads down and taking orders, for better or worse, so that won't be any different. But running entire projects outsourced can be a tricky business. You can end up in a situation where you feel as if you're in a car that only allows you to move the steering wheel every twenty minutes or so. Ah, a package has arrived, a big bunch of analogs that aren't so relevant any more, but what the heck. And that last order has to be modified, and fast, because we just got the assay numbers back, and the PK of the para substituted series now looks like it's not reproducing. And we're not sure if that nitrogen at the other end really needs to be modified any more at this point, but that's the chemistry that works, and we need to keep people busy over there, so another series of reductive aminations it is. . .

That's how I'm picturing it, anyway. It doesn't seem like a particularly attractive (or particularly efficient) picture to me, but it will at least appear to spend less money. What comes out the other end, though, we won't know for a few years. And who knows, someone may have changed their mind by then, anyway. . .

Comments (114) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Drug Development | Drug Industry History | Life in the Drug Labs


COMMENTS

1. You're Pfizered on May 26, 2011 8:07 AM writes...

My understanding is that WuXi is doing a large % of Pfizer's DMPK work as well.

All you need is to have the primary biological assays run there and you'll pretty much eliminate the need to ship compounds back to the states. The stateside hands could do the scale-ups for advanced testing and in vivo studies.

I wonder if the folks at WuXi have any type of feedback in terms of biological data, or even the type of target they are working on. My guess would be no. This keeps the top tier compounds in each series somewhat anonymous, helping with the IP worries.

I still think the CROs are building up some really nice screening collections from all of these collaborations, but that's the cynic in me.

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2. AlchemistOrganique on May 26, 2011 8:13 AM writes...

Can't wait for the full pacification of Afghanistan...once Wuxi becomes too expensive, Qandahar and Kabul are fertle ground for CROs.

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3. K on May 26, 2011 8:27 AM writes...

Brave or stupid?! I know which my money is on

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4. Lester Freamon on May 26, 2011 8:28 AM writes...

Who actually decides what to screen against/what targets to go after? How are those decisions made?

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5. Pfefecorn on May 26, 2011 8:29 AM writes...

For me, the most important issue on this case is the logical idea between the lines in this process. It seems that Pfizer doesn't believe China and Chinese are capable of doing Med CHem by themselves. If they are re-structuring their Med Chem bench to China, why not send the Drug Designers also? Why keep them here? It seems more like a "We americans are born to think, not to do" mentality rather than a cost reduction. This same mentality is seem in every corner in industry, even between europeans and americans for european industries. It's a shame.

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6. Industry Guy on May 26, 2011 8:34 AM writes...

This is the death song for Pfizer....SAR changes too rapidly to have it outsourced efficiently. By the time the results are in, they are just getting starting materials on the last order which then has to be changed of course. They may eventually make something useful but the timelines will be stretched out and thats the last thing a company like Pfizer needs is longer timelines to market.

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7. susurrus on May 26, 2011 8:41 AM writes...

They should apply Six Sigma to their process. Then they would be a textbook example of how a company can completely rid itself of innovation.

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8. anon on May 26, 2011 8:51 AM writes...

short on PFE
Long on WuXi

WuXi will eventually realize they don't need PFE anymore to tell them what to do for projects. They'll just run their own projects instead. What are the odds of a lower success rate.

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9. Jose on May 26, 2011 8:53 AM writes...

IF this was 20-30 years ago, when the drug discovery & development process was operating fairly smoothly and producing blockbusters on a semi-regular basis, then this whole strategy wouldn't be so off target. But holy hell, they're taking a process with too many holes no-one understands, and are INTENTIONALLY adding millions of far worse holes that are all nearly impossible to pin down or keep track of?

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10. silicon scientist on May 26, 2011 8:53 AM writes...

Isn't this similar to the industrial/economic model put forth by Thomas Friedman, accepted as common wisdom in Washington, and exemplified by Apple? We in the US and post-industrial world come up with the "big ideas" while the developing world acts as our hands to make the stuff as cheaply as possible.

Almost every major industry is running on the Pfizer model. I hope it works out, but I'm fairly certain we're in for a world of hurt.

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11. Hap on May 26, 2011 9:07 AM writes...

Considering how many Chinese scientists we've been training (and how many of them have done well), I don't understand why anyone at Pfizer would think that the Chinese can't do drug development. If your company's contribution to the process is late-stage development (and perhaps bad management), why do you think that your company won't be elided when Chinese companies decide that if they're going to be developing the drugs, they might as well make the money from them, too?

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12. BFS on May 26, 2011 9:19 AM writes...

[Y]ou feel as if you're in a car that only allows you to move the steering wheel every twenty minutes or so."

It's more like steering an aircraft carrier which doesn't have the ability to turn on a dime.

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13. karass on May 26, 2011 9:25 AM writes...

This discussion is too biased. To rationally understand issues lemme take the other side. Please comment so neophytes like me can comprehend better:

The Assumption:
* Molecule synthesis and assaying are modular operations which can be outsourced across geography, culture, and language barriers. Some of this is already true as evidenced by reagents purchased from abroad or outsourced assays.

* "Drug Designing" is where the knowledge is and is to be kept in house. like apple's design team. Implicit here is that Drug Designing is modular and separable from synthesis. Probably true if med. chemists of equal caliber are on both sites.

The pros and cons.

Pro: If Wuxi does the assaying too and submits results immediately, with tight feedback loops this thing might actually work

Pro: This has never been done right. Given how bad every other thing has fared in drug discovery, it may be worth a shot. The lower costs could help.

Con: IP will not stay secure.

Con: Infrastructure issues (reagent availability) still poor in China

Con: Geopolitical risk

Con: Loss of US capability in synthesis?

Con: You train your future competition, unless you create your branch at the outsourced site. Assuming the future competition is after than the CEO's time, this is probably not his/her worry

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14. ex-Pharma on May 26, 2011 9:27 AM writes...

Lets hope that all the sacked chemists go work for small, lean biotec's that can still turn on a dime and appreciate good ideas. Beat Pfizer to the best compounds/targets and sell it back to them for billions.

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15. Zippy on May 26, 2011 9:28 AM writes...

Sounds like consultants were involved.

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16. RD on May 26, 2011 9:33 AM writes...

Well, that'll learn'em for leaving us off patents in the past.

Speaking for myself, I never liked the idea of Drug Design *telling* medicinal chemists what to make. For one thing, most drug designers have forgotten how to do synthesis. And it never seemed reasonable to ask chemists to check their brains at the door to my office.

OTOH, there are some medicinal chemists who are openly hostile to drug design and go to Rube Goldbergian lengths to avoid having to make what a drug designer suggests. Some of them do it because they've been burned before; some of them do it because they see every patent as "mine, mine, mine!", and don't want to acknowledge they got help from anyone. So, good designs don't get made or they get made two years later when the chemist has an epiphany and claims to have come to the conclusion all by themselves. Many are the days when a drug designer wishes they could just order up some analogs from a WuXi.

The kind of drug design/medicinal chemistry interactions you get appear to depend on the culture of the company. One of the companies I worked for had an excellent interaction because both modelers and chemists grew up together, the other was abysmal because modelers did not adequately justify their aristocratic attitudes towards the "hands on" people. But it doesn't surprise me that corporations are going this route. The issue is IP. You want to hold costs down to a minimum while maintaining your patent advantage, so design stays here, synthesis goes to Chindia.

What might have been better? Drug designers could have stopped coming across as arrogant egotists until their computations actually worked, Chemists could have acted less like selfish brats when it came to patents instead of generating resentment and both the designers and chemists could have worked on the rules of engagement and who gets credit *before* the projects got started so that management didn't have to make those decisions for them and use it as an excuse to gut chemistry. Too late now.

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17. anchor on May 26, 2011 9:39 AM writes...

I am thinking of degree in organic chemistry. I mean, we can fully hold Pfizer, Merck and other arrogant companies responsible for the demise or lack of interest in organic chemistry, here in the US. People will always enroll for a PhD in organic chemistry and I have the feeling that when they see the way it is headed (outsourcing to WuXi, Syngene etc.)they might drop out as there is no future. Alpha professors in academia can always land their students in some companies only to be laid off later, while it is going to be uphill for others (i.e non alpha professors). Very sad state of affairs, I say.

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18. Ellen Clark, Clark Executive Search on May 26, 2011 9:45 AM writes...

I recently had a search for a senior medicinal chemist for a big pharma( not Pfizer). I spoke to many of the Pfizer chemists and they are really pained by all this. At the time they still hadn't heard whether they would be Drug Designers or what. Their whole world is in upheaval.Also during the search I came across a Novartis chemist going to China for a 6 month stint to "train" the Chinese in med chem. It seemed to me she was training herself out of a job.And I know that at least one chemistry VP at WuXi is a westerner and lives in China. So the CRO doesn't trust its own people?

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19. Virgil on May 26, 2011 9:54 AM writes...

Like it or not, this is exactly the model used by numerous small biotech's I have interacted with. They can't afford a full med-chem/SAR arsenal of people and facilities, so they have a couple of "heads only" as you call them (drug designers), and they outsource the wet work to China. Everything that comes in by FedEx gets LC-MS'ed, NMR'd and column chromatographed to make sure it is what they say it is, and then it's off to PK. For most small pharma's, in out-of-town office parks, with limited space, a full-on wet chem lab is just out of the question.

It's actually pretty efficient, in terms of speed. The turnaround is on the order of days-weeks, not months, and certainly appears luxurious to someone like me in academia, who can't afford to do it.

So, it really boils down to whether you think big-pharma should be trying to emulate small pharma, because that's what this looks like from 50,000 feet.

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20. Lousy Peon Bench Chemist on May 26, 2011 9:55 AM writes...

The strikes me as self-perpetuating intellectual elitism. The Drug Designers will presumably be the only chemists allowed regular access to the biological data generated. When a chemical idea works out and produces the intended biological consequences (greater potency, better exposure, etc.), the Designers will pat themselves on the back for being so smart and feel that the whole model is justified.
In my experience, anybody can have a good idea, but it's really important to understand what chemistry is difficult and whether a question can be answered more quickly by choosing a compound that's easier to make. When you distance the planners from the synthesizers you lose this synergy.
I expect this model will be slower, and a lot of bench chemists will wind up feeling undervalued and demoralized. It may work (especially if the rest of the industry follows suit slowing everyone down to the same speed), but I think it sucks.

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21. MedChem on May 26, 2011 10:12 AM writes...

#16, BD

The best way to do it is to train your medicinal chemists to become excellent modelers--designer and synthesizer in one person. It's not hard at all, in the sense that with a good program one can safely ignore most of the complicated calculation and approach it more like art than science.

At my company we pride ourselves for having the best computational scientists. And the chemists in general enjoy great synergistic relationships with them. But that said, it's always the self-taught medicinal chemists skilled in the art of SBDD that come up with all the breakthrough ideas. The most important ingredient is the unique chemistry intuition and experience that I think only a medicinal chemist can truely aquire. As much as I respect my modeler colleagues, the mindset of looking to (or depending on) them for ideas is plain rediculous. And that's the mindset apparently big pharma do-nothing robotic managers have.

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22. Rock on May 26, 2011 10:15 AM writes...

A couple of points of clarification:
Wuxi is running the primary screens in addition to PK etc.
The 'designers' and internal synthesis teams will not even be co-located. The designers are moving to Cambridge.

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23. Lacerta Bio on May 26, 2011 10:17 AM writes...

@Virgil, I was about to say the same thing. Just this morning I spoke with a virtual company that's executing this same model. They have 3 FT guys, one of which is "the chemist." He manages and oversees the Preclinical development taking place across a few CROs around the world, none of which are in the US. Everything is outsourced: chemistry, regulatory, manufacturing...everything.

Also, Hap's comment regarding China and drug development is spot on. This process will help train our future competitors. It's only a matter of time before WuXi starts developing their own internal projects. They can then buy a US-based commercial company and sell their products here.

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24. molecular architect on May 26, 2011 10:31 AM writes...

The real problem with this system will only become apparent as the current "designers" retire. Where will the new ones come from? One doesn't learn med chem in grad school, one learns it by experience. Just look at the hiring patterns in Pharma chemistry groups. Companies tend to hire folks with training in synthetic chemistry, especially total synthesis, not medicinal chemistry PhDs. So, how will new PhDs learn med chem if they cannot work on teams with experienced folks studying SAR?

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25. Rock on May 26, 2011 10:32 AM writes...

A couple of points of clarification:
Wuxi is running the primary screens in addition to PK etc.
The 'designers' and internal synthesis teams will not even be co-located. The designers are moving to Cambridge.

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26. pc on May 26, 2011 10:33 AM writes...

Rumor is that one big CRO in CN has already started venturing into its own drug discovery. Word is that considerable sum of resources have been sunk into this. It's not unlikely 10, 20 years from now western pharma find that their CRO become fierce competitors. What's worse, their Chinese counterparts will have an upper hand in the potentially largest market because of the government's back up.

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27. Anonymous on May 26, 2011 10:41 AM writes...

#21 MedChem: I don't think we have a disagreement on that at all. I agree that some of the best people at drug design are self taught. That's how we all started back in the early 90s when virtual screening was just a twinkle in someone's eye.
However, I have seen a lot of good ideas not acted upon because drug designers don't do synthesis. They have to rely on med chemists. And med chemists are clever enough to know how to get around them. Sometimes, that results in a lot of wasted time and missed opportunities. Why make someone else's compounds even if they're easy and turn out to be active? The funny thing is that I have never heard of an incident where a drug designer excluded the person who synthesized the compound from a patent. The reverse happens all the time.
OTOH, we all can't be good at everything. Some of us need to specialize. Some medicinal chemists may never feel comfortable using Schrodinger GLIDE or library generating software. Drug designers generally avoid lab environments like the plague. Only the few and the brave venture back into the labs to do real science. (personally? I think it would be a good thing if designers spent a year in the lab. It's good brain training) In those cases, two heads may really be better than one. Why not settle the disputes before they get started instead of waiting? I can see a lot of resentment in the comments from medicinal chemistry but it would have been very helpful for them to have walked a mile in our shoes.

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28. A non on May 26, 2011 10:53 AM writes...

I find it interesting how many of these comments assume the "Drug Designers" are modelers. My impression from folks at Pfizer is that this is not universally, or even mostly, true.

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29. huh? on May 26, 2011 11:02 AM writes...

When I interviewed with Pfizer I was under the impression that the Designers were experienced Medicinal Chemists who just didn't work in the lab anymore. I wasn't told they were comp sci or modelers. Why is everyone assuming this? Is this true?

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30. You're Pfizered on May 26, 2011 11:12 AM writes...

I would imagine that the Designers would be as #29 said, experienced medicinal chemists who have moved from the bench. I'd assume that there would be modelers involved as the projects needed since not ever target is going to be able to utilize them.

The one thing that many pharma companies might be overlooking in the CRO game is attrition. The landscape in China is getting to be very, very competitive for scientists. I'm hearing that 15-20% attrition per year is the norm for many companies. I'd assume that those are the bottom performers either. In order to keep more of these guys, they'll have to pay them more, increasing the cost. It will become more and more expensive to do business there.

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31. You're Pfizered on May 26, 2011 11:14 AM writes...

Meant to type that 'those are not the bottom performers either...'

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32. MoMo on May 26, 2011 11:30 AM writes...

AlchemistOrganique! You are a genius! That's what is going on- the cheapest labor in chemistry will always win!

BUT GET READY. Here's what will happen. The CRO's in China will cause a a crisis or two in international patent law, if they haven't already or trashed it enough. The smart companies here will abandon this practice as the lawsuits mount, if they havent already. Sorry Joshua Boger, but dont get too cocky and buddy-buddy with the Dragon-you will get burned!
Meantime, China will continue to stomp on others IP, as they are doing now, with NO SHAME as they dump their waste chemicals into open pits for the locals to rummage for scraps of food in. It is happening already.

But what do these US drug company designers do in the meantime? They give away valuable technology to outsiders that can't wait to run off and synthesize their own versions. It is happening already.

But, You get what you pay for and the words "industrial espionage" will be paid for in full, by our leading pharmaceutical executives of this fragmented New World.

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33. Anonymous on May 26, 2011 11:32 AM writes...

#30: There are probably some med chemists who could do this kind of work, especially people who know how to design libraries. But if it's SBDD? That takes some time to learn how to do. However, modelers don't seem to be losing their mojo so I am assuming that companies still think they need them.

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34. xfz on May 26, 2011 11:44 AM writes...

What a stupid style! Bench chemist's hand & drug designer's head??? I bet most of the time good ideas come from bench chemist.

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35. Anonymous on May 26, 2011 11:50 AM writes...

But drug designers *are* the medicinal chemists! Medicinal chemists design molecules. Synthetic chemists make molecules. These may or may not be the same people.

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36. Anonymous on May 26, 2011 11:59 AM writes...

As a 5th year graduate student in Ochem, I cannot stress how depressing my future appears to be...

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37. You're Pfizered on May 26, 2011 11:59 AM writes...

@30

A smart medicinal chemist with 5 years experience in big pharma knows SBDD. The designers at Pfizer have to know not only the types of compounds to make, but how to generally make them, then fix the advanced biological issues that always crop up. Most modeling guys I know have very little bench chemistry experience, if any at all.

They are sharp guys who know their stuff, but not one of them could lead a team of chemists and a medicinal chemistry project, and they'd all tell you that.

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38. Don B on May 26, 2011 12:00 PM writes...

Can someone point to a "suucessful" pfizer drug design in the last 20 years?

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39. Quintus on May 26, 2011 12:10 PM writes...

Seems to me that the managers at Pfizer don't have a clue.
I expect that company will not exist pretty soon. What a bunch of twats

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40. smurf on May 26, 2011 12:15 PM writes...

The compchem people do support work only: they are NOT the drug designer, never will be.

"drug designer" = experienced medicinal chemist, trained in organic synthesis.

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41. Gilbert Pinfold on May 26, 2011 12:17 PM writes...

PFE is the Lindsay Lohan of drug companies. We all watch the stupid, self-destructive behaviors until we realize that this is a company that wants to die...

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42. smurf on May 26, 2011 12:28 PM writes...

The real problem for Pfizer is not the chemistry outsourcing – this can work. The real issue is the design of the early stage screening funnel – Pfizer forgot how to do.

A well designed screening funnel is the product of a partnership between disease experts, assay and reagent generation specialists, chemists and screeners, and this partnership is broken. We now have a dictatorship, not a partnership.

To keep the screening funnel under control such that the results can be interpreted quantitatively is another challenge - good luck to Pfizer, they’ll need it.

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43. CR on May 26, 2011 12:29 PM writes...

I recently heard an upper manager of Pfizer explain this model. The "Designers" are in fact, medicinal chemists (some might be very talented computational chemists (re: modelers), but very few). Overall, Derek's explanation of the process is right on. As many people here have commented, what happens when the synthesizer cannot make the designers compound (or doesn't want to due to patent issues) - I asked this very question - and the manager stated that that would not happen. This is a very collaborative situation and everyone has come on board with this idea. Explaining that fresh Ph.D.'s love to come in and just make compounds - and for most of them that is all they want to do (ridiculous statement) - but for those few that want to become 'designers' they could start learning that process (ie, medicinal chemistry). This was so counter-intuitive to everyone in the room as we all know that everyone should become 'designers' - or as we would all call them 'medicinal chemists'. The room was full of Chemistry directors from most of the other big pharma and nobody believed that would actually happen, though. After the manager gave the presentation, many of us wondered how long it would be until there were zero 'synthesizers' in the US.

@27, Anonymous:
"The funny thing is that I have never heard of an incident where a drug designer excluded the person who synthesized the compound from a patent. The reverse happens all the time. "

The person that synthesized the compound has ZERO patent claim if they just simply made the compound. The designer has made the intellectual contribution, not the synthesizer - so I'm not sure where your comment is coming from. At my previous company, the patent attorneys would bring everyone into a room and then go around and figure out who contributed what and who belonged on the patent. Some people got a rude awakening to find out they made many molecules, but did not contribute to the patent. There is no way it would happen in the reverse - as you state - and still be a valid patent.

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44. Anon 345 on May 26, 2011 12:47 PM writes...

The tech industry started doing this years back and has been every successful at it. Most "product managers" - those who design the product, figure out its features, functionality, etc work in Silicon Valley. While the actual programing / coding is done in India (by all hands no head folks). Off course drug design and a tech product design is not exactly the same. However, a split in responsibility has been demonstrated successfully by the tech industry and there is not reason why Pharma should not try and emulate it.

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45. TC on May 26, 2011 1:40 PM writes...

Anonymous said, "I have never heard of an incident where a drug designer excluded the person who synthesized the compound from a patent. The reverse happens all the time."

I have to agree with CR, that if a drug designer is being excluded from being named as an inventor on your patents, then your patents are invalid.

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46. johnnyboy on May 26, 2011 1:41 PM writes...

yes there is a reason, it's because A DRUG IS NOT A GODDAMN CELL PHONE !

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47. Mr. Freeze on May 26, 2011 2:17 PM writes...

It's a bit scary and reminds me of the way some big Pharma split biology and chemistry functions geographically. So for a particular project you might have the biology team in the UK and the chemistry group in the states. Has that approach ever been successful? There's something to be said for all team members being located in the same vicinity.

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48. Nick K on May 26, 2011 2:21 PM writes...

Here's a prediction: in ten years' time Pfizer will be reduced to an empty husk and Wu Xi will be thriving as an innovative pharma company selling its own drugs.

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49. You're Pfizered on May 26, 2011 3:03 PM writes...

If Pfizer actually goes through with shedding all of their 'non-core' (ie money making) businesses, I would agree with @48, although I'm not convinced that WuXi will be a fully integrated pharma company putting out drugs in 10 years.

Pfizer isn't the only company that has their own buildings on their site. Most of the major players have a big presence there.

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50. smurf on May 26, 2011 3:05 PM writes...

ad 44 Anon 345:

The outcome of an engineering processes is (reasonably) well defined and easy to measure.

Biological data are not.

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51. smurf on May 26, 2011 3:07 PM writes...

ad 44 Anon 345:

The outcome of an engineering processes is (reasonably) well defined and easy to measure.

Biological data are not.

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52. CR on May 26, 2011 3:12 PM writes...

@ You're Pfizered:

"although I'm not convinced that WuXi will be a fully integrated pharma company putting out drugs in 10 years."

I don't think "putting out drugs" is a requirement to be considered a fully integrated pharma company. If that is the requirement, then there are many companies that cannot be considered a "fully integrated pharma company". In 10 years, WuXi will be as successful as Pfizer is now (and will be in the future) at getting drugs to the market (even if WuXi gets ZERO, they will be as succesful).

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53. Rick on May 26, 2011 3:21 PM writes...

I don't know which is worse: the galactic stupidity of this idea or the fact that there were no R&D managers at Pfizer with the intelligence, courage and power to abort this galactically stupid idea at conception.

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54. Azon on May 26, 2011 3:27 PM writes...

I can't believe no one has mentioned that AZ Alderley in the UK have had a synthesis / drug designer divide for years. They decide at the interview whether the incoming PhD chemist is going to be a synthetic or medicinal chemist. The incoming med chemist (drug designer) gets trained in management and the art of medicinal chemistry, the synthetic chemist doesn't. The medicinal chemist gets paid more from the start.

It seems completely bonkers as most highly skilled PhD chemists are capable of analysing data and making meaningful contributions to design of new targets. What a waste of potential talent!

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55. Anonymous on May 26, 2011 3:35 PM writes...

Over time, we'll see some of the best designers move to the CROs, depriving the big pharmas of even more scientific capability. Why stay at Pfizer with all its "management" when you can lead your own army of chemists at a CRO? A few more steps, and all the scientists (brains and hands) will be at the CROs, and Wuxi et al will be the ones making new drugs.

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56. Rick on May 26, 2011 3:52 PM writes...

For some reason this reminds me of the Zen Buddhist riddle, "Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand clapping?" You can only slice a process so finely before you separate things that must be together and the process fails in a binary way (off/on, rather than gradually declining). Pfizer is trying nothing less than an organizational design experiment on a huge scale, for which there is little-to-no reason to believe in its success. (with all due respect to the immensely simpler software design process) It will take most of a decade to gather sufficient data to know if they have sundered the right hand from the left.

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57. Anonymous on May 26, 2011 3:55 PM writes...

All my predictions are coming true.

Feel bad for PhD organiker's out there that bet the pharm (pun) on total synthesis. Get out or diversify your education NOW.

The truth is that the world does need talented chemists/biologists/modellers etc. More importantly, they need to be able to WORK TOGETHER.

By work I mean lab work, analysis, and discussion. If PhD's are making software to search chemicals rather then cracking SAR problems you have a big problem.

By together I mean F2F. Too expensive.. Realy? How many sales meetings are done over the phone???? Interaction is vital for creative problem solving.

We ARE curing diseases and not making compounds right? Did we forget the Combi-chem cha cha already.

Here is a thought. Maybe.... just maybe.. If we stopped thinking about how drug discovery is failing. The constant restructuring, laying off, and implementing new initiatives every 3 years. We could get some work down on our projects.

IMHO small lean sites with great talent and far reaching capabilities make stuff happen. It's a bit expensive to run, but they make stuff happen.

Sadly we now mostly have bootstrapped biotechs who frankly are the ones that truly NEED to outsource, and cluster F'd mega sites which cannot even order a bottle of acetone without 3 forms and approval signatures from 2 overpaid managers.

The cost savings are fairly small for outsourcing basic R&D. Mckinsey and Co showed pharma how they could save 10%, too bad that 10% generated 90% of the future revenue.

Whatever you do, don't be racist and don't blame China. I would blame those who arrogantly wasted billions of dollars and then sold everyone out to make a quick buck.

So current non- scientific big pharma top management if you read this. I hope you understand.

You are trusting a foreign labs, with questionable education, standards, and ethics to

1) make the compounds you want to make.
2) Run them in the assays you want them too.
3) generate a report for you (which you make important decisions on)
4) Provide you with limited QC controls... or too expensive to follow up with everything.

Oh and by the way its in their interest to provide you with quantity.

Oh and one more thing. This process used to be your core business as well.

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58. Pfired Before on May 26, 2011 4:48 PM writes...

To Rick
#53
"I don't know which is worse: the galactic stupidity of this idea or the fact that there were no R&D managers at Pfizer with the intelligence, courage and power to abort this galactically stupid idea at conception."

The majority of R&D managers are galactically stupid, at least in Cardiovascular/Metabolics. Upon my pfiring they told me that Disease area experts were not needed, just more hands and more outsourcing to drive the Projects. Say what?!!??

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59. wierdo on May 26, 2011 5:04 PM writes...

Time will tell if this will work. They may save a little bit of money by doing the work in China, but will they get any results? Unfortunately, most of the other Pharma companies will probably follow, as they did with combichem and other trends.

This whole trend of sending all of our jobs to China is killing our country. This is not disputable. We are replacing our good middle class jobs with cheap service jobs. For every designer or outsource manager job you create, you destroy 10 med chem/synthesis jobs. http://money.msn.com/investing/latest.aspx?post=d6af6d01-4492-4ec5-a8ac-bf63591f0f5c>1=33002
C&EN just had an article on this subject. Making this sound like a good career path.

Eventually, the Chinese will not need us and will have their own Pharma companies. In the meantime, we will have gutted our science in this country, along with all of the technology of running a lab. The sad thing is, we are just giving it away. Welcome third world America.

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60. Hap on May 26, 2011 5:11 PM writes...

Do the designers still do any labwork? If not, not only will that impinge on what is left of their job satisfaction, but I can't imagine it will make it easier for them to get a job somewhere else. Depending on how long they are designing and not making compounds, the skills they have which got them hired might not help them get a job elsewhere, which considering job security at Pfizer, is likely to be a problem.

Does someone think an economy of Alphas and Epsilons is going to work out well?

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61. soydegales on May 26, 2011 5:44 PM writes...

drug discovery is not a homogeneous input/output system driven by volume. successful programs incorporate numerous course changes that require intuition, experience, trust and communication between all stakeholders. none of which are quantifiable or "out-sourcable", you just know it when you see it. otherwise known as successful research. this just looks like a recipe for stagnation. again.

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62. Indy on May 26, 2011 6:10 PM writes...

This is pretty simple: If a CRO in CN has built the necessary infrastructure to do and develop their own drug discovery programs, what's going to stop them?

The local VCs are already looking into where to invest, and this capital influx can and will allow those with the necessary infrastructure (or striking partnerships with other CN-based CROs to have access to the necessary infrastructure) to move their CRO entities into biotech/drug discovery entities.

Shanghai is the equivalent of Boston or Bay Area in CN. The next wave of biotech and drug leads will come from CN.

And when the CROs tell their clients they don't want to work on their projects and hand them back to them, what are former clients going to do with those projects?

There is a drought coming up of scientist with hands-on experience.

Who will run those programs/projects back here in the USA?

Oh, don't tell me. Time to hire back people from CN to come, take charge and train us.

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63. JELLOLION on May 26, 2011 6:11 PM writes...

The future as I see it
1) synthetic organic chemistry will no longer exist as a field of academic study in our universities

2) no synthesis will be done in big pharma. They will buy drugs and run clinical trials

3) all of our drugs will come from China and India

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64. anonymous on May 26, 2011 6:19 PM writes...

Outsourcing like this will continue the decline and stagnation of chemistry and science in this country. The race to the bottom (exporting jobs to low wage countries) is accelerating and this country will continue to go downhill, as long as the middle class continues to shrink.

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65. srp on May 26, 2011 6:25 PM writes...

What a fascinating thread. Figuring out appropriate knowledge and task specialization is one of the most important managerial responsibilities.

It sounds to me like the devil here would be in the details--how collaborative the "designers" and in-house synthesizers are and how much the designers are experienced types with previous synthesis experience. In addition, the quality and timeliness of the foreign "routine" work would be critical.

BTW, complex engineered products are sometimes also poor subjects for fragmentation across geography and firms. Around 2005 Canon pulled it's manufacturing of digital cameras back to Japan to improve interaction with product designers (they were pursuing a strategy of selling cutting-edge innovative cameras with short life-cycles). In the 1990s Morrison-Knudsen crashed and burned in the railcar business trying to offshore/outsource design to Japan and shell manufacture to Brazil while performing prototype integration and assembly in-house in the U.S. So stereotypes about which industries/processes are suited to outsourcing are unwarranted--you have to look at the specifics.

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66. rememberBraddock on May 26, 2011 6:51 PM writes...

#54, now it is making sense, so it is an old brit idea. Just because it works in UK doesnt mean it works here. UK likes its class system, while if that were attempted here, there would be a revolution. The brits ran pfizer research for years, and established a british style, top down managed rule, in which everybody followed orders and nobody asked questions, and it failed miserably. Now, after a series of high profile failures, the new CEO has started the de-anglification process, starting from the top. Unfortunately, the monarchy still reigns in Chemistry. The head of chemistry, even after his site was closed, sandwich,still runs the show, and instituted his new idea the same day that sandwich closed. The Chemistry VP's fell in line quickly, repeating the mantra that they were told: "we need more efficient chemistry", "we need to take our designs to the next level" "we need to up our game in synthetic chemistry". The result is the same old british class system. The upper class of "thinkers", who sit around and pontificate, and the lower class of "do-ers", who actually get their hands dirty. And we are the laughing stock of the industry.

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67. Pfired Before on May 26, 2011 7:00 PM writes...

#65 The Brits took over Biology in the US and implemented their class system about 6 years ago. The British system hastened the demise of Pfizer, Inc. and most of the US Research sites in an amazingly short amount of time. As goes Sandwich, so goes Groton, Ann Arbor, St. Louis...

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68. Hap on May 26, 2011 10:09 PM writes...

#65: Understanding what can and cannot be outsourced and how to get the best from both groups requires an actual attention span and long-term thinking. Pfizer management doesn't seem to be exhibiting lots of either lately (I guess they're not alone, but that's no comfort).

Once you've sold the family silver, you can't get it back. People are going to be less willing to invest large portions of their lives in a pursuit (either overall or at a particular company) if they believe that society doesn't respect their effort and when companies see them as disposable (you can find rapid turnover jobs with much less sunk cost). At some point, the people you've outsourced to will also learn those lessons. What does Pfizer think will happen then?

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69. Hap on May 26, 2011 10:12 PM writes...

#65: Understanding what can and cannot be outsourced and how to get the best from both groups requires an actual attention span and long-term thinking. Pfizer management doesn't seem to be exhibiting lots of either lately (I guess they're not alone, but that's no comfort).

Once you've sold the family silver, you can't get it back. People are going to be less willing to invest large portions of their lives in a pursuit (either overall or at a particular company) if they believe that society doesn't respect their effort and when companies see them as disposable (you can find rapid turnover jobs with much less sunk cost). At some point, the people you've outsourced to will also learn those lessons. What does Pfizer think will happen then?

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70. BCP on May 26, 2011 10:49 PM writes...

First up, sorry to hear aout yet more misery for PFE chemists - as if they hadn't had enough trouble to contend with of late. Still, the idea of thinkers and doers is not new. How many med chem managers are essentially doing this already? I do fear that the lot of the doers is looking grim though.

I'm surprised by some of the comments about Chinese companies "eventually" doing their own R&D. Have people not heard of Hengrui or Hutchison? It's already been going on. What I keep coming back to though is no one has yet found a better model for discovering successful medicines than the current dysfunctional US/EU version of R&D. Just because it can be done more cheaply or in a different time zone doesn't change the odds of success.

Just my $0.02

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71. Anonymous on May 26, 2011 11:02 PM writes...

As a young wide eye'ed medicinal chemistry grad student we would always ask visiting industry seminar speakers the same question: What would you rather hire A) A medicinal chemist or B) an Organic chemist. The answer was always the same; we'd hire an organic chemist and teach them the necessary med chem. Well it look like they are finally realizing their mistake. Eat it!

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72. rememberBraddock on May 27, 2011 12:47 AM writes...

#71, I totally agree with you. All this concern of being more "efficient" with med chem is out the window. The company with the most motivated, invested, smartest researchers, the ones that can come up with the best ideas will win out, regardless of how "efficient" they are. The company with the demoralized workforce, where all the most experienced people have been laid off, or left, all the senior managers barely have 10 years of experience, and squanders resources in foolish ways (gets complete data packages for every compound made), its no mystery where they are heading. When researchers have to worry every year for the past 7 years (cant even keep track anymore of the number of reorgs)whether they will get cut, lose their house and go into bankruptcy, its no mystery that they arent spending a lot of time with higher level thinking. As psychiatrists say, you need to have your basic needs satisfied, (Maslow's hierarchy of needs) before you start spending significant portions of thinktime on higher level issues such as designing molecules.

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73. IchDich on May 27, 2011 1:29 AM writes...

@1 "I still think the CROs are building up some really nice screening collections from all of these collaborations"

Just selling the library you make for one company to another for a different target must be a business strategy on its own...

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74. mike b on May 27, 2011 1:35 AM writes...

SOOOOOOO glad I'm getting out of chemistry while I'm still fairly young. It stinks to have to start all over again, but for now, at least engineering can put food on the and a roof over my head. R.I.P American chemists.

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75. LondonChemist on May 27, 2011 2:28 AM writes...

I can think on one drug (Dapagliflozin) which came, not from what the DESIGNER wanted, but from the SYNTHETIC chemist saying "hold on, what's this...?" (in that case, a less than 5% impurity)

Anybody know of any other similar stories?

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76. Just so on May 27, 2011 3:34 AM writes...

@43: "The person that synthesized the compound has ZERO patent claim if they just simply made the compound. The designer has made the intellectual contribution, not the synthesizer - so I'm not sure where your comment is coming from... There is no way it would happen in the reverse - as you state - and still be a valid patent."

This is not quite true. The inventorship is decided by who made an "inventive contribution" - if this is to a synthetic process (e.g. a totally novel/inventive route, or a novel/inventive mechanical step allowing a target to be made) then the person designing that route would be an inventor on the patent (although not necessarily to the compound claim, more likely to a process claim).

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77. Old Timer on May 27, 2011 4:26 AM writes...

When I started my research career in labs converted from a Victorian warehouse in South East England, back in the days before PCs, flash chromatography and reputation management, old timers used to say all a chemist needed to think about was what to make and how to make it.

Or put in the language of today, "the interplay between synthesis and design is central to drug discovery." In the long run, verities usually outlast fashion...

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78. ChemYelp on May 27, 2011 5:53 AM writes...

Write a review of your experiences:

http://chemistry.about.com/u/ua/educationemployment/chemists.htm

For future generations.

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79. K on May 27, 2011 6:01 AM writes...

"...so it is an old brit idea. Just because it works in UK doesnt mean it works here"

The significant point you are missing #66 is that NOTHING has worked ANYWHERE, that's why the industry is in the state it's in. Pfizer is just the first to get to the cliff without a parachute and a bunch of half-wits in charge. Nothing to do with nationaility, everything to do with desperation.

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80. petros on May 27, 2011 7:22 AM writes...

The paradigm sounds a little like the old German model except that the synthetic work was almost all performed by the technicians and not the PhDs (Lab Heads)

And of course only lad heads got on patent applications.

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81. Anonymous on May 27, 2011 7:25 AM writes...

#37: I'm sure that's what you'd like to think but it has been my experience that many med chemists start to learn SBDD and then get distracted by real work and can't spend enough time with it as they initially thought.
It does take a long time to get a grasp of SBDD. It also takes a very good crystallography group. And even then, you may miss things, sometimes very subtle things. A person who spends days looking at structure may see these things more quickly.
That doesn't mean that all modelers are good at spotting exploitable areas of a binding site. Even some of the most
experienced do not. Only a few years ago, if a kinase inhibitor didn't bind to the hinge, well, it wasn't going to get made. Both modelers and chemists were into that dogma. Now, we know that the hinge can be avoided. It takes a good modeler to point away from the hinge to other areas of the binding site and a good chemist to propose the right functional group to take advantage of it.
One person could do both. They should prepare to spend a lot of time hooked to a linux workstation.

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82. Rick on May 27, 2011 7:30 AM writes...

BCP, # 70
In response to your comment, "What I keep coming back to though is no one has yet found a better model for discovering successful medicines than the current dysfunctional US/EU version of R&D.", I would suggest that a "better model" DID exist, it just wasn't thought of as a "model"; it was the way things were done.

Before quick buck-, blockbuster-driven management took over the industry, it was driven by science and people who said quaint things like "would you patent the sun?". It was >10-fold more productive than it is today AND it yielded steady returns that investors would kill to have now. In the 1980s, people started calling companies "plays" to be managed by new "models" that would address "challenges" and maximize shareholder return, creating a "virtuous cycle" of increased "innovation". The results included a stock bubble for trendy technologies (which, I'll grant, is a kind of shareholder return) and a steady decline in new drug discovery and development. Looking exclusively for "new models" from the people that destroyed the "old model" will only compound the problem. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

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83. CR on May 27, 2011 7:39 AM writes...

@76, just so:
"This is not quite true. The inventorship is decided by who made an "inventive contribution" - if this is to a synthetic process (e.g. a totally novel/inventive route, or a novel/inventive mechanical step allowing a target to be made) then the person designing that route would be an inventor on the patent (although not necessarily to the compound claim, more likely to a process claim)."

Of course the inventorship is decided by "inventive contribution" - that was my point. I was specifically speaking about a composition of matter patent (not a process patent) and the designer is the inventor and the synthetic chemist may or may not be. It would never be the other way around.

@81, anonymous:

In my >10 years experience - any good medicinal chemist is a good at SBDD. Any good SBDD chemist is NOT a medicinal chemist. It is a one way street and to be a good medicinal chemist one has to know SBDD.

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84. patentgeek on May 27, 2011 7:51 AM writes...

@ 66, 67

Sadly, this stuff has been going on for years. Ca. '93 ICI/Zeneca reorganized its research into modular units of little interactivity ("Lead Discovery", "Lead Optimization" etc.) in an assembly line approach. Previously, many good projects were started by chemists and pharmacologists with good rapport and working relationship brainstorming together and then enthisiastically working on teams for the long haul. That all went out the window. I worked in other companies with refugees from that mess; some were nearly in tears describing the destruction of morale and team effort. The instigator of that debacle then moved on to a US big pharma and continued the vandalism.
Little did I know in '95 that this was the harbinger of the industry's future.

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85. z on May 27, 2011 8:38 AM writes...

I'm almost glad that Pfizer laid me off in a site closure, because I don't think I would want to work for them.

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86. sgcox on May 27, 2011 9:48 AM writes...

Quite appropriate:

http://www.memorable-quotes.com/caius+petronius,a2157.html

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87. BCP on May 27, 2011 11:19 AM writes...

@Rick, 82 I agree, although the fairly massive caveat is that the environment in which we work today with it's eye-of-a-needle regulatory opportunities and reimbursement challenges would no doubt reduce productivity of the "former model" too.

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88. MedChem on May 27, 2011 11:57 AM writes...

It's becoming more and more painfully clear that stupid people run our industry almost everywhere you look.

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89. rememberBraddock on May 27, 2011 12:58 PM writes...

79K, you are stating the obvious. News Flash!!!Yes, big pharma has failed.Pfizer is trying to cover up the fact that they will soon be eliminating all internal synthesis, and relying completely on outsourcing. The statements they make about being better able to respond to the changes in business climate? What is that? It means outsourcing everything. In the downturns, shut it off. No more need for layoffs or re-hiring. Looks good on paper. But ultimately all of our drugs will be coming from China and India. Big pharma will be desperately bidding for drugs to put into their clinical trials, as its already happenng, then finally they will give up all together. Chinese companies can run clinical trials in China on the cheap. And the small, clean gene pools will give better data. The big pharma business planners seem to have a vision of 1910 China in their heads. Not gonna happen. The site head of the new Pfizer site in China seems to be proud of the fact that he is palling around with a dissident. He seems to view himself as politically active. He will soon have a very unpleasant surprise. The future of pharmaceuticals:The East Is Red.The West's invisible hand of chaos doesnt stand a chance in the face of China's massive, focussed investments, and their version of capitalism combined with long term central planning. China has gotten to a spot in less than 10 years that we thought would take 20-30 years. Drugs made in China? Already happening. Just watch. They will blow us away.

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90. Anonymous on May 27, 2011 2:13 PM writes...

Is chemistry a viable field of employment anymore? It is a never ending wave after wave of layoffs and low paying QC or terrible method development temp jobs w/ no benefits. I would really like to own a house one day and not be stuck in a "chemistry" permatemp job testing the same samples over and over and over and over again for $15/hr. I regret every single day of my life taking out loans to go to college to study science rather than just going to trade school to be an elevator mechanic or electrician.

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91. GreedyCynicalSelfInterested on May 27, 2011 3:48 PM writes...

Who wants to be a Post-doc/graduate student for 7-10 years to learn synthesis just to be treated as a pair of hands?! You can have that type of job with an associates degree.

These managers really don't care about the future. No one does anymore. They'll go tell the government that they need more H1-b visas because there are no Americans to take these science jobs.

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92. DrSnowboard on May 27, 2011 5:02 PM writes...

My experience as an outside insider to AZ is that they tracked Pfister rather than the other way around. An often used justification for a lot of the counterintuitive corporate groupthink was "we know Pfizer are already doing this..." and with Mackay, Mengelos etc now driving, I'd doubt that groupthink will alter, actually I'd imagine most dept heads are rolling onto their back and hoping their tummy's will be tickled by the masters.

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93. Anonymous on May 27, 2011 5:52 PM writes...

We'll probably see more of the Chindian CROs move work to Western countries over time. Hiring costs are rapidly rising overseas. Here in the US, we have a huge glut of high quality, un/under-employed scientists. Scientists here will get rehired at lower wages to work at foreign and domestic run CROs.

Jobs may come back, but they'll definitely be lower paying and lower quality.

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94. srp on May 27, 2011 6:33 PM writes...

Devil's advocate point: Construction of instruments was once a central part of experimental chemistry. Interplay between instrument design and experiment design was a key skillset for investigators, and outsourcing any but the most standard pieces of equipment would have been seen as hollowing out one's core capabilities. It was even normal to have a glassblower on hand to help with the constant work of building apparati.

How do we know that synthesis capability hasn't reached a level of maturity and power similar to instrument-making?

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95. TransAtlantic on May 27, 2011 6:38 PM writes...

@54, 66. To call this a 'Brit' idea is unfair. Only Alderley Park AZ had this divide, and this hiring policy stopped in 2007. The system actually worked pretty well there, producing better results than most other AZ sites. Additionally, they could at least attract the best talent.

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96. jackass on May 28, 2011 7:58 AM writes...

#91 "These managers really don't care about the future. No one does anymore. They'll go tell the government that they need more H1-b visas because there are no Americans to take these science jobs. "

Absolutley right. We outsourced all of our manfacturing jobs in the USA. We were suppose to keep our high paying biotech and high tech jobs. As you can see, these are going away also. We are being left with a gutted middle class. How does on support a family on a Mcflipper job? We already gave away our textile, steel, and auto industries. Dow we really want to lose this one also?
ACS just had a wonderful article on the glamour of being an outsorce manager. Each one of these jobs will replace ~10 chemists jobs. What a shame.

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97. jackass on May 28, 2011 7:58 AM writes...

#91 "These managers really don't care about the future. No one does anymore. They'll go tell the government that they need more H1-b visas because there are no Americans to take these science jobs. "

Absolutley right. We outsourced all of our manfacturing jobs in the USA. We were suppose to keep our high paying biotech and high tech jobs. As you can see, these are going away also. We are being left with a gutted middle class. How does on support a family on a Mcflipper job? We already gave away our textile, steel, and auto industries. Dow we really want to lose this one also?
ACS just had a wonderful article on the glamour of being an outsource manager. Each one of these jobs will replace ~10 chemists jobs. What a shame.

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98. jackass on May 28, 2011 7:59 AM writes...

#91 "These managers really don't care about the future. No one does anymore. They'll go tell the government that they need more H1-b visas because there are no Americans to take these science jobs. "

Absolutley right. We outsourced all of our manfacturing jobs in the USA. We were suppose to keep our high paying biotech and high tech jobs. As you can see, these are going away also. We are being left with a gutted middle class. How does one support a family on a Mcflipper job? We already gave away our textile, steel, and auto industries. Dow we really want to lose this one also?
ACS just had a wonderful article on the glamour of being an outsource manager. Each one of these jobs will replace ~10 chemists jobs. What a shame.

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99. Chinese Chemist in USA on May 28, 2011 10:15 PM writes...

Very interesting discussion.
I am a chemist who has been working in big pharma for more than 10 years. I have seen the deterioration of USA pharmaceutical industry and the boom of CROs in both China and India.

First of all, drug research is a process of DISCOVERY, not a process of engineering. Very important! Thus, to tear designer and do-er apart will not help anything; because a good discovery, in most cases, was from serendipitous action. However, if big pharma could not discover anything in-house, it does not hurt to outsource research to CROs.

Second, I do not think China or India will become a giant in drug discovery in 10 years, even though I hope so. It is very simple, both China and India are very weak in biology compared with developed countries, like USA. CRO activities will accelerate the speed of learning but there is a looooong way to go.

Third, if the CRO is the trend and you can not beat it, then join it. Find a Chinese or India partner and start a CRO.

Last, I do think MBAs are smarter, even we blame them for what is happening. After all, we did not find drug ( I did not find drug, only several candidates that failed).

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100. pharmadude on May 28, 2011 10:17 PM writes...

I'm baffeled by all this. Medicinal chemistry and drug design is an expertise but its not much of one. Most med chem is little more than trial and error. Imagine an entire generation of synthetic chemists who 1) are no longer needed to actally do any synthetic chemistry, only manage the work of other synthetic chemists overseas, who in a short time will be vastly more knowlegable than thier managers and 2) thier entire value is based on thier ability to design drugs even though the entire science of drug design is basically little more than trail and error, anecdotal BS, and luck. This all sounds like a very very very unpromising future.

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101. Ed on May 29, 2011 2:30 AM writes...

Good point #100. My old boss was once asked to give a presentation at an in-house get together on "The Science of Medicinal Chemistry" - we both chuckled about the use of the word "science" - medchem is nothing of the sort.

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102. Jose on May 29, 2011 8:23 AM writes...

Just to echo the previous two comments, I've always thought that IF med chem were truly a science (and not so much dumb luck/ trial and error) than the 2-3 brilliant super stars at any given time could simply walk into Pfizer, Lilly, etc, and say, "So, you need a good compound? That'll be $2 million please...."

and they would happily sign over the check. Do we see that?

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103. sgcox on May 29, 2011 11:01 AM writes...

#102. "$2 million..." Must be a typo.
Reminds mw of that hilarious british parody of 007 movies, forgot the name.
£2B would be a discount staring point.

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104. rememberBraddock on May 29, 2011 3:10 PM writes...

the last person at pfe who stated that med chem research involved trial and error, and getting lucky was laid off in a heartbeat. Now you understand the mindset? Drugs are designed, even if only in retrospect.

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105. WB on May 29, 2011 9:20 PM writes...

As a medchemist who is now working as the head of a SBDD unit, it's very important to me to have my synthesis team nearby so we can share ideas. Funny enough, much of what you guys have said about designers is true--we're largely ex-synthetic organic chemists/medchemists who hardly do benchwork these days because building good computational models requires a lot of tinkering and hard work. But as someone who actually has done labwork in the past, I have a lot of respect for my total synthesis and organic synthesis people.

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106. rememberBraddock on May 29, 2011 10:22 PM writes...

#105, sounds like you work for Pfizer.

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107. Anonymous on May 31, 2011 4:17 AM writes...

Poser@105

What is the difference between your "total synthesis" people and your "organic synthesis" people?

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108. Ex-Pfizer via Pharmacia on May 31, 2011 9:21 AM writes...

I am ex-PFE, coming in after the PHA acquisition and can provide comments. The chemists in GTN charged with synthesizing compounds are not called "Designers", but are lower status "Synthetic Chemists" Lower in promotion rank and salary. They will serve an an internal CRO to the Designers in Cambridge. This nomenclature already existed in PFE-Sandwich, but was imported to the US by the executive chemistry leadership, who are Brits from SDW.

Do not expect a collaboration between the Designers and the Synthetic Chemists; that is not what this is about; this is about people, sadly, clinging to their jobs. The designers will become less and less adept at anticipating the synthetic difficulty of their ideas, and will become less appreciative of chemistry in general. Bright side: think of all the journals you will no longer have to read!

The Synthetic Chemists will have a difficult time making the grade as inventors (depends on the chemistry), and will not have opportunities to move-up to be a Designer. The two groups are separated by job descriptions, lab presence, and cities.

When I managed CRO WuXi chemists on my team while at Pfizer it was not a productive experience. It is like directing undergrad research in a far away land where you never get to speak to the student. Most of the chemists are B.S. level and very green. I spent a large amount of time troubleshooting their chemistry problems; no mean feat when the question-response cycle is across so many time zones. And the responses you get are not from the guy doing the chemistry; very frustrating. The cost is lower, but when you consider my time, the value component is just not there. Mgmt says to just send them the easier chemistry... But if all I am to have them do is synthesize amide bonds or perform Suzuki's, why bother? They are not sophisticated enough to perform parallel chemistry, while I could, for this straightforward chemistry.

Pfizer has rolled-out so many new business models, all of which spiral their ability to perform quality science downward, that they must feel this is a surrogate for science. Why anyone puts up with this? Because they want to keep their jobs, even though it is an abusive environment. Every reorg is ultimately a job contraction. But, the lucky ones are those thrust from the nest, where they do find new employment where they are individually valued, and for the scientific skills that they possess. Just not at Pfizer.

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109. CR on May 31, 2011 11:41 AM writes...

@105, WB:

"good computational models". Thanks for the laugh. Show me a "good" model and that will be the first. Computational models are great in retrospect; but it is all trial and error.

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110. Dr. Manhattan on June 2, 2011 4:45 PM writes...

"PFE is the Lindsay Lohan of drug companies. We all watch the stupid, self-destructive behaviors until we realize that this is a company that wants to die..."

Having worked there myself, I would say the above description is just....perfect

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111. Dr. Manhattan on June 2, 2011 4:47 PM writes...

"PFE is the Lindsay Lohan of drug companies. We all watch the stupid, self-destructive behaviors until we realize that this is a company that wants to die..."

Having worked there myself, I would say the above description is just....perfect

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112. RandDChemist on June 9, 2011 3:19 PM writes...

Those who operate on the principle that finding a new drug is simply matter of numbers will fail. Period.

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113. Anonymous on June 12, 2011 12:05 AM writes...

@108-112...PFE is not the only one! Roche is a mess..look into their medchem dept. in Nutley. Complete disaster! BS to the extreme....

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114. Hwolfe on April 4, 2012 7:35 PM writes...

The world changed

Adapt

We are all well educated people, now we need to find something else that will make us happy

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