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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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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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« Resveratrol Gets Some Details Cleared Up | Main | Is GSK Up to Something Else, Too? »

March 12, 2013

Sirtis Gets Shut Down in Cambridge

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Posted by Derek

Just heard rumors of this earlier this morning, and the rumors are true: GSK is shutting down the Sirtris operation in Cambridge. FierceBiotech has the goods:

GlaxoSmithKline has decided to shutter Sirtris's office in Cambridge, MA, opting to fully integrate their research work now underway into the giant pharma company's R&D operations. A spokesperson for GSK tells FierceBiotech that about 60 staffers currently work at the site in Cambridge, and an yet undetermined number will be given a chance to relocate to the Philadelphia area.

More details as I hear them. I didn't expect this to be Sirtris day around here, but you never know, do you?

Comments (16) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. watcher on March 12, 2013 12:32 PM writes...

Well over due. Sad for those good scientist who might lose jobs, but there was no excuse to keep them independent, particularly when there has been lab space avail. at sites in the Phiily and NC areas.

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2. anchor on March 12, 2013 1:21 PM writes...

@1- Any idea of how many people who have been used as doormat by GSK will be discarded? Just curious.

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3. anchor on March 12, 2013 1:22 PM writes...

@1- Any idea of how many people who have been used as doormat by GSK will be discarded? Just curious.

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4. Under the bridge on March 12, 2013 3:44 PM writes...

A question for GSK shareholders: where has the $720M GONE?

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5. anon on March 12, 2013 4:05 PM writes...

#4: Obviously, into the pockets of the VCs; did you really need to ask?

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6. dearieme on March 12, 2013 4:49 PM writes...

"a chance to relocate to the Philadelphia area": on the whole I'd rather not be in Philadelphia.

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8. Hap on March 13, 2013 8:54 AM writes...

1 - why do you have to move people? In Philadelphia and NC, space is cheaper, but space probably isn't their primary expense - people are. If you think people will be more productive integrated into the company, then it makes sense, but that doesn't generally seem to be the case. Even if integrating small companies into GSK did improve productivity, you have to deal with the likely disruption in research (moving all the things, people having to sell homes and buy new ones, etc.) besides that from laying off some (presumably significant) fraction of their employees. If Sirtris were productive and useful, these would all be nonnegligible costs, and if they weren't, then GSK got pwned, but in neither case does moving Sirtris help GSK.

Denominator management only works if you don't change the numerator.

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9. Fred on March 13, 2013 9:08 AM writes...

""a chance to relocate to the Philadelphia area": on the whole I'd rather not be in Philadelphia."

If GSK is anything like Pfizer 1) they won't even interview you if you are over 40 2) they'll close whatever site they move the cheap employees to a year or two later.

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10. exGlaxoid on March 13, 2013 9:37 AM writes...

Read the details:

"A spokesperson for GSK tells FierceBiotech that about 60 staffers currently work at the site in Cambridge, and a yet-to-be-determined number will be given a chance to relocate to the Philadelphia area."

They don't say ALL of the employees will be moved, only that SOME will be offered the chance to move.

My guess is that only a few will be offered a chance to move, and that fewer will take them up on it. Hap (#8) is right, if the site was producing anything of value, it would not be worth closing it down. I think they are just trying to make the closing look like less the admission of defeat than it is. Very similar to Merck and Sirna, where a similar waste of millions was then turned into a positive press release of "incorporating" the research into the corporation. GSK did the same with Affymax and I expect them to do the same with Praecis in a short time, once they realize how useless a bunch of triazines on resin are.

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11. packer on March 13, 2013 9:54 AM writes...

Praecis technology is not a bunch of triazines on resin. It's a bunch of diverse small molecules on DNA. Get your facts straight before you castigate!

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12. CMCguy on March 13, 2013 10:53 AM writes...

#10 xGSK hasn't Big Pharma mode of operation for many years appeared to have been the inverse of "if the site was producing anything of value, it would not be worth closing it down". I do not know if it is really true but always believed that smaller remote sites as long as they had experienced staff and sufficient resources could progress better because there was more autonomy and less need to frequently impress the Executive Management types than exists at a large HQ site. Hence had more independent culture which although productive could be viewed negatively by elements within Management, particularly if those managers could not directly take credit for the success. Likewise unless there is an advocate within the HQ organization who actually knows the people and functions I suspect its easier to eliminate a site regardless of any logical metric or real accounting benefit.

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13. anon on March 13, 2013 12:07 PM writes...

One announcement has said that "some" of the 60 people in Boston will be offered positions. If you understand the DPU system, you'll know that 60 is a lot of people to have in one of these GSK units. There is no intention of keeping everyone, in having everyone move to the PA site.

Straight shoot here: Sirtris has been a disaster for GSK, and GSK needs to save money after several poor quarters of performance. They cannot affort to continue to keep open as many misc. aquired satellite sites, pay rent, pay heat, etc. when it's already available and paid for elsewhere. Also, the Sirtris deal has to be put in the past, and the best way to do that is to fold what is left of the effort into the mainstream of the company's R&D, cutting some of the people in the process. There is nothing more complicated in the scheme than the saving of money and attempt to save some face.

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14. Hap on March 13, 2013 12:29 PM writes...

The investment in Sirtris is a sunk cost for GSK. Closing the site doesn't get it back. If the people aren't useful, then closing the site down makes sense, but if they are (or if you're not sure), then the savings in rent, heat, etc., will probably be outweighed by the drugs you didn't make. All that makes sense is to take what you can from the experience, and move on (which may be what GSK is doing). Again, cutting the denominator may not help your financial state if you cut the numerator, too.

It also seems frustrating that companies value the face of the management (and their ability to make expensive mistakes, or at least the ability not to care about whether something is a mistake or not) more than their employees (who, in theory, actually make products).

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15. anon on March 13, 2013 7:42 PM writes...

Hap: Indeed.

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16. Ron Burgundy on March 20, 2013 8:54 PM writes...

To coincide with the release of Anchorman 2 later this year, look for an encore performance by David Sinclair and Christoph Westphal to resurrect Sirtris in 2013: "Sirtrigen - the Legend Continues". Can't wait to see what they'll be peddling the second time around. Maybe a combination formulation of resveratrol, geritol, and gold dust. Drink up indeed!

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