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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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January 29, 2014

AstraZeneca Closes a Lab - In India This Time

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Posted by Derek

Now here's a story that you might not have expected to see a few years ago: AstraZeneca is closing a research site in Bangalore, with some of its functions (tropical disease work) to move back to the UK. I'm not sure what this says about Bangalore, tropical diseases, or AstraZeneca (who have plenty on their agenda), but it does have a dog-bites-man man-bites-dog feel to it, rightly or not. Edit: I apparently am confused about who is normally gnawing on whom.

Comments (24) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets


1. featherson on January 29, 2014 12:03 PM writes...

They probably had more dead flies on the floor of the micro lab than did Ranbaxy (see WSJ 1/28.14).

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2. milkshake on January 29, 2014 12:09 PM writes...

"No sir, we are not using diethyl ether for the workup, it is a gas at room temperature around here"

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3. Chinedu on January 29, 2014 1:45 PM writes...

Did you mean more like a Man-Bites-Dog feel to it?

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4. Anon on January 29, 2014 1:58 PM writes...

I think the idea was that the AZN moved their research to Bangalore at some point in the past, away from the UK. AZN fed them $ for a few years until they the site "bit" AZN by not performing and becoming a burden.
This is only 168 jobs so we will see if a trend takes hold (and I say only because 168 is small compared to some of the X,000 number of layoffs that have occurred over the past few years in the US and europe).

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5. ceb3 on January 29, 2014 2:25 PM writes...

@1 - not fair, this was a quality site operating state of the art facilities - good chemistry and good microbiology in one of the toughest ID areas going. I visited numerous times and had the highest respect for the operation. AZ was one of a very tiny number of pharma companies engaged in drug discovery for neglected diseases - specifically tuberculosis. This was a largely philanthropic effort and this is a sad day for TB patients everywhere.

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6. featherson on January 29, 2014 2:39 PM writes...

@5 That is good to hear. In my experience auditing Indian pharmaceutical companies they are a rarity if what you say is true.

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7. Say what! on January 29, 2014 4:59 PM writes...

The current drug discovery model is failing no matter where in the world or by which company the research is pursued. The low-lying fruit of yesterday is long gone and a revolutionary paradigm shift must take place in human disease prevention and treatment. The end of an era!

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8. Chinedu on January 29, 2014 5:07 PM writes...


I think Derek has provided some clarity now. Cheers!

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9. Anon on January 29, 2014 6:56 PM writes...

Ceb3 calls it right. Top class Process R&D department also.

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10. Insilicoconsulting on January 29, 2014 10:15 PM writes...

Used to work there in 1998 for 3 years. Top class facility indeed. TB is not an easy play and they do have a couple of CD's in the pipeline.

May have been better if they had focussed on more commercially viable projects.

This has been a long time coming and expected. No need to get back and colleagues and make everything a petty West vs India /China issue.

It's a sad day.

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11. chiral on January 30, 2014 3:47 AM writes...

@10. Insilicoconsulting- Damn right, this is a sad day for entire chemistry cummunity. But some people seem to derive the sadistic pleasure that few more unfortunate souls will join the pain wagon.

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12. anony-mous on January 30, 2014 6:31 AM writes...

@7 and Derek -
OK, it's time for a little rant. I have to say I'm truly fed-up with the endless comments about how drug company's of "yore" were successful ("*only*") because there was so much "low lying fruit" hangin' about ! Hell, in those early halcyon years every step drug discovery folks took they were walking on great targets and molecules ready to be put directly into man !!! There was simply NOTHING they could do to muck it all up, right? After all, they knew everything we know today about drug discovery, right?? Obviously, I find the "low lying fruit" statement / sentiment frankly condescending and simply ignorant (I'll reserve more blunt comments for the sake of the blog). Much of what we know today about drug discovery came from the sweat and toil of these folks who had perhaps 10--20% (max) of the tools and knowledge we have now regarding drug discovery ! So let's ban the "low lying" fruit comment for good and show some respect to our predecessors, shall we?

Derek: Perhaps you could do a piece some time on how hard the battles were to harvest all this "low lying fruit" - e.g., the MASSIVE effort to development commercial grade penicillin, or the difficulties in developing mevacor, etc.?

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13. Anonymous on January 30, 2014 6:52 AM writes...

@12: I fully agree with you and the "low-hanging fruits" fallacy.

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14. Anchor on January 30, 2014 9:19 AM writes...

Good, and about time. I am curious to know if anything meaningful came out of this joint venture by Swedish firm in Bangalore. Anyone? When prostaglandin analogs were deemed an interesting target for drug discovery, I hear that chemistry efforts were spearheaded there. But then, that was long time ago. Wonder what happened?

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15. Anchor on January 30, 2014 9:20 AM writes...

Good, and about time. I am curious to know if anything meaningful came out of this joint venture by Swedish firm in Bangalore. Anyone? When prostaglandin analogs were deemed an interesting target for drug discovery, I hear that chemistry efforts were spearheaded there. But then, that was long time ago. Wonder what happened?

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16. ProteinChemist on January 30, 2014 9:21 AM writes...

One of my favorite books is "Demon under the microscope" about the hunt for the first synthetic antibiotics. It was very illuminating, and it was anything but 'easy.'

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17. Say what! on January 30, 2014 9:31 AM writes...

@12 anony-mous & 13 Anonymous-

If not low-lying fruit then where is the pharma throughput of years prior?

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18. an on January 30, 2014 9:37 AM writes...

@17 different business model

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19. Curious Wavefunction on January 30, 2014 10:09 AM writes...

"Low hanging fruits" are defined as much by method and technology as by any kind of 'inherent' difficulty. For instance if you are interrogating PPIs with traditional small molecules you are more unlikely to identify viable binders and drugs, even if your screening deck has millions of compounds in it. Similarly if you are screening compounds which inherently lack a pharmacophore for binding to a defined protein target you may not find too many hits. I think we need to stop looking at the whole 'low hanging fruit theory' in black and white and stop designating it either as a truism or as fundamentally misguided.

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20. Andy on January 30, 2014 10:20 AM writes...

I don't think there is any disrespect talking about low lying fruit hanging about. The trees are surroundered by dense undergrowth, and the fruit that was low lying still required a very skilled fruit-picker to find it - nevertheless those workers found it and it isn't there anymore. We have to hunt around a lot higher in the tree, but now we have fancy cherry pickers and all other modern gadgets to try to help us find it, and it's still very tricky.

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21. Ayatollah of the Contraries on January 30, 2014 10:29 AM writes...

@18: Innovate on the Process Model to get cheaper innovation - or on the Business Model to justify charging more. You can't justify wall st. demands otherwise. It's clear that the process innovation never really worked with pharma R&D.

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22. Mephistopheles on January 30, 2014 6:18 PM writes...

In the week staff are invited to vote for the 2014 Awards for Making Beelzebub a Great Place to Work, yet another Beelzebub Pharma R&D site becomes once and for all Not a Great Place to Work...

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23. Chemistry extinction on January 30, 2014 6:30 PM writes...

This closure is a sad day. The 'R' part of Bangalore R&D may have spent many years researching without actually producing anything useful (the remaining compound I understand to have originated at Alderley park, not Bangalore) but the process development section is world class. The proc dev facilities were also excellent. I suspect time zone, increasing Indian costs, travel issues & lack of strategic fit probably did for them ultimately. The Proc R&D section should do a buy out & sell their services to all the other Pharma that have outsourced this work..........

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24. Barry Bunin on January 31, 2014 2:45 PM writes...

I really liked the book The Demon Under the Microscope about the hard early days of drug discovery too. And it is generally true that it is harder for drug discovery companies to be as profitable today. It is all hard because it is all science (and business)...and some problems and environments are harder than others. Often there are different challenges in different eras, as economics, technology, society, and nature co-evolve.

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