Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Peter Cappelli on the skills gap

Peter Cappelli is a Wharton School professor and the author of Why Good People Can't Get Jobs. He has written a long National Bureau of Economic Research working paper on the so-called "skills gap." It's worth noting that Professor Cappelli is a 'skills gap' skeptic. Here's a small excerpt:
More generally, if the labor market is not enticing students to pursue particular fields, should public policy push them to do so? Manufacturers, for example, have long complained about the shortage of students interested in machinist training programs and assert that the cause has been that schools and guidance counsellors were not advocating for those programs. But the pay for such jobs has declined by 20 percent in real terms over the past two decades while the skill requirements for those jobs have shifted toward computer use, a field with better pay. The number of machinist jobs has already declined by 20 percent in that period (the total number of jobs in the economy has increased by 40 percent) and is expected to decline further (Cappelli 2012). The reasons why there has been a decline in the number of students taking vocational education courses that could prepare them for manufacturing jobs merits further attention, but we should not assume that it is independent from the attractiveness of the jobs offered at the end of those programs.
Of course, I find this paper compelling and worthwhile, but I would, wouldn't I? Read the whole thing -- I have more comments later.

UPDATE: I don't know why, but it seems that people are having a paywall for the NBER and I did not. Here's a Google Docs version. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

This week's C&EN

Some interesting articles here:
  • I had no idea that Sally Evans (Dave Evans' wife) was responsible for ChemDraw; it's really a remarkable #altchemjobs story, when you get down to it. (story by Bethany Halford)
  • Someone doesn't like that C&EN has a paywall. 
  • I'm still finding the rail car safety debate fascinating - DOT wants DOT-111 tankcars retrofitted and that's catching the ethanol industry by surprise. I think I'm okay with this, but I understand why folks who own these cars are squawking (article by Glenn Hess.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quote of the day: penicillin frustration

For some reason, I was reading about the scaling-up of penicillin and came across this wonderful quote, via an ACS writeup:
Pfizer's John L. Smith captured the complexity and uncertainty facing these companies during the scale-up process: "The mold is as temperamental as an opera singer, the yields are low, the isolation is difficult, the extraction is murder, the purification invites disaster, and the assay is unsatisfactory."
You know, that gives me a bit of perspective.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ACS San Francisco Career Fair numbers: 94 positions, 651 job seekers

Reported to the ACS Council today:
Onsite employers: 38
Onsite seekers: 651
Onsite jobs: 94 
Virtual employers: 11
Virtual registered seekers: 720
Virtual jobs: 36
That's a jobseeker-to-onsite positions ratio of ~7:1, which is slightly better than the 8:1 reported for the 2014 ACS Dallas Career Fair. Please note, registered seekers for the Virtual Career Fair are not representative of actual attendance. 

Bonus Process Wednesday: You Can't Make A Baby In One Month with Nine Women

What do you mean, we've run out?
Credit: happy otter
Mapp Biopharmaceuticals is the company that has a very experimental Ebola treatment. They've run out of manufactured supply, which is an interesting problem that was not discussed in the visual literature, i.e. the 90s movie "Outbreak.". Here's what The Hill (the paper that covers Congress) has to say about that:
It will take months to produce even a small batch of a promising new drug to counter Ebola, according to U.S. health officials. Mapp Biopharmaceutical’s drug ZMapp has shown some promise. The drug has been used to treat two Americans who have contracted Ebola. 
But the company said Tuesday it has run out of supplies. 
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says it will take months to make more of the drug. Even in that timeframe, the company will only be able to produce less than a hundred treatment courses. 
He said the government was trying to help Mapp “scale up” so that it could produce more of the medicine. 
“Right now, when you’re dealing with Mapp Biopharmaceutical, it’s a small company of very few people, so what we’re trying to do with the government is to partner with them to help them scale up,” he said. “But it’s not going to be mass production … because the technology needs to be developed to make it faster.” 
The drug comes from the Nicotiana benthamiana plant, which health officials said takes longer than a month to grow. Substances from the plant then must go through months of processing before being made into ZMapp.
Upon looking at Mapp Biopharmaceutical's patent application (or what I could find with a 10-second Google search), I suspect that this is the relevant sentence:
Also provided herein are methods of producing antibodies or antigen-binding fragment that contain a substantially homogenous glycan composition using a plant or other eukaryotic expression system.
Here's a much, much, much better explanation from David Kroll at Forbes. "Plantibodies" - I like it.

I Am Not a Molecular Biologist, but it seems to me that this is a custom technology to manufacture pure bits of biomolecules by using plants (instead of yeast or whatever.) I somehow doubt that there is going to be enough successful technology transfer or successful research to substantially speed this process up. Mapp Biopharmaceuticals is out of ZMapp, and we'll have to wait until they can make more and there's very little the United States government can do about that. Best wishes, fellas. 

Process Wednesday: overdried a hydrate? You can rehydrate it!

If I am overdried, re-hydrate me!
Credit: Rassias et al., OPRD
Flipping through Practical Process Research and Development, I happened upon an interesting entry in the index: "overdrying." Here's what Neal Anderson has to say about it: 
Polymorphism undoubtedly will continue to be an issue for developing drug substances and for continued manufacture of drug products... Solid-state transformations should not be overlooked. Hydrates may be overdried; rehydration of a dried phosphate salt was carried out by passing moist nitrogen through the dryer.
For the above overdrying event, Dr. Anderson cites this Organic Process Research and Development paper [1] from workers at GSK:
Upon drying, however, 1 dehydrates, and significant efforts were made to meet the challenge of consistent preparation of the monophosphate monohydrate salt. In collaboration with our Particle Science and Physical Properties departments no other hydrated forms were identified by standard solid form screening methods.  
Subsequently, the dehydration of the monohydrate was shown to be fully reversible by DSC, GVS, XRPD, and Raman spectroscopy. At scale, a reconditioning process was implemented using a Boltz dryer to achieve dehydration followed by the application of a moist nitrogen stream through the dryer to rehydrate to the monohydrate. This method proved robust and consistent for the manufacture of iNOS inhibitor 1 which was also analysed by a variety orthogonal techniques including chiral HPLC (99.9% PAR), metal analysis (Pd not detected), phosphate and water analysis (consistent with the monophoshate mononohydrate stoichiometry), and XRPD (consistent with desired polymorph and crystallinity).
I suspect that overdrying events (especially when polymorphs are involved) are not usually so simple to fix, so it's still incumbent on process chemists to define the temperature parameters of drying steps and for operators to keep a careful watch over their drying temperatures. That said, it is very interesting to learn that, in this case, the solution was to "overdry" the material and then re-hydrate the molecule.

1. Rassias, G.*, Hermitage, S.A.*; Sanganee, M.J.; Kincey, P.M.; Smith, N.M.; Andrews, I.P.; Borrett, G.T.; Slater, G.R. "Development of a Supply Route for the Synthesis of an iNOS Inhibitor: Complications of the Key SN2 Reaction." Org. Process Res. Dev., 2009, 13 (4), pp 774–780.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chemist spam is fascinating: "3 Day MBA"?

"will teach you all you need to know about the stem cells industry." Well, sign me up. (Not.) 

ACS San Francisco tweetup, tonight, 8 PM, Thirsty Bear

From an e-mail:
"We have landed on the Thirsty Bear Brewing Company at 8pm Tuesday night. 661 Howard Street, right near the W Hotel. Invite anyone you know who cares about hanging out with awesome people."
Go have fun, folks!