In April of this year, Derek Lowe made a statement that I found interesting, but not proven: "there are far fewer med-chem jobs out there today than there were five years ago." Later in the post, Dr. Lowe tends to define the term by "the number of well-paid US-based positions at large pharma companies."
For the most part, I think he's right. The list of former large pharma sites listed by one of my commenters recently is too large to list and too large to ignore -- not all of those positions could have been resorbed by their parent/merged companies.
However, I have been unable to locate a census-type count of industrial medicinal chemists; to my eye, this would be the only way of falsifying Derek's hypothesis.
II. Now is not good.
On July 16, Trevor Laird (the editor of Organic Process Research and Development) wrote a depressing and truthful editorial titled "Is there a Future for Organic Chemists in the Pharmaceutical Industry outside China and India?" He discusses the current state of affairs ably; I suggest you read the whole thing. But here's the key portion:
"The impending closure of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) sites in the UK and Italy, and the announcement by Astra Zeneca of the closure of the Loughborough (Charnwood) site with the loss of 1200 R&D staff along with the loss of jobs at the Avonmouth manufacturing site mean that many scientists in process R&D in the UK are falling on hard times. At the same time, Pfizer has cut staff in Medicinal Chemistry and Process R&D at Sandwich, UK, after the merger with Wyeth and has reduced the number of manufacturing sites in Ireland and elsewhere. So in the UK, the three major companies carrying out medicinal chemistry and process R&D are all reducing staffing levels. Now, where do those out of work, or for that matter new recruits from universities, find jobs? I wish I knew the answer!... In the United States I am sure the situation is no better with many major multinationals announcing layoffs in the last year, and even the biotech sector is not immune to similar problems."His advice to his colleagues? Find a CRO position or a job with a private pharmaceutical concern that isn't affected by all the merger-mania and keep networking. Good advice, but (as he would likely admit) there's not a lot of positions there, especially in the Western half of the world.
III. The future isn't looking too bright either
A recent comment (by the mellifluous sounding Anon906p071710) summarized his/her thinking this way:
"Almost every industrial chemist I know who has been laid off remains unemployed. I am in the biotech/pharma industry and know of hundreds of synthetic chemists who have lost their jobs as pharma/biotech/ag/chemical industry has moved jobs off shore/downsized and as biotech companies focused their little remaining money on clinical development.To me, Anon906p's comment really has two relevant parts: A) the industrial synthesis jobs aren't coming back and that B) retraining synthetic/medicinal chemists for material scientists is more-or-less impractical. I hate to say something so trite, but only time will tell. (I hope he's wrong.)
The real question is: what is the unemployment rate of industrial chemists who did medicinal, synthetic, and other laboratory-based organic chemistry work? If you were highly trained as a medicinal/synthetic or other organic specialty, you are not likely to move into green inorganic material science without going back to graduate school.
Unless I am missing something, I do not see our industrial jobs ever coming back, so a whole generation of organic chemists will be lost, thrown out like so much useless trash. The profession will wither away outside of academic departments."
Derek Lowe tends to agree in his April post: "I hate to sound like this, but I think there's been too much of a shift in recent years for anything to undo it. Costs have gone up, drug-development success rates have (at best) not increased, and there are cheaper ways to get a good amount of work done which used to cost more. Which of these things are going to change back, and how?"
IV. What does this mean?
I don't know -- nothing good, I suspect. Over the next year, I plan to try to figure it out. I hope you'll help me.