Thursday, February 3, 2011

Oh, THIS is a good idea

Yeah, I'll get right on that. (Click)
Photo credit: abagond.wordpress.com
In the comments to Derek Lowe's two threads on the further adventures of the HR Angel of Death at Pfizer, there was this little gem:
At Cambridge North we were told today that there wont be any "wet chemistry" going forward. The only chemists at the site will be what are known around here as "designers" for Inflammation/Immunology, CVMED and Neuroscience. The later two will be moved from Groton to Cambridge. Get rid of the hoods (and of course the chemists) and move in the cubicles! This will most definitely increase productivity and save the company.
Further explanation from another commenter:
Pfizer recently went to a model that separated out the medicinal chemists into two "bins" - designers and synthetic chemists. These are not computational chemists or modelers (by and large) they are the traditional medicinal chemists. The "designers" are now just charged with designing compounds for their projects (just like a traditional medicinal chemist would be expected to do) - but they do not then go make the compounds. They hand the "designs" off to the synthetic chemists to make. One SVP from Pfizer "tried" to explain this model and how it made sense because not everyone wants to design and some just want to be synthetic chemists and work at the hood (Ph.D. level). I think everyone in the room during this explanation could see the writing on the wall that the synthetic chemists had a very short shelf life and would be out-sourced very quickly. There was also talk about reward systems for both, yada, yada, yada.
In a nutshell, new hires (if there were any) would come in at the synthetic chemist level and would then have to work up to the designer level (if they so chose). This clearly was a model based upon outsourcing the synthetic portion of the equation - although based on yesterday's news it may not matter at all if you work for Pfizer.
Has anyone at Pfizer ever played telephone? Physically separating the 'designers' and the 'chemists' by 108 miles is lunacy; sometimes it's occasionally difficult to communicate between two chemists separated by 30 feet (distance from office to lab.) Assuming this is actually happening, this is proof that Pfizer senior management has completely lost their marbles and are just rearranging deck chairs.

Once again, I am reminded of the many, many comments that people have made about what makes a successful drug discovery team (not that I've ever truly been part of one): lots of communication and collaboration (and downtime out-of-meeting talks) between the relevant scientists, both chemists and biologists. I am curious when larger pharma companies will relearn these truths.

16 comments:

  1. I think the idea is that they'll collaborate as design chemists with design biologists, design pharmacologists etc - just at that higher level. Seems very much to me like the German model, which in historical terms has been quite successful. Are you suggesting that German/Swiss teams can't or don't communicate and collaborate?

    Of course they do, just not in the same ways or with the same people.

    Then, in the German model, there really is no place for bachelor or masters degree qualified staff - lab hands tend to have "technical" qualifications with training on the job from a young age (and no student debt).

    Most PhD qualified chemists that manage to squeeze through the door into German/Swiss Pharma (an even more cliquey, snobbish, who-did-you-postdoc-for and elitist club than in the US by the way), will only have a small team (2-4) of mitarbeiters or chemielaborants to look after anyway, and the design team for any one project may well have the input of a large number of the other chemistry PhDs on other projects.

    I guess that Tony Wood has been spending a lot of time in Europe, and time will tell if this works out or not.

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  2. How I understand it it's not trying to follow some European model or the rearranging of chairs but the first steps to totally outsource all synthetic chemistry. If you can tell someone a hundred miles away what to make you can tell someone a thousand. (At least the mba's think you can.)

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  3. GSK already started to do this when I was there a few years ago, some of the synthetic work was outsourced to China but designed in the US. At the time it was only about 1/3 of the work but when the layoffs were announced, we were told that they intended to increase this to 2/3 or more of the work - design in the US and synthesis in China.

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  4. Being suddenly transformed into a designer chemist must be quite an experience. Poor Gregor Samsa.

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  5. From FierceBiotech:

    "Cambridge, MA a rare winner in Pfizer R&D gambit"

    "Dogged by repeated clinical stage failures, Pfizer is billing the huge cut in the R&D budget as an opportunity to dramatically change the research culture at the big pharma company, outsourcing part of its trial responsibilities to CROs, dropping disease categories that don't look like big winners and collaborating more with academic groups, biotechs and other pharma companies. On that score, Cambridge, MA, with its big network of world class scientists and drug developers, looks to be one of the few big winners in the restructuring."

    So...I guess Pfizer won't even give you the time of day unless you have Harvard or MIT on your CV/resume? Whatever happened to diversity? Perhaps the bigshots at BU or BC can get their grad students/postdocs a shot at interviews.

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  6. hmm... just changed my vote in the poll

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  7. A few thoughts...

    1. IT professionals should be flocking to Pfizer, since they'll obviously need to install 2-way videoconference setups in all the labs (i.e. my reaction just turned purple, is that good?)

    2. MBAs always believe that all data are transferrable by phone and fax, and you just have to work out the bugs. Well, once Pfizer finds itself without in-house expertise in simple things like ordering reagents and new equipment, we'll see how fast the shift comes back to "We need scientists!"

    @Anon6:41 - great Tony Wood jab

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  8. So...I guess Pfizer won't even give you the time of day unless you have Harvard or MIT on your CV/resume?

    Hasn't this been going on for a long time and no one's said it openly?

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  9. The return of "B.L."February 4, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    Anonymous @ 4:40 - hear, hear. It is true I have a giant chip on my shoulder, but I think that big pharma chemistry being basically an old boys' club for total synthesis grads is one of their unmentioned problems. In a more general vein, if you want to have some job security in pharma you'd better talk to Boehringer Ingelheim or some other family-owned outfit that has no need to give a rat's a$$ about quarterly numbers.

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  10. @The return of "B.L."

    "...if you want to have some job security in pharma you'd better talk to Boehringer Ingelheim or some other family-owned outfit that has no need to give a rat's a$$ about quarterly numbers."

    Roche is privately held, yet its recent layoffs are not exactly what I would call "familial".

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  11. The return of "B.L."February 4, 2011 at 11:14 PM

    @ Anonymous 7:19 "Roche is privately held, yet its recent layoffs are not exactly what I would call 'familial'"

    http://www.roche.com/investors/share_information.htm

    Check out the link. The corporate structure is obviously designed to be an opaque minority-family-holders-can-still-keep-control-special (a euro classic by the way, just check out the Wallenbergs) but such entities are still public companies that have shareholders to satisfy. Not only that, they remain vulnerable to takeover by those with deep enough pockets, see Bernard Arnault and LVMH accumulating a 20% stake in the "family owned" Hermes as of late (much to the chagrin of the Hermes family members). In short - if it trades on a public exchange - regardless of corporate structure - it ain't "privately held".

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  12. @See Arr Oh 4:10

    1. I wonder if Pfizer will start building Novartis-style "Labs of tomorrow", complete with Orgazmatrons. Anyway, purple is good if you're making indigo or Noyori-type ruthenium catalysts.

    2. "Well, once Pfizer finds itself without in-house expertise...we'll see how fast the shift comes back to 'We need scientists!'" By the time that happens, everything may have been destroyed on the Mayan Doomsday. Anyway, the posting will probably say "We need scientists who speak Mandarin or some South Indian languange."

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  13. "Well, once Pfizer finds itself without in-house expertise...we'll see how fast the shift comes back to 'We need scientists!'"

    More likely it will be more like, "We need acquisitions to get more products!"

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  14. "We are the Pfi-Borg. Existence, as you know it, is over. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your pipelines, but not your employees, will be assimiliated. Resistance is futile!"

    "All your compound are now belong to us!"

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  15. "You have no chance to survive make your career."

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  16. "How are you scientists?!?!" "Hahahaha"

    "Experiment! Experiment!" (think like the Daleks in Dr. Who)

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