Monday, October 31, 2011

Bruce Roth, inventor of atorvastatin (Lipitor) has tough things to say about #chemjobs

From this week's Chemical and Engineering News, a terribly interesting interview with Bruce Roth, the inventor of atorvastatin. He was at Parke-Davis Warner-Lambert Pfizer, now he's a VP at Genentech. It's not exactly a cheerful interview:
Firms turned to mergers and acquisitions to fill pipelines. The shifts have cost drugmakers dearly, Roth says, both in the loss of thousands of talented scientists who’ve been laid off and in the lost diversity of approaches to tackling problems. “We’ve eaten our own here,” he laments. “Since we got to the 21st century it’s been all about layoffs and cutbacks and mergers and offshoring.” [snip] 
Roth himself has been on both sides of the chopping block. He was one of several thousand laid off in 2007 when Pfizer closed the Ann Arbor, Mich., site where he worked. He’s also had to let go scientists who worked for him, and he says he understands the cost pressures that lead companies to those decisions. Still, “as an American chemist it is something you agonize over,” Roth says, “because it isn’t clear where U.S. chemists trained in organic synthesis and medicinal chemistry are going to find their jobs in the future. [snip] 
“I have been really fortunate to work in what I think we will look back on as being the heyday of the pharmaceutical industry,” Roth says. “The sad thing looking back at my career is that as an organic chemist there are very few things that I could’ve imagined that would be more rewarding than making medicines. And yet in the future, there will be many fewer positions like mine.” 
You know, I don't know how many prominent chemists it will take to sound the alarm about the future of jobs in pharmaceutical chemistry (medchem and process) before someone actually does something about it. Too late, maybe?

(In a darker mood, I wonder if every single US-based grad student in organic chemistry should be forced to read this article and write a 100 word essay on what they plan to do when they graduate. Happy Monday.)

(I also wonder if the closing of the Ann Arbor site will be seen as some sort of inflection point in this saga; it seemed like there were so many jobs lost for relatively little gain on the part of Pfizer. Maybe I'm wrong.)


  1. They fired the Lipitor guy!? Were they tired of making money?

  2. The problem, of course, is that the message is still not getting out. Visit Chemreddit on any given day and there will be no less than 3 or 4 posts of bright eyed undergrads talking about how they want to get into drug synthesis asking how they should go about getting into grad school. Worse, several people there who don't know what they're talking about tell them that if they ever want to get a good job in the industry they HAVE TO get a Ph.D.

  3. When A2 closed, they'd just paid to relocate a few dozen Kalamazoo employees over there... I find it overwhelmingly depressing Pfizer has so little respect for their own. Even the Lipitor guy isn't safe.

  4. Interesting that this article is not available to non-ACS members. (I dropped my membership this year since I'm not working in the lab anymore and I was getting nothing out of it.) Most of the "chemistry is fabulous" articles are open to everyone.

  5. CJ, would "zombie" be an appropriate costume for a disenfranchised and disenchanted chemist? How about "black-hooded, axe-wielding executioner" for an HR Rep? Incidentally, back in grad school, some of my friends could do uncanny impersonations of the faculty members. Did any of your classmates try that?

    Hope you and the family had a fun Halloween :)

  6. Talented graduates and postdocs are not getting jobs. I support CJ's proposal for new grad students to read this interview and be forced to write their career goals (and let me add that professor's should be forced to provide an objective view of how obtainable the goals are). 90% of PhD granting organic chemistry programs should be eliminated.

  7. Maybe we need a new way of doing medicinal research and employing chemists.
    What if the federal government sponsored the research and testing, and then put up successful products for bid to commercialize? Employ newly-minted Ph.D. chemists as post-docs for say up to 5 years. The young ones are highly motivated, energetic, and relatively cheap.
    New chemists would get a start in a chemistry career, the highly risky initial drug research would not be subject to the scalpel of quarterly earnings, and perhaps a steadier flow of new drug candidates might be achieved.
    Think WPA for academics.
    Of course, we could abandon the task entirely and let the Chinese do it.