Monday, August 17, 2015

A sobering aspect of the Internet and chemistry jobs

Also from this week's C&EN, an interesting article by Jean-François Tremblay that covers how pharmaceutical R&D has been impacted by online communication:
...Relying on foreign contractors is part and parcel of the business model of many of the “virtual” pharmaceutical research companies that have emerged in the past decade or so in the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world. Jay Wu, president and CEO of VM Discovery, in Fremont, Calif., says that not having labs helps to secure a more stable career path for his research managers. 
“Being a lab researcher in California can be very depressing,” Wu says. Owing to their limited venture capital funding, most small biotech companies in California work on only one compound, and if that candidate fails to advance to clinical trials, as is usually the case, then everyone at the company is laid off. But if the compound beats the odds and succeeds in progressing to the clinical trial stage, the entire early discovery lab is laid off anyway. “Either way, most scientists are looking for work every three to five years,” he says. 
By contrast, VM’s small overhead—largely the result of not needing to maintain lab space—enables the company to pursue at least five projects simultaneously. Compared with betting on a single candidate, the pursuit of multiple projects at once offers a much better chance of success, and that means everyone in the company—10 people or so, at the moment—can keep their jobs, Wu says. Currently, he notes, the company has a few candidates undergoing Phase II trials. VM develops oral drug candidates to treat central nervous system disorders, cancers, and other diseases. The firm relies on Chinese contractors to not only conduct laboratory work but also to manufacture small batches of its drug candidates for U.S. trials...
I don't work in the virtual space enough to understand how well this works out for companies; I guess it's about embracing the instability, sigh.  

45 comments:

  1. I have spend many years working at virtual type companies and although can attest to the statement about many R lab researchers typically being let go whether compound advances to clinic or fails altogether (then both R&D take the hit) the costs saving for outsourcing is partly illusionary. While labor, property rents, facility overhead and other expenses are less in Chindia the sacrifices in environmental/safety consideration, defined quality and time efficiency typically mean more danger risks, repeat activity and missed deadlines which often seem to not be part of the accounting equations.

    Of course one still needs to fund the exercise with either private or public sources that now requires mature candidates to drum up or sustain projects (and thus indeed embracing another type of instability) and then there is accessing adequate and specialized expertise required which isn't always present at CRDMOs meaning have to bring in more consultants and pay their fees to work with the vendors, especially when problems occur. Most examples I have seen where virtual has worked/is working are fairly straightforward projects with clear aims and read out whereas the complexity of the majority of drug R&D do not always fit.

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  2. I have had a completely negative experience with two virtual startup companies, and so did my lab colleague (who actually used to be a virtual medchem boss directing the contract work elsewhere). In my opinion virtual companies are only good at making mess of a project by synthesizing few compounds cheaply, compounds whose development they absolutely cannot support down the road. They get few quick results which they then grossly misrepresent... So they only do the easy stuff, make patent claims and impress the investors, while committing a great injustice to their projects, and they fervently hope someone will somehow solve their problems later if and when the new funding comes in... I just spent last 12 months fixing a clinical candidate calamity after a virtual company that went belly up (yeah, we bought their stuff) so don't get me started.

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  3. I blame OHSA.

    they have driven regulatory compliance costs and liability so high that it is easier to hire someone on the other side of the world than here.

    Thanks safety nazis. you killed western science.

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    1. You don't think they were trying to do that on purpose?

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    2. Yup, it was OSHA all right. And the EPA, let's not forget the EPA. "Clean Water Act" was just a ploy by a bunch of bass and pike to raise property values in the fish real estate market at the expense of our beloved chemical industry. As always, the free market would have been the best way to take care of this: obviously if consumers see rivers catching on fire they'll choose not to purchase goods from these companies thus providing an impetus not to pollute. Problem solved.


      And PPE rules, what a crock! If I wanna pipette HNO3 by mouth in in flip flops and short, by Gum I ought to be able to do it.

      While we're disparaging all them rules n' gubmint regulations how 'bout that meddlin' FDA? Why, them know-it-all doctors think that we should "test" efficacy of drugs in a "rigorous manner" before they're allowed to be sold. Imagine how much cheaper drugs would be if our friends in pharma could spare that expense? Again, the free market will self regulate. If people start dying from taking drugs from company A that company will lose sales. Worked for Thalidomide in Canada and Europe---the pesky regulators there didn't ban it, and after only about 10,000 or so horrible deformed babies were born it was taken off the market. Proof that the System works!

      We need to roll back all these rules so we can compete with the Chinese. Why, they're doing great in the PRC. I heard last month there were 4 or 5 days in which the sky was visible in Xian!

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    3. I know people are being facetious here about discussing govt regulations regarding environment, safety and health but as someone who works for one of those govt agencies, I always get pissed when lay people make it sound as if everyone at these agencies are here to screw the industry and delay day to day work by regulating everything.

      Do we really want to work in unsafe workplaces just so that we can compete with chindia CROs and keep our jobs? what next, should we start working at their salary levels too ? I mean its more important to me to have a safe workplace and salary good enough to support my family than for me than to continue to work in chemistry.

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    4. The EPA is wholly responsible for the worst groundwater contamination in recent memory.

      http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/08/10/431223703/epa-says-it-released-3-million-gallons-of-contaminated-water-into-river

      The EPA will soon be responsible for hiking energy costs, but especially for the nation's poorest, because of climate change propaganda masquerading as science.

      http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/analysis/epas-carbon-rule-huge-economic-burden-for-no-climate-benefit/

      Recent EPA employees have included criminals (yes, it's true, google "John C. Beale" to find out more).

      The US would be better off in every way without the EPA.

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    5. It's not like I actually need to breathe. Or drink. And businesses were so concerned with not messing these things up on their own - we just got government agencies because we hate businesses and want them eradicated and not because there was, like, any rational reason.

      I love the "climate change propaganda" line too. It's always cute when conservatives pretend to do science (because nature and God have been waiting for advice on how they're doing it wrong and are willing to change because you want them to). And it seems a little strange that the same people quoting the harm to the poor from global warming policies seem to ignore the harms they do (huh, everyone's gas prices go up at the same time...it's like magic!). Motes and logs come to mind.

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    6. There is no reason to believe that government agencies are disinterested regulators for the public good. They are self-interested and highly political entities, most concerned with their own expansion and maintenance and the welfare of the single political party they overwhelmingly support.

      The science of anthropogenic climate change is suspect. It has failed to advance beyond hypotheses, and still fails to account for non-terrestrial and numerous terrestrial factors and their impacts on earth climate. The data collection is suspect. The management and integrity of collected data are suspect and have included distortion of existing data, manipulation of data sets to exclude inconvenient data points, and use of model data to replace actual data. The resulting models have repeatedly been embarrassingly wrong. The tactics of "climate change" adherents have included emotional appeal, disaster movies, bullying of dissenting scientists, squelching publication of opposing studies, over two decades of proclaiming imminent disaster, and proclaiming consensus when nothing of the sort exists. At that point, anthropogenic climate change really ceased to be credible as science.

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  4. Why not ask yourself why the EPA should hire and elevate a "climate policy expert" (John C. Beale) with no scientific education whatsoever? Or is it too much to ask that the architects of US environmental policy actually have some scientific background?

    Why not ask yourself why the EPA will not release data on its (wholly avoidable) contamination of western state groundwater and waterways, or is transparency a dirty word for an environmental agency?

    Why not ask yourself why Al Gore's carbon footprint is bigger than yours?

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    1. The EPA ought to be transparent - we pay them. I just don't think the alternatives (*cough*power companies* cough*) are likely to be more so. I'd also like it if the architect of climate skepticism had some sort of qualifications (other than "Because Big Coal pays my bills.").

      I suspect lots of wealthy people have a bigger carbon footprint than I do, so I guess the appropriate question for me is what do they do with it?

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    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    3. Violation of the "you/your" rule. Tread lightly, anon, you're already on thin ice.

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    4. Well, no prizes for guessing where Chemjobber stands on this.

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    5. I give you the selective censorship award of the day. I cannot call attention to an outrageous statement about an "architect of climate skepticism," but another poster can refer to me as "(a) conservative pretending to do science" on the basis of citing news reported elsewhere. Isn't that a violation of your "rule?" Or have you actually thought this through?

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    6. I stand for a civil, relevant conversation in my comments section.

      You want to harangue the EPA in my comments section on a post that has nothing to do with the EPA? If I feel like it, I'll let it take place - but if you start attacking other commenters (and their headgear) directly, I will absolutely step in.

      There are plenty of other places on the internet to argue about the EPA.

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    7. I'm anon at 12:18 and 1:04. Once again, I should have obeyed my own rule: If I get mad and start commenting about politics, stop.

      I thought about taking the conservative comment out of the global warming jab, and I should have. (The Republicans' stance on global warming isn't good - trying to stop research and impugn people who do is not an honest strategy for finding out if we're causing climate change - but Republicans aren't all conservative and vice versa), but I don't know you. The last time I got pissy, I ignited a flame war, and I should have known better. I looked at reportage of the EPA accident, and it doesn't seem malicious, but it was dumb (though they didn't put the waste there, someone at EPA probably should have thought about risks and reward before messing with the waste).

      I am sorry.

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    8. @ Chemjobber - I did NOT bring up the topic of the EPA in this post, that was biotechtoreador - 8/17/15 11:01 PM.

      I would have thought that a blog concerned with issues of chemistry and chemistry employment should have some interest in the actions of the EPA, particularly when the EPA is involved in a large-scale public health scandal involving their mismanagement of toxic pollutants, the toxicity of some of which have been discussed in other contexts in this forum. Their employment practices, I would have thought, would also be relevant in a forum that routinely discusses underemployment of qualified chemists.

      If someone is going to make a statement about "the architect of climate skepticism" they fully deserve to be called out for wearing aluminium headgear, particularly if they've already attacked other commenters for either their supposed political affiliation or practicing "pretend science." "Civility" used as a defense for political partiality is neither civil nor objective.

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    9. "@ Chemjobber - I did NOT bring up the topic of the EPA in this post, that was biotechtoreador - 8/17/15 11:01 PM"

      This is true and I apologize to CJ for straying off topic. Not a lot of action in btech stocks in August and I REALLY REALLY like the EPA and any other tax and spend liberal ploy to boost the economy of other countries and to make it easier for damn foreigners to steal American jobs.....

      I wonder if when Hillary wins dem nomination she can put Bill on ticket as VP? Now that's be something! Would not even be a contest.

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    10. For my part, I refuse to apologize for having first been insulted and then censored.

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    11. No one is forcing you to comment here, anon.

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    12. " damn foreigners to steal American jobs....." Yea, that is kinda of going on in academic faculty positions (at least), as there are plenty of native-born american chemists who would love to have a faculty position which is taken by a green card holder or newly minted immigrant citizen.

      So the question is this: do we want the jobs in america to go to the very best no mater where in the world they are from, or should we prefer, almost to an exclusive degree, these positions for native-born american citizens (of all races and stripes)?

      Lucky for the immigrants that has been decided in their favor.

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    13. "Hey, let's double- no, triple the price of higher education, then hire people who can barely speak English to deliver the lectures for STEM classes!"

      "Great, then when no-one wants to go into STEM because they can't understand the Profs or TAs, we can import more from overseas! Win-win!"

      Guess it all depends on how you define "the very best". Best able to run a lab full of people from their own country?

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    14. So, these institutions are ABSOLUTELY FREE to choose the best candidate? They have NO diversity mandates to comply with? There is NO legal threat of discrimination if they don't hire a candidate from a protected class? They have NO political axes to grind at given candidates' expense? They have NO political reasons to support one candidate over another? They have NO student demographic changes that they want to address by preferential hiring?

      Pull the other one, it's got bells on it.

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    15. It's all starting to make sense....The America hating liberals are forcing universities to hire visible minorities and women....makes sense: look at all those African Americans on the faculties in the chem. depts at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton (and look how much that # has shot up since America elected a Kenyan as President....)....yup, you nailed that one!

      Man, it sucks to be a straight white Christian healthy male with a full head of hair in America, we just can't get a break!

      (apologies CJ....no more).

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    16. CJ's silence here speaks volumes.

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    17. Actually, being a white american male IS, albeit probably slight, disadvantage in hiring for many kinds of academic faculty. At the RO1 I work at they hired one faculty member who was 1/4 american indian, and I was told by my advisor (a faculty member) that was a major consideration over other candidates for the position. More than slight at the community college I am an adjunct at, which strongly promotes the concept of diversity to get low income students to attend, and the faculty is disproportionately (but not majority) minorities.

      I think all things being equal it is a disadvantage these days to be a white male in consideration for faculty positions, on the whole. May not be a huge one, and other issues are likely to be more important.

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    18. We'd all like to think so.

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    19. From the National Center for Education Statistics:

      "In fall 2013, there were 1.5 million faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions: 51 percent were full-time and 49 percent were part-time. Faculty include professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, lecturers, assisting professors, adjunct professors, and interim professors."

      "In fall 2013, of all full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, 79 percent were White (43 percent were White males and 35 percent were White females), 6 percent were Black, 5 percent were Hispanic, and 10 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander. Making up less than 1 percent each were full-time faculty who were American Indian/Alaska Native and of Two or more races. Among full-time professors, 84 percent were White (58 percent were White males and 26 percent were White females), 4 percent were Black, 3 percent were Hispanic, and 9 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander. Making up less than 1 percent each were professors who were American Indian/Alaska Native and of Two or more races."

      A more informative chart showing representation vs. faculty employment type can be seen at:

      https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=61

      @"biotrolltoreador" - it is asinine to ignore the existence of employment diversity mandates - at the institutional and government levels - and pretend they have no impact on actual hiring decisions. Moreover, the biggest gains in diversity in academic employment have been among women (now strongly represented) and Asians (now overrepresented, at least in reference to US demographics) - so trolling about African-Americans misses the point.

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  5. Since this thread has taken a political digression, I'm wondering if other Chemists have noticed Trump's position paper on immigration, where he specifically observes (and references) that there are far more STEM workers then jobs, and suggests raising H-1B wages so that H-1B hires have no competitive advantage in terms of salary compared to unemployed native american workers?

    And yes of course I will vote for Trump. Love the guy. :)

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    1. Not sure where I stand on Trump's candidacy yet. I was interested to see that Dr. Norm Matloff has become something of an advocate.

      https://normsaysno.wordpress.com/

      Re: H-1B there are also tax issues which make employment of H-1Bs relatively cheaper, and the existence of other visas which can (and have) been exploited to the same end.
      I'd be happier with the total abolition of the H-1B program, on the basis of prior abuses of the program and misuse of the visas relative to intent.

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    2. So you will vote trump for that reason alone :/ There was a time in this country when people used to vote on more things rather than what's best for them personally. Nowadays, everyone I meet seems to be deciding their votes on one issue, be it welfare, immigration, abortion etc.

      Trump is an insult to all conservatives including conservative doners who had the courage to put their idealism in front of their business interests and donate only to one party, instead of trump who donated to everyone and then goes on a stage to brag about it while seeking nomination from one party while refusing to rule out a 3rd party candidacy.

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    3. I'd vote for Trump for sure if he put Sarah Palin (or, in a pinch Michelle Bachmann) on his ticket as VP. Purely for comedic value, and would have downside that I'd move back to the non-US country I came from to steal jobs from Americans. Be really funny, though.....

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    4. I guess your thinking is, if Hillary were elected it would be far less comedic. Nothing to see there, not at all. What e-mail server? What embassy? What "pay-to-play" scandal? "I ate a burrito!" as community outreach.

      Or just imagine Biden as president. Let the pool party begin! He'd be on Russian TV as the latest exemplar of American intelligence round the clock. I always thought "foot-in-mouth" disease was restricted to livestock, but thanks to Joe, we know better.

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    5. Maybe I won't vote for Trump after all *sigh*

      http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/18/politics/donald-trump-immigration-policy-tweets/index.html

      We STEM workers are toast.

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  6. On actual topic of post, really this is a classic example of creative destruction. Better communication, and more liberal trade policies (think Ross Perot's 'Giant sucking sound"), closed the R&D arbitrage. Was economically inevitable and it's actually surprising there are still any bench chemistry positions in the US paying >$75K/yr. It is odd Mexico hasn't gotten in on this, but I'll bet it's only a matter of time.

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    1. I'd guess that most Mexican chemists are working in the US. Probably a few still in Mexico are employed in 'high-profit, high-risk pharmaceutical start-up ventures.'

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  7. Actually, some strong comparisons with Uber and taxi industry. Sucks for taxi drivers that they poured tons of $ into licenses (a NYC taxi medallion used to sell for >$ 1 mill) only to have a bunch of hipsters with smart phones use private cars but, again, no way to get that cat back in the barn.

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  8. I guess Pfizer's trying this in-house, so I guess we can see what it does to productivity (and whether the distinct incentives of contractors versus employees or the lack of copresence of different capacities has any ill effects). I just wonder if having everyone make things while you grab the value-added parts and make the money is sustainable (by "sustainable", I mean "beyond the duration of employment of the people implementing these models"). It's also a question of how smart the hands are, how much pay rates increase, and how much political, social, or environmental pressures increase (particularly once you've committed irrevocably to such a model).

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    1. As of 12/31/09 PFE had 116,500 employees and a share price of and a price/share of $14.70. As of 12/31 the # of PFE employees was down to 78,300 (a drop of 35%) and the share price was at $28.86 (an increase of 95%). A more valuable company with fewer employees does seem better to me.

      I get that share price may not be the perfect metric for productivity, but the end of the day (note, MBA jargon) it's the only one that matters.

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    2. maybe you should stop trolling and something useful instead...

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  9. Dear White American Christian Male Scientist - try working in industry as a woman, especially in Process Chemistry. Boo hoo for you. It's tough out there for all us, and women are not only underrepresented, relative to graduate rates, but underpaid as well. For doing the same damn American job. Women need to feed, clothe, house, and educate their children just as much as you do. Women deal with rampant sexism in industry on a day-to-day basis. Some places are better than others, but its palpable everywhere to varying degrees. Its damaging to not only women, but to the departments, and to the companies that hire them and them discriminate against women scientists. For no reason other than that they are women.

    Its ridiculous to complain that the world has moved on and become less rosy for you. The western companies have outsourced our projects to the east, and the east has become somewhat westernized in the process. Milliions have been lifted out of poverty. However, the west has become easternized at the same time, where we no longer value individual lives and quality of products as before. This should not be a zero sum game. It should be possible to improve jobs and lives in the east as well as the west. Are we not problem solvers? It is not up to the MBAs and accountants to solve problems - they have shown themselves to be incapable. Instead of whining, we should put suggestions, ideas, and a strategy together, for use at our individual companies to demonstrate how the eastern and western companies can work profitably together sustainably. We will save our own jobs in the process. I nominate CJ's site for such ideas.

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    1. If you truly believe that women on average make 3/4 of men for the same job, the following book can be informative. It basically says that men and women are paid the same, on average, for a specific kind of job, but that men tend to occupy riskier but better well-paid positions compared to women. Boo-hoo to you back.

      www.amazon.com/Why-Men-Earn-More-Startling/dp/0814472109/

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