Nevertheless, the company still “needs to bring in new talent and to keep up to date with modern technologies,” says Christopher H. Hill, Merck’s head of global chemistry. Most of Merck’s chemistry positions are in North America, primarily on the East Coast. Recruitment over the past year or so has been “focused on strategic hiring into our key areas of innovation and complex problem solving,” he says. “That will continue to be the case in the future.” By contrast, he adds, work involving production of standard, simple molecules will increasingly be outsourced.
One of the major changes resulting from the merger with Schering-Plough was the formation of a global chemistry organization, Hill says. The new structure presents accelerated development opportunities for chemists who want to enhance their skills and gain experience with different parts of the organization. Some Merck chemists who have a synthetic chemistry background may decide to stick with that focus, particularly if they’re in the process chemistry part of the company. But other synthetic chemists may transition into the medicinal chemistry sector, Hill says. “To do that, they have to develop a really thorough understanding not only of chemistry and the way molecules interact with their mechanistic targets of interest, but also of the biology, DMPK [drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics], and other aspects of the discovery process.”
In addition, “there’s a drive within our industry to be more predictive in what we do,” so Merck will continue to recruit computational chemists, modelers, structural chemists, and chemoinformatics experts. There’s also room for people with training in more specialized areas such as NMR and crystallography. Merck has developed strong catalysis and biocatalysis groups, which are involved in drug discovery as well as finding new ways of making compounds that are in development or are already products. One example is the biocatalytic process developed to synthesize the diabetes drug sitagliptin.
“We’ve moved into new areas of chemistry as well, such as RNAi chemistry, which we will continue to invest in,” Hill says. “So those are the types of areas where we’re looking to innovate and where we have complex problems to solve, and those are the types of chemists that we have looked to recruit” and will continue to search out.
“Within our industry as a whole, given the challenges we’ve got and the problems we’ve got to solve, we’re always looking to bring in people with significant knowledge, expertise, and capabilities,” Hill says. “There has been a trend toward bringing in people with higher-level degrees. So over the last few years, we’ve tended to bring in people more with master’s degrees rather than bachelor’s, and to bring in Ph.D.s with postdoctoral experience as well.”Question: what in the heck is Christopher Hill saying? Synthetic chemists who wish to do synthetic chemistry in pharma have two tracks (more-or-less): medicinal chemistry and process chemistry. And he's still offering that choice? I'm terribly confused.
It's worth pointing out that it's unsurprising that "simple, standard molecules" are being outsourced. The question is, of course, what kind of "simple molecules" are we talking about? IP or non-IP?
Finally, it's interesting to note that Merck is bringing in people with more education, which jives with the general trend of new graduates feeling the most pain these days.