Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Warning Letter of the Week: Step ON the antibacterial rugs

From the FDA's warning letters feed, a missive to Instituto Bioclon S.A. de C.V., located in Mexico City. Among other findings, this little gem:

12)    Employees are not adequately trained. For example:

a.    An employee dressed in an animal control uniform walked through the production gowning area without stopping to gown, and sidestepped three “antibacterial adhesive rugs” as he walked through the gowning area. He failed to follow SOP #P-PB-052, Plant Access Control, section D4.

b.    An operator working in the fractionation Area had his facemask pulled down while having a conversation with another operator in the area. All employees must wear masks while working in the fractionation area as required by SOP P-PB-052.
I suspect that this is one of those things that happens pretty much every day in many biopharma manufacturing plants around the world -- but this day, there happened to be an FDA inspector watching. Oops. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pharma is part of The Game, it is the time of The Gathering

"It's better to burn out than fade away!"
Revealing comment from Dr. Manhattan over at In the Pipeline (emphasis mine):
"One big reason why some analysts are all for the deal is one reason why AstraZeneca might not be. In a word? Synergies. Pfizer sees big opportunities for cost cuts; ISI Group analyst Mark Schoenebaum ballparks that expectation at 25%." 
Having been present for 2 of Big PFE's acquisitions, the "synergies" all come out of shutting sites and firing staff. True synergy would be to keep the bulk of the R&D that made the company attractive in the first place. Instead Ann Arbor & Kalamazoo were shuttered. 
What happens to all of the pharmaceutical analysts when there is only one company left standing (Pfizer) after acquiring everyone else? That's the direction it is heading, as this will be Big Merger #4 for PFE. After flogging these kinds of value destroying acquisitions (in the sense of drug R&D), but making a bundle of cash off of them, it would be ironic if there were no further need for analysts, since there is only One Company. Incorporated in the UK…or maybe Russia if they can get a better tax deal.
Pfizer's insistence on purchasing AstraZeneca makes sense now! It's all a part of some sort of weird Gathering of the pharma companies, where There Can Be Only One at the end. Who knows what The Prize will be?* **

*For those who are not obsessed with The Eighties and its lousy-but-good movies, here is the context of this very weird post. 

**Actually, it's super-easy to figure out what this is about -- it's money (in the form of tax avoidance). Not science, just money. That it will ultimately end up destroying a bunch of pharma research jobs is besides the point. Depressing.

US News rankings in chemistry graduate schools

The latest U.S. News and World Report rankings in chemistry graduate schools (and their different subspecialties: analytical, theoretical, physicalorganic, inorganic, biochemistry) are out.  Does anyone pay attention to these things?

I will point out that USNWR relies solely on a reputational survey -- and that survey gets a 19% response rate for chemistry.  You might as well throw names in a hat.

Rather than argue about whether or not these specific ranking are baloney, does anyone know of actual rankings of chemistry graduate schools that have any sort of logical basis to them? 

Monday, April 28, 2014

I love this stock photo

Via Wonkblog, an organic chemist, doing their thing. I like it.

(Funny how they're "working on a hepatitis C treatment". How does the photographer know that?)

UPDATE: Thanks to the power of Google and Anon0952pm, I see there are other pictures and a name for the "Gilead Sciences researcher." 

Pfizer's international profits repatriation

A lot of the speculation about Pfizer's attempted takeover of AstraZeneca has to do with US tax policy. Here's Derek Lowe on that issue (emphasis mine):
Buying a non-US company would allow Pfizer to avoid repatriating a large amount of money (nearly $70 billion) from its foreign operations and exposing it to US taxes. Of course, if Pfizer wanted a substantial operation in the UK to put money into, they might have thought about not closing their large site in Sandwich back in 2011, but hey, that was all of three years ago, and who remembers such things? And not being an accountant, I can't tell you if they'd have been able to do that without running the cash past the US jurisdiction, anyway.
I think everyone agrees that if Pfizer were to purchase AZ, their scientists' jobs would be not long for this world. I don't think anyone believes that Pfizer is just going to bite the tax bullet and bring those funds home; rational economic actors must be rational and tax avoidance Must Be Done.

This is a very weird unintended consequence of American tax policy. (Gimme a tax break or the scientist gets it!) I don't know what should be done about it.

(Doesn't ACS advocate for the removal of these penalties? I forget. Yes, that's right, ACS supports removing repatriation penalties. It's a good thing they know which side of the bread their butter is on.)

Don't know how I feel about this letter on azodicarbonamide

An interesting one from this week's C&EN on azodicarbonamide and bread. (Here's a bit of background on the "yoga mat chemical" as the news has begun to call it.): 
As insight into the desirability of using azodicarbonamide in bread making, consider how many of C&EN’s readers would use this ingredient when making bread for themselves (C&EN, Feb. 17, page 9). Few would, I daresay. There are two reasons: First, it is unnecessary. Although it functions as a dough conditioner, azodicarbonamide’s purpose is to decrease the cost of making large amounts of bread quickly. Second, with the notable exceptions of salt, water, and a few necessary minerals, many people, if not most, find the use of ingredients in their food that are not derived by simple processes from living things to be offensive. 
The focus solely on the safety of ingredients is often used to frame the discussion of an issue so as to preclude consideration of this second point as a valid reason for opposition to their use. This is usually followed up by claims that the public is uneducated in such matters, implying that they are not fit to make decisions about what they eat. 
David Lane
Davis, Calif.
I think this is an interesting perspective and one not usually seen in the pages of C&EN.

I think he gets at something that chemists will have a difficult time escaping: if framed in the correct manner, much labor-and cost-saving activity in the food preparation sector ('pink slime', etc.) triggers the "ick factor"*. That it's scientifically irrelevant or inaccurate doesn't really matter, and efforts to convince the general public otherwise have a low probability of success.

*I'm reminded of Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory, specifically "sanctity/degradation."

A fun article on Alfred Bader

I really enjoyed this article on Alfred Bader by Linda Wang in this week's C&EN. Here's a neat tidbit:
N-Methyl-N′-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine, which was used in the preparation of diazomethane. MNNG was marketed through the company's first catalog, in 1951, a one-page document that grew to become the Aldrich Handbook. Sigma-Aldrich no longer sells MNNG, a potent mutagen and carcinogen.
Click through to watch the video on people's varying uses of the Aldrich handbook.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Your "STEM is TE" quote of the day

Those of you who follow media coverage of the labor market are going to hear a lot about the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce's new report on the online job openings market. They're working with Burning Glass Technologies, a company whose work I've covered (rather skeptically) before. But here's the key paragraph that I read in their full report (emphasis mine):
STEM occupations account for 28 percent of online college job ads, even though they are only 11 percent of college jobs in the United States. STEM occupations are the second most in-demand occupational cluster for college graduates. Two-thirds of STEM job ads require a BA and 11 percent require an advanced degree. Roughly three out of four STEM online job ads are for IT occupations; the rest are mostly for engineers and architects. Another 6 percent of job ads in the STEM cluster are for life/physical science occupations.
It's yet further proof (confirmation bias alert!) that "STEM" is really about "TE." (6%! Think on that!)

(If you read further on in the report, they talk about the 2nd quarter of 2013, where there were supposedly 4,400 online ads for chemists. Bluntly put, I don't believe it.) 

Settlement in tech company wage-fixing lawsuit

Top Google Inc. executives won't have to explain to a jury why emails were sent to an irate Steve Jobs at Apple Inc. promising not to recruit his employees. 
Four big Silicon Valley technology companies agreed Thursday to settle a lawsuit in which 64,000 employees accused them of conspiring between 2005 and 2009 not to recruit each other's workers, thereby depressing wages. Terms of the settlement involving Apple, Google, Intel Corp., and Adobe Systems Inc. weren't immediately released, but a source close to the case said the settlement price was around $325 million....
That's a darn shame, I was looking forward to the coverage of this case. Well, best wishes to the affected class -- here's hoping they get something more than a free iPod. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Now *that's* #altchemjobs

From Medium, the need for a French-speaking B.S. chemist graduate to do a little work for the Marine Corps:

All you have to do is pretend to be an Al Qaeda terrorist for a week or so. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Not my bag, baby

From our friends at the FDA, I see that certain urological products have been found to be adulterated because of failure to follow cGMP. I can't quote the entire letter, because I'm pretty sure it will set off your work firewalls, but this excerpt from the warning letter sounds bad:
b.    AMS 800 Post Market Surveillance Report, D007644, Rev. 01, dated 6/6/12, included an action item for further investigation to determine the root cause for a potential increasing trend in complaint rates related to atrophy and cuff malposition/migration.  No investigation was conducted or documented.
I'm just going to point out that "cuff malposition" sounds painful. Man, I hope they have these problems worked out by the time I'm old enough to need these products. There but for the grace of God...

N.B. Do not do image searches for the AMS 700. You've been warned. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Chemists overcoming challenges

In this week's C&EN, Linda Wang's collection of inspirational stories of people overcoming a variety of personal challenges in their journey to becoming chemists. I really enjoyed Dr. Charlotte Cutler's story -- she has cerebral palsy and did work in grad school as a synthetic organic chemist: 
...In the lab, I cannot reliably hold anything with my left hand alone. My first research experience was in a synthesis lab working on moisture-sensitive cyclo­proparene chemistry. Looking back, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t work in such a physically challenging field. I would set up my hood with many clamps or anything else I could use to hold or stabilize glassware. Using syringes with pyrophoric reagents was challenging, so I learned to use a cannula whenever possible to transfer liquids. 
I was fortunate that the research for my doctorate was interdisciplinary in nature. It involved not only organic synthesis but also electrochemical polymerization and characterization, as well as simple photovoltaic device fabrication. It allowed me to learn new areas of chemistry where the lab work suited me a little more than lab work involved in pure synthesis, which required more stability in my handling of equipment. 
My chemistry career started out in organic synthesis and now continues years later in formulation science, where I have worked on many challenging and interesting projects in the microelectronics industry. Although there have been times when my physical challenges have made lab work difficult, I have persevered, motivated by the fact that research stems from the need to learn, understand, adapt, and move forward with the results, whether or not they are what we expected.
Impressive. Read them all and be inspired!  

This week's C&EN

A variety of tidbits from this week's C&EN:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I CANNOT believe this was published

Via Egon Willighagen, a truly bizarre article in Drug Discovery Today that appears to have been accepted for publication:
In drug discovery, de novo potent leads need to be synthesized for bioassay experiments in a very short time. Here, a protocol using DrugPrinter to print out any compound in just one step is proposed. The de novo compound could be designed by cloud computing big data. The computing systems could then search the optimal synthesis condition for each bond–bond interaction from databases. The compound would then be fabricated by many tiny reactors in one step. This type of fast, precise, without byproduct, reagent-sparing, environmentally friendly, small-volume, large-variety, nanofabrication technique will totally subvert the current view on the manufactured object and lead to a huge revolution in pharmaceutical companies in the very near future.
Believe it or not, the author proposes the use of optical tweezers to synthesize drugs atom-by-atom (among other nanofabrication techniques.)

I am holding out hope that this paper is some sort of Sokal Affair-type hoax, or perhaps an incredibly convincing piece of elaborate performance art. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lawsuit stemming from November 2013 rainbow flame incident

Via DNAinfo Chicago, news of a lawsuit:
LINCOLN PARK — The mother of a student who was burned in a chemistry lab fire at Lincoln Park High School is suing the school, Chicago Public Schools and the teacher involved.
Jennifer Dryden, the mother of student Tatiana Schwirblat, filed the lawsuit last week arguing the chemistry teacher, Joy Walter, and other defendants were negligent. The chemistry lab fire broke out just before noon Nov. 25 and injured a total of five students, authorities said at the time. Tatiana, 16, suffered second-degree burns, including burns on her face, authorities said. 
The lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court claims Walter was demonstrating an experiment involving the ignition of elements when the fire erupted. Walter was igniting the element cobalt in a Petri dish with a match and poured an "unmeasured" amount of methanol over the cobalt and match, which sparked an explosion, according to the lawsuit. Tatiana's clothes caught fire, causing burns on her body and face, according to the suit. 
The lawsuit claims Walter failed to take steps to protect students from injury, including putting up a shield around the Petri dish to prevent injury in case of an explosion. It also claims she failed to measure out the methanol before using it as an accelerant in a chemical experiment.
Another student who witnessed the experiment said watching her classmate's sweater catch fire was the "scariest thing ever." The witness said the flames quickly spread to another lab table and ignited the girl's sweater.
Here's a Courthouse News summary

I did not notice in either December 2013 or January of this year that this accident had just happened in November 2013. (That's perhaps because initial reports of the accident focused on the methanol fire, and not that they were performing the 'rainbow flame' experiment.)

It still seems evident to me that the 'rainbow flame' experiment should not be performed as advertised (as found here, for example) and that the wood splint method is much safer. It's evident to the American Chemical Society, anyway. If more lawsuits pop up, it'll start becoming evident to school boards and insurance companies. 

Notes from the broader economy

From this morning's news trawl, an interesting comment on wage increases in the broader economy. From the Wall Street Journal: 
Are American workers finally starting to see some decent wage increases? A report Thursday offers hope, showing incomes picked up at a healthy pace in the first three months of the year. 
The weekly earnings of the typical full-time worker rose 3% in the first quarter compared to a year earlier, the fastest pace since 2008, the Labor Department said. That translated into median earnings—the point at which half of all workers made more and half made less—of $796. When you adjust for inflation, median earnings are now at their highest level since the second quarter of 2012. 
Even better is that the earnings growth far outpaced the 1.4% year-over-year rise in consumer prices, as measured by the Labor Department. Earnings that rise faster than costs mean workers will have more money to spend on discretionary purchases. Consumer spending is the biggest source of economic demand in the U.S. 
It’s way too early to tell whether the trend will continue, especially since the nearly five-year-old U.S. economic recovery has been so choppy. But Thursday’s report follows other signs pointing to a strengthening labor market.
Let's hope it continues. In other news, I thought this comment on startup funding was fascinating and emblematic of our times. From the AP:
Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into a growing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday. 
...Software companies received the most money — $4 billion. Biotech was a distant second with $1.06 billion. The last time the software sector received this much money was in the fourth quarter of 2000, right as the dot-com bubble was about to burst...
The dominance of the tech sector in the US economy is unquestioned -- it makes me wonder if/how much the biotech funding scene tracks the tech sector? 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taking a student loan in graduate school? The government is making money from you

Jordan Weissman at Slate has the details: 
...At the same time, the government will lose a small amount of money on direct loans to undergraduates, which make up more than half of its lending operation. While the Department of Education makes a profit on unsubsidized Stafford loans to college goers, it takes a hit on subsidized Staffords that go to low- and middle-income undergrads. When everything shakes out, the programs combine for a 10-year, $3 billion net loss. 
...Now back to those grad schoolers. Their loans, which are shown in red and blue below and now make up about one-third of the government’s yearly lending portfolio, are expected to yield almost $113 billion over the 10-year window before admin costs. Once again, that’s three-quarters of the government’s direct lending profit. Graduate students are such lucrative customers because they pay higher interest rates than undergraduates and don’t default all that often. For the government, they’re low-risk, high-reward borrowers.
It would be fascinating to know what percentage of the government's student loan profits come from humanities students as opposed to science/engineering types. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No-response rejections from major university graduate programs?

I've heard anecdotal reports about major graduate programs accepting application fees and not sending any communications or rejections -- have you heard anything about this? 

(NB, it wasn't in chemistry, but it was a science/engineering field.) 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A friendly note from the FDA

Via Pharma Manufacturing, Reuters has some tough news about GSK's API manufacturing facility (emphasis mine):
The U.S. FDA issued a warning letter to GlaxoSmithKline after determining that GSK did not take sufficient action to resolve problems after contaminated APIs were found at the drugmaker's Ireland manufacturing plant. 
The contaminated ingredient, paroxetine, is used to make antidepressant drugs Paxil and Seroxat. During an October inspection, an FDA investigator reported that paroxetine was contaminated with material from the Cork plant's pharmaceutical waste tank. According to the FDA, some batches of drugs using the contaminated ingredient were later shipped and GSK failed to notify its customers about the lapse. 
The most strongly worded portion of the March 18 FDA warning letter stated, "We are concerned that your firm does not consider the entry of pharmaceutical waste streams into your manufacturing process a significant deviation with a potential quality impact. In your response to the Form FDA-483, you acknowledged that you should have informed your customers of this incident; however, you did not describe any recent or future communication with your customers regarding the incident to rectify the prior lapse." 
GSK has responded by stating its plans to recall certain batches of Paxil from wholesalers.
From the FDA warning letter itself [I've changed the "(b)(4)" from the letter to "[redacted]"]:
...Your firm discovered that the [redacted] used to manufacture [redacted] batches of [redacted] and [redacted] batches of [redacted] was contaminated with material from your pharmaceutical waste tank, which contained APIs, intermediates, and solvents. (emphasis CJ's) Examples of chemicals that are collected in the waste tank include [redacted]. Your firm became aware of this contamination in January 2012 and completed risk assessments to determine the impact on the quality of [redacted] manufactured using the contaminated solvents on April 19, 2013. Your firm distributed [redacted] shipments of [redacted] potentially contaminated [redacted] batches after becoming aware of this significant deviation. In contrast, [redacted] batches made with the contaminated [redacted] were rejected. 
Quality impact assessments were made for both [redacted] and [redacted], but we note that the approach taken in the two assessments was different. For instance, the [redacted] assessment noted that the standard release testing did not detect significant quantities of contaminants in the potentially impacted [redacted] batches, but that additional testing on [redacted] from [redacted] showed the impacted batches were exposed to significant amounts of [redacted]. The assessment states that the sample preparation used in the [redacted] sample release testing appears to be incapable of complete extraction of the potential contaminants, and it therefore relied on results obtained from the additional testing from the [redacted] of [redacted] product to demonstrate that the [redacted] batches were impacted by the pharmaceutical waste contamination event. Your firm’s assessment for [redacted] included no such additional testing and relied on the [redacted] samples’ passing test results, concluding that there was no quality impact to the [redacted] batches....
...Please also describe why the quality assessments appear to assume uniform distribution of contaminants following addition of [redacted] to the waste stream and before the backflow of contaminants into the [redacted] tank. Provide a revised quality assessment for [redacted] that clearly describes all calculations used to support the conclusions, and clearly describe any altered conclusions after addressing the issues described in this letter. For each analytical method used to support your conclusions, provide method qualification information, including the limit of detection for each potential contaminant. Also, provide a quality impact assessment for your [redacted] product, which was also manufactured using [redacted] around the time of the initial contamination in the [redacted] tank. Describe any contact you have had with the customers of the potentially affected products and your plans with respect to the disposition of any potentially affected batches that remain within expiry.  
(You have to love a letter that is addressed directly to the CEO. Wow.)

It's difficult to tell exactly what happened from this warning letter, but I am wondering if there was a tank that was somehow connected to a waste tank and something burped over? Or the wrong valve got opened for just a second? I'm confused. There's a hell of a story around here somewhere.

Ultimately, what is really bad is that rather than trashing the batches, they decided that they could continue processing. While it may have saved them a batch or two of product, it sure seems like it has made much worse headaches later.  

The dumbest thing you will read all day

Via John Spevacek, this WSJ op-ed on the lack of petroleum engineering departments in elite universities contains an absolutely ahistorical statement (emphasis mine): 
The oil and gas industry has been historically volatile and marked by boom-and-bust cycles caused by fluctuating commodity prices, with company prospects often tied to hit-or-miss exploratory drilling. Not surprisingly, the industry has struggled with periodic brain drain since the 1980s as students looking for steady employment and career growth have been turned off by such uncertainty. 
Technological advances such as seismic imaging, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing—all developed by private companies—have removed much of this volatility and changed the nature of the industry to more of a manufacturing operation. But now another source of even greater uncertainty has been injected into the mix: political and regulatory risk. This is one energy lesson that undergraduates are hearing loud and clear from their professors.
Relax, all you wildcatters, the oil and gas industry's more like making license plates* these days. Ho hum.

John has an interesting assertion about the salary direction of petroleum engineers, which is a slight bit different than the predictions of some Texas A&M professors -- hard to say who's right, though.

I vaguely agree with the author that there is a lot of ideological-not-quite-fully-economically-incentivized push for educating students in green technology. But it's easier to say "we need to train more researchers in innovative new green nanofemtoyottotechnologies" to Congresscritters than it is to say "it sure would be helpful to have some more electrochemists around here", even as they might be the same thing. 

Also, I feel the author doesn't look very closely at why some universities might have departments of petroleum engineering and some might not. It's not ideology, so much as economics and history. 

*Reference from Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon", explained here

Job postings from all around

From the inbox, lots of job postings:

Pleasanton, CA: CooperVision is looking for an experienced M.S./Ph.D. chemist to be a senior scientist working new materials for contact lenses. (5+ years for Ph.D. candidate, 12+ years for M.S.)

South San Francisco and Markham, ON, CA: A variety of sales and technical positions at Fluidigm, in the United States and around the world (including a number of chemistry positions in Canada.) Sounds really interesting.

Boston, MA: Looks like Ensemble Therapeutics is looking for an experienced Ph.D. medicinal chemist.

Daily Pump Trap: 4/10/14 edition

Good morning. For now, a smattering of postings from C&EN Jobs that are interesting and/or relevant: 

Synthetic biochemistry?: GSK has a very interesting posting for organic chemists of a certain bent:
We are investing heavily in new technologies for the manufacture of our drugs under an initiative termed Advanced Manufacturing Technologies (AMT). Among these technologies the Synthetic Biochemistry team (a cross-divisional, cross-scientific function, global team) is seeking to develop industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology approaches to create new routes for manufacture of drugs. We’re also looking to enable better chemocatalytic solutions through application of smart automation and catalyst design. We are seeking people across a variety of skillsets at sites in the US (Upper Merion, PA and Research Triangle Park, NC). These new AMT roles will be embedded within the current Global API Chemistry teams at these sites with the intention of growing current capabilities or introducing new skills to the team... 
...If you are interested in a career in either chemical catalysis or synthetic biochemistry, there can be few better environments in which to pursue your ambitions than GSK. The positions will involve working within a multidisciplinary environment where you will be encouraged to expand your technical knowledge through a combination of courses, conferences and on-the-job experience. 
Sounds pretty interesting. 5 positions,  M.S./Ph.D. Having 5 people spread out over a number of sites doesn't exactly sound like the most concentrated of efforts, though.

La Jolla, CA: Calibr (the California Institute for Biomedical Research) is looking for a synthetic chemist to do a postdoc; sounds intriguing. "Profound literature search skills" is a nice one. (Sooooooooo, does anyone get the feeling that you're a molecular sherpa for the biologists in this postdoc?)

East Providence, RI: NuLabel Technologies is a polymer research company that's looking for a M.S./Ph.D. coating formulation chemist:
...NuLabel is actively searching for Coating Formulation Chemist and/or Polymer Scientist with a strong background in polymer chemistry to fill a Senior Scientist role. 
Key Activities:
  • Lead laboratory in formulation and synthesis of new material technologies to support business objectives
  • Design application-specific and client-driven polymeric coatings and plastic products
  • Must be an independent self-starter working at the leading edge of innovation of polymeric coatings and adhesives
  • Must have a MS or PhD in Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Polymer Chemistry, Material Science or comparable engineering field with emphasis in polymers and their manufacture
  • Must have at least 10 years of research and development experience (preferably 5+ years in industry)
  • Good product knowledge of widely used commercial resin and emulsion systems and additives
  • Polymeric coating experience specific to emulsion technologies
  • Effective communication and social skills are imperative
  • Must be passionate, creative, independent, have initiative and be a problem solver
How much are they willing to pay this experienced dynamo? "Starting at 75,000.00" Wooooo!

(Readers, please correct me if I'm wrong in thinking that the salary is a touch (say, 10k?) low. I'm spitballin' here.)

Washington, D.C.: Technology Sciences Group is looking for a M.S./Ph.D. chemist to be a TSCA specialist.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Conference board: US real GDP was 1.9% for 2013

Last year, I offered cash stakes ($10) for anyone who would take the over on a over/under bet for US real GDP for 2013. Well, the US Conference Board finally (today) put the magic "actual value" asterisk on Q4:
That means that, likelier than not, real GDP for 2013 was up 1.9%, which means that I lost the cash bet to @Brandon_Vara. Brandon, e-mail me your address and I'll get you that ten-spot -- don't spend it all at once.

It should be noted that See Arr Oh, @Lewis_Lab and @UnstableIsotope all took the over, and were correct. In this particular case, I am happy to be wrong. 

We're right on schedule

Want to see chemical entrepreneurs in action?

Click here for the ACS ERC 2014 Showcase East, live from Boston, Massachusetts! (livestreamed via YouTube)

or, watch here:

Here's the official program for the day. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Weird thought for the day

There's this trope that Big Pharma doesn't develop "cures" because it will ruin the market or there's not enough incentive to do so (i.e. if they can't sell lots of pills, the market won't be big enough. Here's a good example of that thinking.)

So here's Gilead's Sovaldi, which is as close to "a cure" of Hepatitis C as we've seen in a while; it sure is expensive, running about $84,000 for an entire 12-week course. Isn't this proof positive that Big Pharma will work on cures, and if it finds one, it'll just make sure that the pills are really expensive? 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mr. Buffett's chemists (not really)

I'm not a member of The Cult Of Warren Buffet, but I enjoy reading Berkshire Hathaway's annual report. It's eminently readable as far as annual reports go -- you can imagine Warren Buffett sitting there, happily typing away on his computer. My favorite quote from Buffett was from the 2010 letter, where he publishes his advice to his managers on potentially questionable business moves (emphasis mine):
If you see anything whose propriety or legality causes you to hesitate, be sure to give me a call.
However, it’s very likely that if a given course of action evokes such hesitation, it’s too close to the line and should be abandoned. There’s plenty of money to be made in the center of the court. If it’s questionable whether some action is close to the line, just assume it is outside and forget it.
I just got done reading this year's report (via this article that talks about Berkshire falling behind the S&P 500 of late) and I was struck by this list of Berkshire's largest stock holdings. Sure seems like they're invested in a lot of chemists:
Of course, of these, only a couple (Proctor and Gamble, Sanofi) can truly have chemists at the center of their business models. (I wonder what it is about Sanofi, of all the pharma companies, that seems to hold Berkshire's interest?)

*I took the title from my mental nickname for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway. BNSF trains interrupt my sleep and conversations on a regular basis.  

This week's C&EN

A variety of tidbits from this week's C&EN:
It is upsetting that C&EN would feature an image of a burned animal being probed by a spectroscopist as some kind of evidence for progress in health science and diagnostics (C&EN, Jan. 13, page 28). In fact, the decision to include the photo of this shaved, burned, and undoubtedly traumatized mouse, strongly suggests that the magazine is out of touch when it comes to matters of taste and blind with regard to ethical considerations that should surround decisions involving animal research.

I would prefer that the researchers on this team shave and burn their own skin before anesthetizing and probing each other. I am serious. Not only would it be a better story, with more gripping photos, but it might also give such researchers pause as they consider the harm and suffering they inflict on their unfortunate lab animals.

Is it any wonder that much of our citizenry continues to regard animal-based scientific studies with revulsion? I hope that C&EN will adopt changes in its editorial review that considers and rejects coverage (and implied approval) of research invoking such obvious cruelty to animals.

David Cordes
Forest Grove, Ore.
The debate around animals in medical research is a heated one to be sure; interesting to see there is disagreement on the subject amongst chemists as well.

(I have always wondered if certain chemists are more likely to go into bench chemistry because they won't have to deal with the ethical issues of animal research?) 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A fascinating little Open Access kerfluffle with ACS Publications

I found this short piece from C&EN's Sophie Rovner pretty interesting:
Online Access To ACS Publications Is Restored After Some Customers Were Unintentionally Blocked 
On Wednesday, a blog published information about a security feature that the American Chemical Society uses to protect the stability of its website and prevent unlicensed wide-scale downloading of its content. Curious readers who then clicked on the link provided in the post ended up disabling their institutions’ access to ACS publications, which include more than 40 journals as well as C&EN. The society has already restored access for the sites of approximately 200 affected customers. 
Known as a “spider trap,” the security feature is designed to be triggered not by individual users but by automated website crawling and data extraction. 
The spider trap information was posted by University of Cambridge chemist Peter Murray-Rust after he was told about it by an unnamed source, whom he dubbed Pandora. Murray-Rust reported that Pandora found the link associated with an online ACS journal article and clicked on it thinking it would lead her to another journal paper. She then received an automated message saying her institution’s access to ACS publications had been blocked. 
Those who have clicked on the link and have unresolved issues can e-mail with their institution name, and ACS will work to reinstate access as quickly as possible.
The original blog post by Peter Murray-Rust is pretty interesting -- read the comments to see all the people who were clicking the Spider Trap Link of Doom, and then finding out that they had accidentally cut off their institution from access. (Onion headline: "Fog in Channel, ACS cut off")

I don't claim to understand all the software issues going on, but it is indeed interesting that ACS Publications is deploying these sorts of security features and willing to cut off access to an institution's IP addresses to make a point. I would love to know if these sorts of features are special to ACS or if other publishers also use these sorts of traps. From Dr. Murray-Rust's second post, it seems like they're more common than we knew...

Friday, April 4, 2014

New STEM motto voting ends at midnight Eastern

The results so far:

"Salaries Terrible, Employment Mediocre": 9 votes
"Surplus Trained: Employers' Market!": 6 votes
"Shortage, The Eternal Mantra": 4 votes
"Sorry The Employment's Missing": 3 votes
"Sure To End Miserably": 2 votes

"Sack Those Employees, Mate", "Solely Technology Employment Meaningful", "Statistics Twisted, Employees Mourn": no votes so far. 

Voting in the comments ends at midnight Eastern time tonight.

UPDATE: It appears that "Salaries Terrible, Employment Mediocre" by The Iron Chemist has won the day. TIC, feel free to e-mail me for your prizes. 

Pretty funny (mildly NSFW)

I don't think a passionate kiss from me would have gotten me a job, but who knows? 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Daily Pump Trap: 4/3/14 edition

Good morning! Don't call it a comeback, but here are a few relevant or interesting positions among the many that are being posted on C&EN Jobs.

Wilmington, MA: Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry is hiring junior and senior-level chemists; anyone out there know what it's like to work here?

Baton Rouge, LA: I love this description in this Albemarle posting for a senior R&D chemist:
The successful candidate will support our R&D activities directed toward the identification, development and commercialization of New Fine Chemical products. This will involve literature searches, construction of complex lab apparatus designed to safely manipulate hazardous chemicals under potentially extreme conditions, designing and conducting experiments directed toward new product development, synthesizing samples for customer testing/qualification, writing technical packages and reports and collecting data to be used in the development of detailed cost estimates.
Nothing like "potentially extreme conditions" to get the blood flowing. (No education level specified.)

Huh: This is an interesting way to post a high school teaching position in New York City:
$125,000 Salary for Science Teachers 
Earn a $125,000 salary and join a team of master teachers at The Equity Project (TEP) Charter School, recently featured on the front page of the New York Times.
I've not talked a lot about high school teaching, but suffice it to say that between the pay and the actual job (crowd control/teaching of teenagers), it doesn't appeal to me. $125k? Might be worth another think. [Of course, that is exactly why I shouldn't be teaching high school, potentially at any price.]

Sheffield, UK: A Ph.D. clinical pharmacology position has been posted for Simcyp (a Certara company), which is not an organization that I'm familiar with. The posted salary is 40-55k GBP (which currently is equivalent to 66-91k USD.) Is that high or low? Seems a little low. Also titled "research assistant/scientist", which seems a little low.

What the heck does that mean?: An odd statement in a medical technology lab posting:
Special features of this position: If you love improving processes, enhancing workflow, and "Leaning out a lab", this could be a great next step for you.
I suppose this has to do with Lean (the process improvement tool) and not "Lean In", the Sheryl Sandberg book.

Zeroes!: AbbVie posting another B.S./M.S. DMPK position, 3+ years for the B.S. chemist, zero experience needed for the M.S. candidate.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Your morning troll: B.S. chemists need to be supervised, chemical engineers are teh awesome

Believe it or not, I have quite a few things to say, but I wanted to find time for this gem from a 2013 National Academies workshop on undergraduate chemistry education. (You can read it for free at the site, or you can download it, if you register.)

There were lots of professors and representatives from industry at the conference. Here, John Kozarich (president of ActiveX Biosciences), Joel Shulman (professor at the University of Cincinnati), Shannon Bullard (HR director at DuPont), Francine Palmer (Solvay) and Robert Peoples (sustainability director at the Carpet America Recovery Effort) discuss recent graduates in the chemical sciences:
Kozarich and Shulman both thought that students need to have some exposure to interviewing skills, which is in a sense an extension of problem solving. Shulman thought that these kinds of “employability skills” could be incorporated into the new requirement in the ACS guidelines that call for students to have a capstone experience.  
Shulman also asked the panel if the salary premium that chemical engineering graduates receive compared with chemistry graduates is a result of the former having more of these employability skills. Both Palmer and Bullard agreed with that statement completely. Palmer noted that the chemical engineering graduates she hires have much more experience in collaborative problem solving and in presentation skills because those are emphasized in the chemical engineering curriculum. Bullard added that the training focus in chemistry is on independent research in a specific area, not interdisciplinary research in a team context.  
Peoples noted that when a company hires a chemical engineer, it knows that it can assign him or her a problem and the chemical engineer will know how to tackle it and solve it. Chemists with a bachelor’s degree come with the expectation that they will be supervised.
I think that chemists and chemical engineers are typically asked to work on different sorts of problems, but Dr. Peoples' opinion has the air of truthiness around it. I'm skeptical that it is indeed an accurate statement (especially that chemical engineers have magic problem-tackling skills), but what do I know?

UPDATE: Should I nominate Dr. Peoples' for the first-ever Banholzer Award in Truth-Telling about Chemical Employment for his opinion that B.S. chemical engineers have more Git-'Er-Done-ness than B.S. chemists? I am tempted. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Le Chemjobber Sans Poisson d'Avril

I don't have anything for April Fool's, but I see there are a variety of interesting headlines:
Enjoy your day!

UPDATE: It took me a while to get this Practical Fragments post, but I really enjoyed it. 

Job posting: B.S./M.S. medicinal chemist, Baltimore, MD

From the inbox, via the Lieber Institute for Brain Development: 
The Lieber Institute is currently seeking a BS or MS level medicinal chemist with 5+ years of experience in a pharmaceutical/biotechnology environment. The candidate should be well versed in modern synthetic methodologies, and capable of tackling difficult synthetic problems; a skilled experimentalist in the area of multi-step synthesis, purification, and characterization of organic compounds, and with a strong commitment to experimental work.  A strong patent and publication record is preferred.  Successful candidates will utilize drug discovery principles to understand and interpret SAR with the ability to design and prioritize novel synthetic targets.  Outstanding communication skills and an entrepreneurial spirit will be necessary to function in this highly collaborative and dynamic environment.  Candidates must be authorized to work in the US. 
The Lieber Institute offers a competitive salary and excellent benefits, including medical, dental, and 401k programs. 
All qualified candidates should send a resume to 
The Lieber Institute is an equal opportunity employer.
The posting is here. Best wishes to those interested.