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Friday, August 21, 2009

Maintaining Marketability in a Shrinking Job Market

In recent years, the biopharmaceutical industry has experienced a seemingly endless series of mergers, downsizings and company closures. Reasons for this trend are numerous and include:

Dwindling capital available for research ventures
Corporate shifts in priority from discovery to development
Large pharmaceutical firms turning to biopharmaceutical companies to fill their discovery pipelines
Paradigm shifts incorporating outsourced services as replacements for high cost internal capabilities

Regarding this last point, let's face it - DISCOVERY RESEARCH IS EXPENSIVE!!! This is not to imply that product development, manufacturing, marketing and legal capabilities are not expensive - they are! They are also among the facets of industry that are routinely farmed out. Furthermore, product development, manufacturing and marketing all fall into place once products begin to emerge from discovery research efforts.

Since many small biopharmaceutical firms are focused on research, outsourcing provides a way to, at least on paper, save money. This extra cash is valuable when a firm is being considered as an acquisition target or when planning to move products into early development. Furthermore, in these lean economic times, preservation of cash is a solid strategy against less availability of venture funds.

Having addressed the bullet points listed above, I would like to re-examine the issues listed in my last posting. These are:

The future shape of the biopharmaceutical industry
How healthcare reform will impact the pharmaceutical industry
How to manage the trend in offshoring chemistry activities to CROs
Where big pharmaceutical companies will rebuild their pipeline of new drug candidates
Where the chemists of the future will fit into this changing industrial environment

Through my postings, I will address and expand upon each of these areas - though not all at the same time. Primarily, I will focus on answering the question HOW TO MOTIVATE THE NEXT GENERATION OF SCIENTISTS TO PURSUE CAREERS IN CHEMISTRY.

In the first few paragraphs of this posting, I presented an image of a shrinking industry with rationalizations for the four trends listed. From this point on, I want to emphasize that these trends are not indications of an industry hostile to growth - THEY ARE OPPORTUNITIES FOR CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION!!! To be more specific:

Dwindling capital available for research ventures invites the development of creative financing strategies
Corporate shifts in priority from discovery to development invites those involved in discovery to utilize their skills in the development arena
Large pharmaceutical firms turning to biopharmaceutical companies to fill their discovery pipelines invites increased innovation to make small companies attractive to alliances
Paradigm shifts incorporating outsourced services as replacements for high cost internal capabilities invites development of managerial skills that can cross borders and bridge cultures

In order for these opportunities to become fully open to all, we must all recognize that CHANGE IS A FORCE OF NATURE THAT CANNOT BE STOPPED. We can either adapt or give up. I choose to adapt and continually embrace opportunities to work in all areas related to the pharmaceutical industry. A few examples from my experiences in drug discovery include:

Recognizing corporate synergies between companies and bridging dialogs between companies
Participating in intellectual property activities and building experience in patent drafting
Taking advantage of funding allocated for off-shore activities and driving research projects with international teams
Maintaining an ability to be conversant across all functional areas of drug discovery and development

While it is crucial for individual contributors to take all opportunities to expand upon their knowledge and skill base, additional forward-looking factors will contribute to successful personnel transitions. Specifically:

Industry must work to prevent chemistry, a discipline requiring intensive education/training, from evolving into a service
Academic institutions must continue to provide solid educational programs and degrees in chemistry - incorporating broad based and generally useful knowledge/skills

Through these commitments, scientists will be able to continue to provide innovative solutions and be rewarded through patents and publications. More importantly, the next generation of students will believe that there is a future in chemistry - even in the shadow of a continually evolving industrial setting.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Organic Chemistry - Preparing for the Future

Today is the first day of this blog...

For some time, I have been contemplating issues such as:

The future shape of the biopharmaceutical industry
How healthcare reform will impact the pharmaceutical industry
How to manage the trend in offshoring chemistry activities to CROs
Where big pharmaceutical companies will rebuild their pipeline of new drug candidates
Where the chemists of the future will fit into this changing industrial environment

As if these topics aren't enough, there is always the question of

HOW CAN WE MOTIVATE THE NEXT GENERATION OF SCIENTISTS TO PURSUE CAREERS IN CHEMISTRY???

Regardless of the bullet points listed above, there can be no continuity in our scientific endeavors without an ability to guide the best and brightest of our youth into the direction of pursuing careers in applied sciences. While this is an obvious statement, I cannot emphasize enough that one of the main gate keeping subjects is organic chemistry. When students are first expected to confront this subject, they are presented with a textbook encyclopedic in size. The amount of information they are expected to absorb is daunting for anyone and many students believe that their only hope is to commit their coursework to memory. THIS WAS MY FIRST EXPERIENCE IN THIS SUBJECT!!!

As I progressed into my first semester of organic chemistry, I came to realize that memorization of the multitude of name reactions and all of their variants was nowhere near as important as developing an understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that underlie each reaction presented in organic chemistry. I abandoned all attempts to use chemical reaction flash cards and allowed my association of reaction names with chemical transformations to develop through osmosis. Instead, I practiced chemical reactions while incorporating each mechanistic step into my scratch pad. Using curved arrows, I kept track of the movement of electrons and gradually developed a strong appreciation for the value of this "arrow pushing" technique. My grades in organic chemistry improved and I continued to study this subject.

All of the above took place in 1984 - 25 years ago. Since then, I earned my PhD at MIT and am now a synthetic organic chemist having led and contributed to drug discovery efforts for over 17 years. During that time, I have experienced many facets of the pharmaceutical industry impacted by chemistry. These areas include:

Drug discovery/development
Patent law
Business development
Environmental health and safety
Quality assurance/control

To those of you who feel apprehensive about studying organic chemistry, please stick with it. Numerous study aids are now available that present strategies to approach and master this subject. Remember, there is a huge world of opportunities that open to those with an understanding of this basic science - the chemistry of carbon.