______________________________Arrow-Pushing in Organic Chemistry: An Easy Approach to Understanding Reaction Mechanisms, 2nd Edition (111899132X) cover image

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Green Technology and "Climategate" - Opportunities in Environmentally Friendly Chemistry

Recent news suggesting the use of manipulated and/or manufactured data supporting the global warming phenomenon has simultaneously created a political nightmare for advocates and perceived vindication for skeptics.  Regardless of the politics behind climate change, one thing is absolutely clear - ALL TRUE FACTS CAN BE BACKED UP WITH DATA.  This axiom applies as much to scientific disciplines as it does to the media.  If data is manipulated in order to support a hypothesis, the validity of that hypothesis becomes questionable.  Furthermore, if a journalist presents data out of context, the credibility of that journalist becomes questionable.  Finally, if a scientist manipulates data to support a hypothesis, the credibility of that scientist becomes questionable.  As a scientist, I can tell you that there is nothing more important to me than my credibility.

In disciplines where ongoing activities and policies rely on developing data, the introduction of manufactured data or the convenient omission of recorded data serves no one except those with vested interests in validating their theories.  Whether an advocate or a skeptic of global warming, there is one philosophy that we can all agree upon - it is a good idea to take care of our environment.  This philosophy, applied to both established and developing industries, automatically gives rise to tremendous opportunities in the sciences.  For example:
  • the finite supply of accessible natural resources gives rise to the development of alternative fuels and more efficient means of utilizing currently accessible fuels, 
  • the current reliance upon combustion of fossil fuels gives rise to the development of emission containment technology, and
  • the constant accumulation of waste materials gives rise to the development of technologies for the recycling and/or reprocessing of discarded products.
While the current "climategate" scandal may impinge upon idealistic views of science and politics, it should not be a barrier to innovation.  Each of the points mentioned above have direct implications to the carbon cycle and, through the creative minds of our current and emerging scientific talent, economically viable technologies will emerge.  Already, academic institutions are designing curricula focused on "green chemistry" or chemistry incorporating solvents, reagents and reaction conditions that are compatible with the health of the environment.

Organic Chemistry and Clean Technology

Since the industrial revolution, our economy has become increasingly more dependent upon the combustion of fossil fuels.  After all, the energy provided by oil, coal and natural gas is already contained within the natural materials mined for human use.  All we have to do is recover the fuel.  Furthermore, these natural resources also provide components useful as, for example,
  • raw materials for the manufacture of chemicals,
  • monomeric units for polymer synthesis, and
  • paving materials for roads.
While organic chemistry is the core science in the processing of petroleum-based materials, organic chemistry also provides solutions to dealing with the abundance of petroleum-based materials being discarded on a daily basis.  Just as an understanding of the chemical composition and properties of oil, coal and natural gas led to advances in efficiency of recovery and refinement, similar understandings of polymer chemistry led to creative ways to reuse discarded polymeric materials and reclaim useful decomposition products.

Expanding on the above, the study of organic chemistry opens doors to careers in the development of environmentally friendly technologies including:
  • biodiesel,
  • synthetic/semi-synthetic fuels,
  • motor oil from polymer waste,
  • catalysts for more efficient fuel combustion, and
  • biodegradable polymers.
Finally, it is comforting to know that the development of these technologies will continue - even if climate change is identified as a purely natural and cyclic process.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Drug Discovery - The Cost of Innovation

In today's political and economic climate, all industries are forced to respond to public perceptions/pressure and adjust business plans accordingly.  Perhaps the most visible sector, and the one receiving the most scrutiny, is the healthcare industry.  Unfortunately, this scrutiny is generally politically motivated and therefore, information is filtered to the public to support various agendas.  Oftentimes, the information is misleading and incomplete.

The healthcare industry is comprised of multiple sectors including insurance companies, healthcare providers, and pharmaceutical companies.  Without delving into the intricacies influencing the overall cost of healthcare, it is important to understand that healthcare is dependent upon both medical services and medical products.  Furthermore, in order to advance the quality and efficiency of healthcare, medical products must continually evolve to incorporate state of the art technology guaranteeing that future generations of products perform better than their predecessors.  This philosophy is continually relevant in the design and development of new pharmaceutical agents.

Pharmaceuticals, being medical products, require years of research in order to understand the properties enabling them to be safely marketed.  The processes associated with the development of new medicines include:
  • initial screening of thousands of chemicals against a biological target
  • identification of hit compounds that show activity against the desired biological target
  • chemical optimization of hit compounds to generate pharmaceutical lead molecules
  • optimization of lead molecules to impart favorable pharmacological properties
  • evaluation of optimized lead molecules in disease efficacy models, toxicology and stability
  • design of processes for the synthesis and formulation of drug candidates
  • execution of pre-clinical animal studies
  • submission of an IND (investigational new drug) application to the FDA
  • execution of human clinical trials
  • submission of an NDA (new drug application) to the FDA
While the above list seems straightforward, it is not a complete representation of the entire drug discovery process.  In fact, the full process of bringing a new drug to market takes approximately 15 years and costs around $800 million dollars.  Furthermore, as only 1 in 8 drug candidates entering clinical trials ever reach market, the cost of failed programs must be added to the $800 million dollar investment.  The net result is that pharmaceutical companies must recover the costs associated with one successful product and seven failed programs just to break even!

As with the development of any new product intended for market, the company presenting new products is entitled to recover its investment and recognize some profit.  This is a fundamental incentive at the core of a capitalist society.  If companies are restricted from selling their products at market-competitive prices, there is little incentive for the development of new and/or next-generation innovations.

Due to set limits on patent lifetimes, pharmaceutical companies have approximately 5 years of market exclusivity post FDA approval to recoup thier $800 million dollar (plus the costs associated with failed programs) investment.  Realization of this fact helps us to understand how pharmaceutical companies price their products.  Of course, this fact does nothing to appease concerns associated with out-of-pocket expenses incurred by those requiring medications not covered by their insurance policies.  To this point, I respectfully argue that this is an issue better addressed with insurance companies and not through government imposed price controls.

Chemistry Opportunities and the Impact of Price Limits

The previously stated processes associated with the development of new medicines also defines opportunities for those interested in careers in the sciences.  For example:
  • initial screening of thousands of chemicals against a biological target
  • identification of hit compounds that show activity against the desired biological target
    • Biochemists and biologists are employed to design relevant assays required in the above two points.  Patent attorneys provide legal protection for novel compounds/formulations throughout the discovery/development process.
  • chemical optimization of hit compounds to generate pharmaceutical lead molecules
    • Organic and medicinal chemists design new molecules.  Biologists and biochemists execute biological screening.  Analytical chemists determine molecular composition and purity.
  • optimization of lead molecules to impart favorable pharmacological properties
    • In addition to those listed in the above point, biologists design relevant disease models in animals.  Pharmacologists study the effects of drug candidates on animals.  Bioanalytical chemists study drug metabolites.  Formulation chemists develop drug formulations for administration to animals.  Computational chemists help in understanding the interactions between potential drug candidates and biological targets.
  • evaluation of optimized lead molecules in disease efficacy models, toxicology and stability
    • In addition to those listed in the above points, toxicologists and analytical chemists are required. 
  • design of processes for the synthesis and formulation of drug candidates
    • Process chemists develop routes for the efficient synthesis of drug candidates on industrial scales.  Analytical chemists assess the quality of large-scale synthesis at each synthetic step.
  • execution of pre-clinical animal studies
    • Pharmacologists and biologists study drug effects on higher animals.  Analytical chemists evaluate drug metabolites through blood, urine and feces.
  • submission of an IND (investigational new drug) application to the FDA 
    • Contributions from synthetic chemists, analytical chemists, pharmacologists, biologists and biochemists are required to generate a complete IND package.  In addition, clinicians must design clinical trials and define trial endpoints.
  • execution of human clinical trials
    • Clinicians, medical doctors, pharmacologist, analytical chemists and statisticians all contribute to the generation and evaluation of human clinical data.
  • submission of an NDA (new drug application) to the FDA
    • In addition to those contributing to an IND package, statistical evaluation of clinical endpoints, final synthetic/formulation processes and analytical specifications of drug product contribute to successful NDA packages. 
Summarizing the above, drug discovery efforts require:
  • analytical chemistry
  • organic/medicinal chemistry
  • formulation chemistry
  • computational chemistry
  • cell biology
  • molecular biology
  • biochemistry
  • pharmacology
  • clinical medicine
  • animal care
  • patent law
Thus, the pharmaceutical industry provides numerous science-based career opportunities - all of which require some study of organic chemistry.  However, if we allow government-imposed restrictions on the pricing of pharmaceuticals, the results will be fewer new products, less innovation and fewer available jobs.  Considering the benefits to
  • society from the development of new therapeutic agents,
  • the economy from employment of professionals with scientific backgrounds, and
  • the government from the generation of tax revenues based on personal and corporate profits,
let's keep the pharmaceutical industry out of the healthcare debate and maintain the values of our free-market society.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chemistry Outsourcing - New and Challenging Career Opportunities

Recent years have seen increased chemistry outsourcing activities - largely perceived as corporate strategies designed to maintain productivity while reducing the load of full time staff.  From a business perspective, this makes a great deal of sense.  For example:
  • in-house projects require in-house staff
  • in-house staff requires dedicated equipment, facilities and overhead
  • dedicated equipment, facilities and overhead require sufficient operating capital that is inherently more expensive than simple office space. 
Outsourcing, on the other hand, provides reasonable solutions. Specifically:
  • outsourced projects require off-site staff
  • off-site staff requires off-site equipment, facilities and overhead
  • off-site equipment, facilities and overhead require support from corporate clients with a need for outsourcing activities.
As a bonus, commitments to contract organizations are limited by the duration of contracts, while commitments to full time staff are generally long-term relationships.

From the above arguments, we must all come to the realization that OUTSOURCING IS HERE TO STAY.  While the above arguments support the decisions of businesses to incorporate outsourcing as part of their corporate strategies, they do little to offer hope and comfort to those individuals who see their jobs vanishing in favor of low-cost offshore contract activities.  From a pragmatic point of view, this does not matter.  Hope and comfort are highly overrated and they do not pay the bills.  Now is the time to take charge of our career paths, create opportunities for ourselves and forget about hope and comfort.

Careers in Chemistry - Defining Our Own Roles

From the moment we decide to study chemistry, we are faced with choices such as:
  • whether to enter the workforce or pursue an advanced degree
  • whether to pursue a career in academics or in industry
  • what industry to contribute to
  • whether to follow a scientific path or a management path
Each of these decision points lead to additional choices which, if we are not careful, can ultimately define us.  In this rapidly changing corporate world, we are far better off if we can control how we are defined by maintaining significant diversity/flexibility in our skill sets.  We don't have to lose our jobs to changing markets if we can adapt our skill sets to changing needs.

When I first entered the workforce, my supervisor made a very disturbing prediction.  He observed the growing trend in outsourcing and knew that opportunities would begin to diminish.  This was approximately 15 years ago and, to this day, I credit my former supervisor for his warning and for his foresight.  In fact, it was largely because of this prediction that I began reaching out into different areas related to drug discovery.  Such areas include:
  • management
  • intellectual property
  • due diligence
  • contract synthesis
Management skills are essential and relate not only to working with other people, but also working within our own time/resource constraints.  These skills enable meeting personal objectives, meeting cross-departmental goals, and interacting with others - whether in-house or overseas.

Understanding intellectual property law and strategies enables us to organize our contributions into recognizable inventions essential for the strength of the technology base of companies for which we work. Furthermore, we are able to directly contribute to the design of patent strategies, work with patent attorneys and address concerns from the patent office.

Corporate due diligence is essential for investors to make decisions on where to invest their funds.  It is also essential for employment candidates to make decisions on which companies best suit their professional and scientific goals.  Through due diligence, rational decisions can be made regarding program resource allocation, academic/industrial collaborations and projected headcount needs.

Contract synthesis is not only a service for hire, it is also a tool for temporary expansion of in-house resources.  Decisions to utilize contract research organizations are made based on the requirements of individual programs.  Those chosen to manage these activities must be skilled in due diligenceintellectual property and management. Specifically, in working with CROs, due diligence is essential for evaluation and selection of appropriate firms. Furthermore, understanding intellectual property is essential for the protection and preservation of present and future inventions being developed with the assistance of CROs.  Finally, regardless of domestic or offshore locations, management skills are required for the successful negotiating and engagement of CRO activities, troubleshooting project issues and guiding programs to successful outcomes.

Reiterating that we don't have to lose our jobs to changing markets if we can adapt our skill sets to changing needs, the skills I addressed above are of tremendous importance.  With core competencies in these area, employment is available in parent companies, contract research organizations, law firms, consulting firms and venture capital firms.  The trick is to face this changing market with confidence, focus on present and future needs, and make ourselves essential professional resources.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Academic Institutions and Drug Discovery

The ability to manipulate the chemical composition of matter has led to new products and technologies emanating from almost every sector of industry. Of these sectors, among the most challenging and time-intensive activities is the discovery and development of new therapeutic agents. These challenges stem from:
  • our increased need for safer and more effective products
  • inherently long timelines from discovery to market
  • the desire of the venture community to realize rapid returns on investments.
Examining these points from the perspective of cause and effect, the well justified need for safer and more effective products results in longer timelines from discovery to market. Unfortunately, long timelines are not compatible with rapid returns on investments. As such, investment capital has been shifting from high risk discovery programs to less risky development programs. In fact, it is not uncommon for investors to reserve capital for products already in clinical trials. The unfortunate consequence of this paradigm shift is that reduced capital for discovery programs has led to a reduced number of products transitioning from discovery to development. This transition begs the question FROM WHERE WILL THE NEXT GENERATION OF DRUG CANDIDATES EMERGE?

In previous posts, I highlighted issues relevant to this question including:
  • Where big pharmaceutical companies will rebuild their pipeline of new drug candidates
  • Large pharmaceutical firms turning to biopharmaceutical companies to fill their discovery pipelines
  • Paradigm shifts incorporating outsourced services as replacements for high cost internal capabilities
  • Academic institutions must continue to provide solid educational programs and degrees in chemistry - incorporating broad based and generally useful knowledge/skills
With the shrinking volume of venture capital funds available for early stage discovery startups and the continuing trend of large pharmaceutical companies filling their discovery pipeline through small company acquisitions, there is a sector looking to academic institutions to fill this gap. Having both attended graduate school and contributed to industrial drug discovery efforts, I can state with complete certainty that THIS IS A VERY BAD IDEA!!!

Yes, I said it. I mean it and I make no apologies for the frankness of my statement. Academic institutions are not suitable engines for both drug discovery and the training of our next generation of scientists. To qualify this statement, consider that the drug discovery process requires activities including:
  • Compound synthesis/purification/analysis
  • Enzyme assays
  • Cell-based assays
  • Animal models of disease
  • Pharmacology
  • Formulations
  • Metabolite ID/bioanalytical
Each one of these activities requires the involvement of highly trained and knowledgeable scientists. Furthermore, each of these areas must be coordinated with one another in order to enable generation of the data required to accurately evaluate all potential drug candidates. In an academic setting - the setting responsible for much of the cutting edge advancements ultimately benefiting the pharmaceutical industry - such activities are not likely to be implementable without a detrimental effect on the training grounds of the next generation of scientists.

Put another way, where are we to generate the next generation of innovative, highly trained and knowledgeable scientists if our educational resources are diverted to commercial interests?

Organic Chemistry vs Medicinal Chemistry

During my undergraduate research activities with Professor Henry Rapoport at UC Berkeley, I found that my greatest interest was in the discovery of new medicines. Recognizing that the career opportunities I sought required an advanced degree, I began asking about which type of graduate program to pursue - organic chemistry or medicinal chemistry. The input I received overwhelmingly favored a PhD in organic chemistry. The rationale behind this bias was quite simple - the most important skill for a chemist in drug discovery is the mastery of organic chemistry.

Education in organic chemistry programs is not limited solely to reactions. The diverse set of skills, generally applicable to drug discovery (and other industries) are:
  • Synthetic organic chemistry technique
  • Practice in hundreds of different reactions
  • Exposure to many more reaction types
  • Scales from mg to multigram
  • Training in the logic behind synthetic pathway selection
  • Training in all spectroscopic/analytic/purification techniques
While organic chemistry and medicinal chemistry programs both teach organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry programs tend to dilute the breadth of chemistry exposure with the biological aspects of drug discovery activities. These biological aspects, as my colleagues explained to me, are skills that can be learned on the job. However, the on-the-job expansion of organic chemistry knowledge is considerably more difficult to accomplish. From this philosophy, it is not surprising that at every company I worked, the most successful job candidates had degrees in organic chemistry with a strong focus on synthesis.

In my August 21 post, I pointed out that in order to motivate our next generation of scientists,
  • 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
I am, and always have been, enthusiastically in favor of graduate and undergraduate level curricula focusing on the practical and philosophical aspects of the pharmaceutical industry. Such coursework can only serve to prepare students for what will be expected of them as they progress through their professional development. However, replacing or diluting the development of core skills can only compromise our next generation's ability to maintain a competitive edge in a global marketplace. Industry must look elsewhere for its discovery pipeline lest the current trickle of new drug candidates dries up completely.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fear Mongering: Good for Nutraceuticals, Bad for You

Until now, my posts focused on philosophies regarding the current state of education and industry. In fact, when I started this blog, my intent was to focus solely on issues which are constructive to the advancement of science and innovation. I had no desire whatsoever to address divisive political topics. However, with the continued onslaught of negative press and political agendas targeting the pharmaceutical industry, I feel compelled to add my voice. To this end, I want to thank Dr. Andrew Weil for providing me with material for this posting.

While I do not know Dr. Weil and I doubt that I will ever have any personal interaction with him, I know that he is extremely knowledgeable and well respected. It is not my intent to detract from his stature and I apologize if this posting does that. My intent here is to engage in an intelligent debate based upon Dr. Weil's blog of September 2, 2009 as published in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-weil-md/disease-mongering-good-fo_b_275616.html). In this posting, Dr. Weil, discusses the term "disease mongering" as a mechanism used by the pharmaceutical industry to take advantage of uninformed consumers. As Dr. Weil states,

"A central disease-mongering tactic is to attach polysyllabic, clinical-sounding names to what used to be seen as trivial or transient conditions. In most cases, the new, formidable names come complete with acronyms, which add even more gravitas."

Before I go any further, I would like to point out that when a significant population experiences a common symptom, illness, syndrome or disorder, it makes good sense to classify these indications under a common name. This helps doctors to identify patient populations they may be able to help. Furthermore, patients are supported through the knowledge that there are others sharing their discomfort. Finally, pharmaceutical companies are assisted through the identification of populations suffering (for whatever reason) from indications for which there is no treatment. Through the identification of disorders with established unmet medical needs, pharmaceutical firms are able to identify markets and drive research activities to the eventual benefit of these patient populations.

Dr. Weil, in his September 2 posting, highlights five indications that are established disorders requiring, in many cases, medical intervention. These indications, along with Dr. Weil's "disease mongering" examples are:
  • Occasional heartburn becomes "gastro-esophageal reflux disease" or GERD.
  • Impotence becomes "erectile dysfunction" or ED.
  • Premenstrual tension becomes "premenstrual dysphoric disorder" or PMDD.
  • Shyness becomes "social anxiety disorder" or SAD.
  • Fidgeting legs becomes "restless leg syndrome" or RLS.
In listing these example, Dr. Weil does nothing more than trivialize these indications and the patients who suffer from them. I, myself, suffer from GERD. For many years, I experienced chronic heartburn independent of diet. At one point, the pain was so severe that it was debilitating. I began taking proton pump inhibitors and eventually had surgery to tighten my lower esophageal sphincter muscle. While I am doing much better, I still have to take occasional medication to control lingering symptoms. I must also submit to periodic esophageal endoscopy procedures to monitor my Barrett's esophagus - a precancerous condition caused by GERD. For me, GERD is not an indication that can be treated by giving my body's "healing mechanisms a chance to find equilibrium."

Pharmaceuticals and Nutraceuticals - Marketing on an Equal Playing Field

In reading Dr. Weil's posting, I understand that part of his message relates to the practice of drug companies marketing their products directly to consumers. Personally, I see no problem with this practice. If a consumer is to be able to make informed decisions regarding healthcare, that consumer should know about all possible medical treatments - including pharmaceuticals. After all, if vitamins, dietary supplements and herbs (all classified as nutraceuticals) can be directly marketed to consumers, why can't prescription medications?

In the interest of fairness, I fully support the right of consumers to seek whatever medical interventions are best for them. I fully respect the history behind folk remedies and I do not pass any judgement upon those who choose alternatives to prescription medications. After all, herbs have served as sources for many modern therapeutics from aspirin to morphine.

While nutraceuticals, derived from herbal remedies, may deliver some potential therapeutic benefits, they are not regulated or controlled under the same requirements as prescription drugs. For example:
  • Prescription drugs must be proven safe and efficacious through human clinical trials - nutraceuticals are not held to this standard
  • Prescription drugs, when marketed, must have a package insert detailing adverse effects, dosage information and potential drug-drug interactions - nutraceuticals are not held to this standard

Because herbal remedies and dietary supplements contain naturally occurring pharmaceutically active components, patient who use these alternatives through self medication are putting themselves at risk based upon uncontrolled or arbitrary dosing and potential interactions with medications they may be taking by prescription.

If consumers are to have the ability to make informed choices regarding their healthcare options, all products marketed as potential health remedies must be held to the same standards. Unfortunately, they are not. This is the result of two issues:
  • It is not in the best interests of nutraceutical companies to fund clinical trials demonstrating efficacy when they are not required to do so
  • It is not in the best interest of pharmaceutical companies to fund head-to-head clinical trials of any competing product against their own

In order for consumers to be able to make the most informed healthcare decisions, all alternative medications must be held to the same clinical and regulatory standards as prescription medications. Only in this scenario can patients, with the assistance of their doctors, objectively evaluate the best course of care while minimizing adverse events and drug-drug interactions.

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


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.