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Ooooo, SNAP!

Here’s a David and Goliath story that will give you some insight as to how senseless and stupid the decimation of the pharmaceutical R&D industry has been and how insensitive upper management can be. I found the link at
Derek Lowe’s In The Pipeline blog.
It’s about a medicinal chemist who worked on a project that resulted in the discovery of a block buster drug for a company that was bought out by another company. You can probably guess the rest. Yes, his site was closed down and everybody on the project was laid off. Congratulations for discovering this shareholder value enhancing drug. Please meet me in the cafeteria at 9am and then go away.

So, the chemist did go away. Many years later…

I got recently contacted by a patent litigation attorney from a giant pharma company, a company that is advertising on TV every night and whose name rhymes with “Mergers and Massacres”: They have a drug that is selling over a billion a year and now the key patent for this drug is facing a challenge from two generic competitors. Since I am on the patent (there is about dozen authors) the lawyers wanted to prepare me in case that I get subpoenaed by those generic companies challenging the patent. They offered me a free legal representation in the hearings and they proposed to pay me as a consultant (“at my usual rate”) for talking to them and for the deposition – should this subpoena happen.

The detailed history of the invention seems important in this case because the patent that sets the invention priority (and thus affects the date of the drug monopoly expiration) is being challenged on several fronts. It appears that their legal team has been having some difficulty piecing together the exact timeline of the project – who proposed/synthesized what and when (even as they have all the notebooks and employment records in their possession). Apparently no-one from the original team is employed with the company anymore: We were summarily laid off when our research site was shut down. (The chemistry director was actually forced out, under rather contentious circumstances, shortly before the site closure). Only a handful of employees was re-hired elsewhere within the company. And surprisingly, it seems that some of my ex-colleagues are not getting in touch with the patent litigation team now…

I am also not calling the lawyers as they repeatedly urged me to – instead I wrote to them and shared some of the impressions and experiences that I had while being – briefly – a part of their company – and I also reminded them of the class-action lawsuit that my ex-colleagues brought against them, when the company reneged on their severance payments after the layoffs. (The company settled out of court and apparently paid in full the promised amount, about 2 years later.)

Also, I reached out to the two generic companies involved in this litigation and informed them about this legal team approach from my former employer – and I offered to answer questions about the history of this drug discovery and I gave them the names of the few important inventors on the patent who could be perhaps more helpful than me. Then I wrote back to the legal team of the large company and I let them know that I contacted the two generic companies. I explained that I don’t want their money but maybe they could re-evaluate how they are going to treat the R&D inventors in the future. You know, in case they need them again.

I hope milkshake doesn’t mind me quoting him in his entirety. The story is just too, um, well, let’s just say that the week after I was laid off, an official email was sent around to all the staff from the bean counters who congratulated themselves at meeting and exceeding their proposed cost cutting targets for the quarter. I guess I was supposed to feel good about how my job was sacrificed to achieve that goal. The dudes who made that performance objective probably got a bonus that was roughly equivalent to my salary. Yes, yes, party on.

So, anyway, that was pretty nervy. I am in awe and bow to his surplus of balls and everlasting righteous indignation. Score one for the geeks.

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11 Responses

  1. I should make clear that I am not the main inventor of the drug, my contribution was on a related series that got into the same patent as the actual compound that became the drug, Also, the time period was much longer than 2 years – the discovery and the subsequent merger and layoffs it happened nearly a decade ago.

    • Thanks for the correction. Nevertheless, you are a legend now. I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.

      I know how the backup series things go. I hope to land on one myself, if the people who are looking after my interests are successful.

    • BTW, I used to work for Wyeth before I went to the employer who recently laid me off. As you know, Pfizer bought Wyeth and laid almost everyone at Wyeth off. They saved a few people and sent them to Groton. So, almost everyone I know at Wyeth was laid off, the site I worked at that did CNS drugs was mothballed. My friends at Wyeth have had a very hard time finding jobs, especially here in NJ. A lot of them are working for much less money or commuting across the country to work on contract jobs. My employer started laying off about two years ago. It has been brutal. As you suggested in your comments at your site, no one behaves well during a merger and layoff. It’s like a game of musical chairs where people are grabbing whatever credit they can and trash talking the person who might be co stir on for a job. When you leave, your work can easily be stolen by someone else and passed off as their own. I’ve already had that happen to me on a method I initiated at Wyeth. The people in my group worked on the method after I left and never gave me credit. It burns my oatmeal when I see the paper citations for it without my name. I left a lot of documentation behind in my notebook that clearly described what I was doing.
      But what are you going to do? You can’t get your notebook back. This last time, I gave all of my work to my former supervisors who I trust, But the unscrupulous have a way of getting away with murder. So, I congratulate you for sticking up for us. It’s not revenge, exactly. It’s more like taking back your dignity.

      • I am sorry to hear about Wyeth and I know this must be very hard for everyone especially since any large research site closure blights the job market in a wide area (as if it wasn’t already bad enough already). By chance, you wouldn’t be a pharma- or polymer-oriented analytical chemist, with the primary experience with HPLCs?..

        Notebooks: I always make a xerox copy or scan them on a disk especially when the company looks like going under – even if the employer strictly prohibits copying the notebooks,.(If it is not a government-classified document, the worst they can do it to fire you for insubordination unless they can clearly prove that you were conspiring to misuse it against the company.) Often you need to use (for an unrelated research project) something you have done with your own hands few years back but without the notebook it is hard to recall the important details – and even if your procedure get actually published in a paper or a patent, it is much easier to find it in your notebook. And the authorship disputes – there is a joy of publicly rubbing an unscrupulous jerk in his lie…

        • Nope, not HPLC analytical. I’m a modeler with experience in structural biology. The method I was referring to was for using ROCS shape searching to align clusters of conformations for diverse molecules with activity against the same target. One of the problems with shape searching for virtual screening is that if you don’t have a ligand in an active site, you have to determine the active conformation of your query by some other method. If you have multiple diverse out of house compounds, you could generate the conformations of all of them and then use clustering to reduce the number of possible conformations and then align them using ROCS to find the clusters that are most similar using color and shape. Does that make sense? The tricky part is determining the cluster level and reducing the number of clusters using some kind of relevance criteria.
          Once I started analyzing the structures of my last project (it was a kinase), I started to realize that receptor-ligand interactions are a lot more sensitive than I thought. You could have all the shape and color but if you have a methyl group that’s just a pinch too big, you can completely flip the binding mode in a way that is completely unexpected and would have been unanticipated by the model.
          Whoa, that was way too nerdy.

        • Anyway, we R&D types need to be more vocal and have a presence on the web. We’re too often overlooked. While the rest of the country is focussed on construction workers, and there’s nothing wrong with that, they are missing the devastation of our scientific infrastructure through financialization of pharma, endless mergers and poor menagerial oversight by the MBA class. By the time Americans figure out what’s going on, it may very well be too late to put the pieces back together. It’s already a personal catastrophe for many of us. I will become a national tragedy soon. So, get out there and spread the word.

  2. Not only chemistry, organic and otherwise, but all of the sciences will follow manufacturing out of the country. Where I work are several people with degrees in the sciences and engineering that are in positions totally unrelated but at least they have jobs.

    I know Canada has age limits on immigrants (has to do with paying into their health care system) but I’m not sure about France, Germany, or China. Me, I’m too old else I would have left for saner pastures.

    Unless you think Obama will be ousted and replaced by a real Democrat don’t hold your breath about the job market turning around any time soon. As a matter of fact since nothing has been done to correct the root cause of the financial collapse, I expect another plunge and more layoffs.

    • …. I expect another plunge and more layoffs

      no doubt about it. It’s the method they have chosen to impoverish us…and we aren’t nearly as poor as they aim to make us…not until we accept third world wages and the word “benefit” is a trivia answer .

      I mean why wouldn’t they? It not like there is a political party who would try and stop it… the only fighting going on in DC is the fight to see which party can help the looting Upper Crust the most

      • There is a limit to how much can be cut in the sciences. The bonus class just hasn’t discovered it yet. But it’s coming. If you want good workers who know how to do this work, you have to pay them.

        • They have no means of evaluating talent or understanding the years of work building compentency takes. The same thing happened in IT and they hollowed out the organizations, replaced the team with cheaper “talent” from countries who are so much smarter, better, faster… just ask!

          Then they turned us into “integraters” which means we take the trouble to find out what customers want (the hardest part of application development) and send it off-shore to be completely misunderstood, coded wrong (I mean wrong, like stacked arrays within the same space and without error handling except the most generic messaging) and then they send it back and we fight over what the customer really meant. They took the best part of the work and shipped it out leaving us the worst part of the hassle. Funny thing, when you separate trying to figure out what the hell people want from actually building it (and then they build a piece of shit) of course it gets done faster! Nobody who pays the bills cares, they just want Walmart pricing on everything technical and believe anyone can do it.

          Now everyone has to have a “standard desktop” and the fix for any problem is some guy (they are still mostly guys) pushing a new image over the messed up one. Everybody hates it and nobody who does real work can do their work. The managers don’t notice because they are going to 100s of meetings and surfing the web after figuring out what department to downsize next.

          Not that I have any issues, of course.

          Love this story – btw! Thanks for posting it.

          • and wait until the job fails in the middle of the night and your support comes from a country that has English as the 3rd or 4th language. Good luck with that fix.

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