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CROs, Temp Work and the future

These two reports go together. The first is from WRAL in North Carolina reporting on the research cuts at Glaxo Smith Kline in RTP, North Carolina. Says a company spokesperson:

“The aim of this program is to improve performance by taking unnecessary complexity out of our operations and establish a smaller, more focused, organization, operating at lower costs, that supports our future portfolio,” GSK spokeswoman Mary Rhyne said. “Each business unit is currently deciding how to respond to this challenge. When we do have proposals, we will first share those with our employees.”

Followed by:

Jobs affected are in the following categories:

  • Chemist
  • Engineer
  • Biologist
  • Clinical development scientist
  • Statistician
  • Other managerial, technical and support roles

Cuts “are not being made across the board but are strategic,” Rhyne added.

However, hundreds of affected workers could quickly find jobs at life science research firm Parexel, which has an office in Durham. GSK signed a letter of intent which would allow up to 450 workers work in a GSK-focused business unit at Parexel.

The second was found at Naked Capitalism. It’s a report on the nature of temp work and how it erodes the skills of the workers who have been forced into temporary contract work. The bottom line is that it is bad for your cognitive health. Temp workers do not develop the necessary skills to become experts in their field because they never last long enough to gain the experience and form the neural memories that allow them to extrapolate from their assigned roles.

Now, I’m sure that the people at Glaxo who made the decision to streamline and de-complexify their research units to save money have never actually done drug discovery work because the whole enterprise is very complex. Sometimes, a discovery effort gets more complex as you go along. The people who remain after their colleagues have been shunted off to a CRO with a poorer benefits plan and temp contracts, will have to spend more of their time negotiating with competitive outside vendors to get the resources they need to do the research work. That means more time finding the contractors, writing up secrecy agreements, asking for money from the MBAs to hire the contractors and preparing the projects to be offloaded to them. Before the layoffs, they might have walked down the hall to submit their sample to the queue or talked to a chemist about the next steps in hitting a specific cluster of amino acids in the binding site. Now, they’re going to have to arrange all of that stuff offsite. Instead of doing science, they’ll be doing paperwork.

Note that this does not in any significant way reduce complexity. The complexity is inherent in the endeavor. We’re not talking about creating a new Facebook or Amazon. We’re talking about messing with cells and feedback and cross talk and reactions that yield tiny amounts of product and proteins that don’t fold right or won’t crystallize. Drug discovery is very, very difficult. It can still seem like an art than a science because there are still a lot of unknown unknowns. It’s not ever going to be like writing code.

Meanwhile, the poor researchers shuffled off to the CRO are now faced with a problem that may be as important as how long they’re going to get paid.  That is, have their years of education and experience resulted in nothing more than a dead end job where they will be treated as “just in time” workers who manufacture pieces parts of a project without any reference to those projects? There may be new restrictions on access to information. They may not be invited to team meetings. Their input will no longer be required. They will have the same status as factory workers, churning out compounds or proteins or analysis as directed from some external person who used to be their colleague. Thinking outside the box will no longer be required. All connections between the product and the project will be severed.

How long will it take before we have reduced their cognitive skills to irrelevancy?

By the way, ebola, drug resistant bacteria and schizophrenia are still out there.

One other post also comes from Naked Capitalism. It’s a mini-rant from Richard Wolff about how immoral it is for companies to offshore work and the havoc it has caused in American cities because wages have stagnated or fallen. He says there ought to be a law that prohibits companies from doing that, just like we have labor laws to prevent 4 and 5 year olds from working in factories.

You know, I get his point and understand that Germany and even France has stood up for its work force during this horrible recession (that’s looking more and more like a depression from where I sit). I find it remarkable that there was no one in our government who stood up for us when the pharmaceutical companies started to slash through the R&D units like a chainsaw homocidal maniac. But I don’t think Wolff’s suggestions are going to work. I think the corporate overlords would simply laugh at them.

What I think would work extremely well to curb the excesses of the finance and corporate unholy alliance is to eliminate the 401K system for the vast majority of workers. Because right now, the retirement savings of millions of working Americans is flowing into the system that has to turn around and gamble that money to return some of those earnings to the donors. There’s a lot to be skimmed and a lot more incentive to take risks both for the personal gain of the bonus class and in order to show some kind of return on investment. That in turn leads to excessive profit seeking, risk taking and layoffs.

So, the best thing that could happen to this country is a return to a defined pension plan and I will vote for the presidential candidate who proposes one along with the gradual elimination of the 401K.


21 Responses

  1. I was thinking about this last night and came up with a few ideas:

    1. Either have the FDA declare all drug advertising unethical (which it is) and ban it OR have all advertising be non-tax-deductible. Either way would encourage companies to invest more in R&D. Disgusting that big pharma would rather market its products free of government charge (on TV all the time) than pay taxes on its obscene profits. (I know, I know, dream on.)

    2. Have any off-shoring non-tax-deductible. Eliminate all tax shelters.

    3. Gross income taxed at a very high rate. Only adjustments allowed for R&D and worker health care and defined benefit plans.

    4. Require all large companies (50 or more, 100 or more workers?) to switch to defined benefit plans.

    5. Prohibit investing in hedge funds.

    6. Raise the minimum wage – probably $20 an hour would be the minimum on which a family could live. Full-time workers only; exceptions for part-time or contract employees only under certain stringent conditions.

    All a pipe dream. But, if this pathetic excuse for a republic is actually interested in surviving (which it is not; seems greed has no limits), these are some of the ways to accomplish that.

    We can’t buy stuff if we have no money. Jerks, all of them. Almost all of my Social Security goes to taxes, because I still work! But I couldn’t live without working! I probably pay more in taxes than Jamie Dimon.

    As for some report saying money spent on medical care has decreased, well, of course it has. We peons can’t pay the deductibles or copays. So we don’t get the care we need. Which will cost the country far more down the line. My car insurance doesn’t have deductibles or copays. Jeez. What a racket.

    All right, off to the gym to get my BP down. I am 70 now and rarely comment anymore. There is no way this country can survive much longer without major changes, so I focus on enjoying my granddaughters.

    • These sound like good ideas. If we tried to apply them in the current Free Trade environment, every company affected would offshore all possible of its operations. Large chain retailers would bring in slave-wage items produced by $20-per-month workers to underprice the domestically made items made by $20-per-hour workers.

      The only way any of these ideas can work is if we first abolish Free Trade and withdraw from all,each, and every Free Trade agreement and treaty and organization, and restore the Belligerent Protectionist Tarrif Wall behind which the United States was able to develop its economy to begin with.

      Capitalism in One Country.

      • Free Trade is the New Slavery.
        Protectionism is the New Abolition.

      • You know, I am so angry that I wasn’t clear. I want these corporations to be taxed through the gazoo if they hire other than workers here in this country or if they move their operations. Taxed so much that they would save money by hiring domestically. Tax. Tax. Tax.

        Not that any politician of any persuasion would risk alienating potential donors. The system is sick beyond repair. And who let Scalia and Roberts and Alioto and Thomas on the Supreme Court? So that now a corporation is a person.

        What a mess. Let’s go bomb somebody. Quick. Over there. Danger.

  2. My car insurance has a deductible but it’s not outrageous and there are no co-pays.
    I got another call from the health insurance marketplace. I had to drop my insurance earlier this year and the new ACA policy was still going to cost me $500/month plus $3500 deductible. Like I just have a spare $9500 sitting around. I didn’t qualify for a subsidy because I didn’t make enough money. Almost s year later, I’m still hobbling along on a part time job that doesn’t pay very well.
    So, I hear you. Loud and clear.

    • You’re right about the car insurance deductible, though I don’t have it on my policy.

      Still, I remember the days of defined benefit plans and the days when health insurance covered 100% of health costs, even psychotherapy and dental.

      Now I have to pay extra for drug coverage (before we even get to the co-pay) and there is no dental worth anything for us oldsters. Or vision either. Like we don’t get vision problems or teeth and gum problems in our old age.

      Unfortunately for the rest of us, those in power are perfectly content with the current system. After all, they are taken care of quite nicely. It does seem true that the more power one has, the less empathy.

      I don’t think these fools understand they they are going to die too! I swear to god! Or that all death is miserable – no matter how much loot you have.

      And they’ve pretty much wrung the rest of us dry. What morons – just like the MBAs who cut R&D. What? They’re not gonna get ebola? Or the like?

      This is the first time I didn’t vote. And I won’t ever again – until someone who represents my views is running. I don’t see that ever happening (unless maybe we disband the CIA entirely). I am disgusted with them all.

  3. Are MBA suits included in the Other category?

  4. Simply require companies that want U.S. government contracts to have a certain % of their work force in the U.S. Not a complete pancea but a logical place to start.

    • Not sure if that could be done under the trade treaties that have been signed. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty is supposed to be even worse in that corporations can sue governments that interfere with their profits.

  5. PDXPat

    Just a reminder: Obama was the one to throw off public financing campaign contribution limits. His campaign signature was unlimited corporate money. Outspent McCain 3 to 1 and didn’t do squat to help the woman who probably got him elected retire her campaign debt.

    He’s just been dancin with the ones who brung him. And now we’re all dancing to their tune.

  6. By coincidence there is a post in Naked Capitalism on
    how how businesses are killing high technology in the US.

    This stuck out and is just what you have been saying:

    “…. Rather we argue that, with the rise of the New Economy business model, the main problem is the failure of U.S. high-tech corporations to invest in the “collective and cumulative careers” which you need if you want R&D spending to result in more high-tech knowledge. Government policy-makers have added to this failure by not recognizing that long-term careers are key to the creation of a world-leading high-tech knowledge base…”

    • Perhaps they know it very well and are collapsing American tech-employment and tech-careers on purpose. Perhaps their personal bussiness model is to arbirtrage the differential collapse levels all the way down.

  7. Why you never talk about Hillary anymore? I finally figured out why I don’t so much care for Hillary. She is like the Mit Romney. She stands for everything but also stands for nothing and will to say anything to suit the audience. Now there is one woman who is consistent and seems to be leader. She is Elisabeth Warren. Do you not like her?

    • Elizabeth Warren has the same problem that Obama had back in 2008. She’s a first term senator who hasn’t been in politics long enough to establish her own working coalition and group who can move and support legislation and initiatives. She doesn’t know the mechanisms of government to make things happen when Congress won’t cooperate.
      That is the advantage that Hillary had and still has.
      As for whether she stands for everything and nothing, I think she has been remarkably consistent. It’s the country that has changed and which may make her future run for the presidency non-viable.

  8. The aim of this program is to improve performance by taking unnecessary complexity out of our operations and establish a smaller, more focused, organization, operating at lower costs, that supports our future portfolio,”

    … Lord help us.

  9. One reason not to speak about candidates is to save one’s breathe.. In 2016 we will get what we are given and will not be asked. The powers that be can barely bother to go though the motions.

    I have said it will be Hill and Jed, with Jed being installed.

    However Hilary met with the royal couple during their visit here. That is highly significant . Plus the whole US ball of wax is daily becoming more of a cock up unholy mess, that they may install Hill after all.

    • You know, sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.
      From my observation, Bill and Hill make friends with EVERYONE. Politically, this makes a lot of sense. You get to see what motivates both your friends and your enemies. You make connections. You keep your enemies close.
      We have to remember that the bankers did not choose Hillary back in 2008. In all likelihood, there was a very good reason for that. She was more independent than Obama and had her own cohort to rely on to get things done. That’s not what the financial institutions wanted.
      As for the Clintons meeting the royals, they were in NYC for fundraising events. The particular fundraiser where they met was United for Wildlife whose goal is to prevent illegal poaching in Africa.
      So, you know, pretty innocuous. They weren’t getting together to talk about corporate tax policy in Britain.

      • So, not an Illuminati jamboree?

      • They met at the British consul in NYC during the royals very busy 3 day visit . Considering what it takes for either to go anywhere, I suggest it was wasn’t a drop in. Imo They met because Hillary will be a player. This was not a catch up of pals who happen to be in town.

        • OR
          As the wife of a former president and founder of the Clinton Foundation, they thought it would be a good idea to share their donor list.

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