• Tips gratefully accepted here. Thanks!:

  • Recent Comments

    Propertius on The Video
    Catscatscats on The Video
    Propertius on The Video
    Propertius on The Video
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on The Video
    riverdaughter on The Video
    bellecat on The Video
    William on Let’s steady ourselves about t…
    Catscatscats on Let’s steady ourselves about t…
    Kathleen A Wynne on Let’s steady ourselves about t…
    William on Let’s steady ourselves about t…
    Catscatscats on Let’s steady ourselves about t…
    riverdaughter on The Video
    peep9 on The Video
    William on Shep Smith out at Fox a day af…
  • Categories


  • Tags

    abortion Add new tag Afghanistan Al Franken Anglachel Atrios bankers Barack Obama Bernie Sanders big pharma Bill Clinton cocktails Conflucians Say Dailykos Democratic Party Democrats Digby DNC Donald Trump Donna Brazile Economy Elizabeth Warren feminism Florida Fox News General Glenn Beck Glenn Greenwald Goldman Sachs health care Health Care Reform Hillary Clinton Howard Dean John Edwards John McCain Jon Corzine Karl Rove Matt Taibbi Media medicare Michelle Obama Michigan misogyny Mitt Romney Morning Edition Morning News Links Nancy Pelosi New Jersey news NO WE WON'T Obama Obamacare OccupyWallStreet occupy wall street Open thread Paul Krugman Politics Presidential Election 2008 PUMA racism Republicans research Sarah Palin sexism Single Payer snark Social Security Supreme Court Terry Gross Texas Tim Geithner unemployment Wall Street WikiLeaks women
  • Archives

  • History

    October 2019
    S M T W T F S
    « Sep    
     12345
    6789101112
    13141516171819
    20212223242526
    2728293031  
  • RSS Paul Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

  • The Confluence

    The Confluence

  • RSS Suburban Guerrilla

  • RSS Ian Welsh

    • Facebook, Destroyer of Media
      So, Facebook has been fined forty million dollars for inflating video statistics. Sounds like a yawn, eh. Not a very big fine, for not a very big crime. But it was a big crime. Newspapers, web-sites, etc… a pivoted to video. Facebook said that views were as much as 900% higher than they actually were […]
  • Top Posts

  • Advertisements

Pharmageddon continues

This time it’s Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK). You may remember that GSK was in the papers recently because it was one of the only big pharma companies with a potential vaccine for ebola. Well, now they’re cutting their R&D staff. According to the rumors flying over at In the Pipeline, the biggest cuts are going to happen at their research park in North Carolina.

How these things typically happen is the pharma in question just eliminates a whole research division or therapeutic area. Your job is not spared because you made your company a zillion dollars on the patent you sold to it for a dollar 10 years ago. I used to be in favor of this quid pro quo arrangement. You give me the means to do my research, I give you the fruit of my labor. But now, I’m not so sure. Like everything else, there are predators in the executive suites and on Wall Street who have zero appreciation for the amount of work it takes to create a new drug entity and plenty of people who think they own it. In some respects, researchers have only themselves to blame for not protecting their own interests, those being the need to earn a living in order to consume calories to sustain life and have a roof over their heads.

GSK’s cuts come on the heels of cuts at Astra-Zeneca, which decided to get rid of its antibiotics research unit. Yeah, try to figure that one out. And then there was Amgen that recently announced that it would cut up to 4000 jobs globally including at its research facility in Seattle. So, while the flood of layoffs in the US R&D industry has slowed down a bit since the high water mark of 2009-2010, it’s still not finished yet. After all, sooner or later, the industry will run out of people to lay off. But we’re still going to see pulses of carnage here and there, dumping more over-educated, over-qualified, experienced and talented chemists and biologists into the already saturated labor market. Fun, fun.

In other news, the left sometimes *almost* grasps what the problem is with pharmaceutical R&D but as soon as those of us who really know what’s going on turn our backs, we get more clueless BS from people like Dean Baker. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have him on my side. But he doesn’t seem to spend any time talking with people who have actually, you know, been there. There is something bizarrely automatic about the left’s misunderstanding of how drugs get invented and developed. Maybe this has something to do with the complexity of the process. Or maybe it’s just laziness.

Here’s the basic outline of the misunderstanding: The NIH, which we all pay for, does basic research. Then it collaborates with a big drug company and that big drug company turns around and sells that basic research for a ginormous profit. All the big company does is scales the sucker up, runs some admittedly expensive clinical trials, and then produces and markets the drug, delivered fresh and complete from the NIH labs, directly to you the consumer at an enormous markup.

There is just enough truth about the greed of the executive and finance movers and shakers to make this look plausible. Unfortunately, it is one of those beautiful theories easily destroyed by ugly facts.

I don’t want to go into this again because it will take at least several posts to unpack but the NIH rarely delivers a pristine drug to industry. No, the whole idea of basic research is that it is basic. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or not valuable. It means there is sometimes little more than a nugget of a something to follow up on. The “drugs” are sometimes nothing more than fragments or completely undruggable. (Undruggability is a whole different topic) Sometimes, there is no drug delivered to industry. Sometimes, it’s merely the suggestion that a specific protein target may or may not be involved in some undesirable endpoint.

The role of industry R&D is to take this very basic research and through many years of real, genuine, honest-to-god research, turn it into something resembling a drug. It is a very expensive process. I’m not surprised at the numbers being batted around. That is not to say that we can’t cut back on the amount of marketing that pharma does. At the end of the day, what is more valuable to you? The researchers that invent an ebola vaccine or the marketers that tell you why you need it? But to get real drugs from real research, a lot of money must be spent in order to pay for many trials and errors and reagents and lab equipment and researchers who need to be fed and housed.

That being said, it sure does look like there is a plan to exploit NIH and academic labs. If you get rid of all your R&D units in the name of shareholder value, or at least cripple them with endless, non-productive mergers and acquisitions and layoffs, you may end up without anything to market. And there are a lot of geeky students out there who are willing to work at subsistence wages to get a PhD. Why not use them as your new staff? That certainly looks like what is happening. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What is missing in the equation is the experienced R&D staff that will know “when to hold’em and when to fold ’em” when it comes to actually making the potential drugs. In other words, there will be a lot of reinventing of the wheel in academic labs as they sort through how to do it on limited soft money.

It’s a research strategy only a banker could love.

***********

One bright spot for the journal famished: Nature is experimenting with making its journal archive and current issue available as a free “read-only” version. That’s to circumvent the habit of some poor researchers who have to sneak around to satisfy their paper habit, a phenomenon known as “dark sharing”. You have to know someone who has inside access to a license, usually some friend who is still in industry or someone at a university. This is what we are reduced to: sharing illicit copies of nerdy papers like they’re banned versions of Tropic of Cancer. Read-only versions that you can’t save or refer to later is  better than nothing, I guess, though not quite as good as getting a subscription to Nature and Science for Christmas.

 

Advertisements

More layoffs in Pharma

Yeah, yeah, I know, lefties would care about us except we’re *pharma*.  Your (lack of) concern is truly touching.

This latest layoff is from Sanofi-Aventis in Bridgewater, NJ.  Hundreds of scientists will be losing their jobs.  20-30% may be transferred to the Cambridge facility.  Looks like NJ just lost a bunch more taxpayers.  There’s not a lot of upside to the layoff of more of my friends and colleagues.  There are a lot more of us biomedical researchers on the market now.  With the recent announcements of layoffs from Merck, Novartis and Amgen, it’s almost as if the spigot was opened full force again.  What is happening to pharma right now would have someone like Steve Jobs spitting nails.  The entire focus has been on extracting every last dollar out of the company and abandoning the product line.  It’s hard to predict what comes next but pharma can’t be bled dry forever and the Chinese are not ready to take over yet.

Geeks are people too and we have caloric and shelter requirements like everyone else.  I would say I am surprised that the Obama administration is not paying greater attention to this problem but by the time the effects of so many unemployed researchers finally hits the American consciousness, he will be out of office.  What might have happened if he had taken Christina Romer up on that suggestion of $100 billion for a jobs program?  We might all be working our butts off in some mothballed lab somewhere, carrying on with the research we were doing, living on decent but unspectacular salaries and paying our taxes.

But since we are not all male construction workers, Obama isn’t worrying his pretty little head about us.

No one is entitled to a second term.

 

OccupyPharma and other cures

We are also the 99% Meeeeneeeemeeep!

Reader bemused_leftist pointed me to a defense of the control network that I posted about yesterday from a guy who works in one of those companies on the network.  Here are the money quotes from the defense from Andrew Drucker at Made from Truth and Lies: I’m annoyed at the sensationalist financial reporting:

I happen to work for one of those 50 companies, which gives me a little bit of perspective (even if I am very far down its hierarchy). And I can tell you that most of those companies aren’t in that position because of a conspiracy of control – but because you have a pension. AXA, Legal and General, Aviva, Sun Life, and many many more of the companies on there are there because ordinary people put their cash into life insurance or pensions, and that cash is then invested in the stock market so that it can make payouts in the event of either problems (for the insurance) or retirement (for the pensions). And because many of these companies provide pensions either for millions of people, thousands of large companies, or both, they are managing massive piles of cash.

Which doesn’t mean that they’re actually running the companies they own lots of shares in. Most pensions/insurance/life companies are terrified of telling the companies they own shares in how to behave – they want to own shares in something successful so that they make profits, but they don’t have the time to micro-manage them, and they really don’t want to get involved in anything that smells even slightly political.

This actually leads, sometimes, to insufficient control over the directors of large corporations – because if you’re in the FTSE 100, you’re going to find your shares are owned by a lot of investment companies, who just want you to churn out profits, without paying too much attention to, say, board-level renumeration. So you can get away with paying your high level people a lot without a share-holder rebellion. If they were owned by a few ordinary people then they’d find themselves subjected to a lot more scrutiny, and a lot more control.

Well, Andrew, speaking as a former employee of one of those companies that the network node companies are terrified to micro manage, I call bullshit.  The pharma industry has been micromanaged to death by the node network guys.  When they’re not totally onboard some gutwrenching merger or acquisition, they’re telling the CEO to cut more from research.  Yeah, that’s the ticket to a successful, money making pharmaceutical company!  Dismantle the research apparatus.  Do it quickly, like before the next quarter.  Andrew, please do not tell anyone in the pharma industry who has either lost their job or about to lose their job (those are the only two categories at the present time), that the pension fund managers and big banks and other financial sector players have not had a profound effect on the way pharmaceuticals run their businesses.  We have been at the Town Hall meetings when the head honchos have told us directly and to our faces that you guys have been leaning on them- heavily.  It’s not bad enough that pharma has been shooting it’s own image in the foot with lobbyists and high drug prices, that you financial types skim from, or that it is constantly under attack from the left for being less than perfect (as if there is such a thing as a perfect drug, there isn’t).  No, what really pisses the labrats off is yet another boneheaded restructuring plan brought on by some nitwit Wharton School graduate who just has to take the latest management trend out for a spin to teach those damn researchers that research costs money, by golly!  How dare they consume so many pipettes, order so many tests and break so many instruments.  Don’t they know that those costs go into the debit column??  Well, they’re going to have to learn a thing or two or we’re not going to make our quarterly estimate.

It’s been done to every one of the companies I’ve ever heard of.  If the companies aren’t shedding research jobs to hire cheap contractors, they’re shedding research jobs to just get out of unprofitable therapeutic areas.  Well, who needs antibiotics anyway?  The latest news is that Abbott is spinning off the pharma unit altogether.  Oh sure, they’ve got a blockbuster that will keep them afloat for awhile but most likely, they’ll get swallowed up by a bigger shark and where will the cost savings come from?  That’s right, the research unit.  These days, companies buy products, not the group that actually discovered the product.

More joy is on the horizon for 380 Amgen employees who learned just last week that they are going to lose their jobs.  (pharmas are either tricklers or gushers when it comes to cutting jobs.  Amgen is a trickler; Pfizer is a gusher.  But it’s all the same in the end)  Really, guys, do the rest of us unemployed labrats need more competition?  And Merck, the beacon of stability, that has been holding off the financial analysts bravely for the past couple of years while the rest of the pharmas have done what their masters ordered, seems to have finally thrown in the towel.  They are going to be making an announcement next week about reorganizing. Derek Lowe’s blog, In the Pipeline, has some of the details and this complaint from Derek:

And on a similar topic, here’s a post from John LaMattina asking what many people have at one point or another: how come Wall Street analysts get so much influence over how much a drug organization spends on R&D? His examples are Merck, Lilly, and Amgen, and his take is:

“Now, I am all for monitoring R&D budgets to maximize the returns from these investments. And I am all for accountability – asking the R&D organization to deliver new candidates to the pipeline, having formal goals with rigorous deadlines, and for running clinical trials as expeditiously as possible while keeping a close eye on costs. But for Wall Street to reward a company for lowering R&D spending and attack those that want to commit to R&D is absurd. Like it or not, R&D IS the engine that powers a pharmaceutical company. It is also a high-risk endeavor. Furthermore, given all of the hurdles that now exist especially with regard to ensuring safety and having sufficient novelty to justify pricing, R&D is more expensive than ever. But, if you want to succeed, you have to invest – substantially. There are no short cuts.”

Wall Street’s answer, which may be hard to refute, is that if you want the access to capital that the stock market provides, then you have to accept the backseat driving as part of the deal. But do we get the same degree of it as other industries, or more?

That is the rule, Andrew, not the exception.

Now, I know that a lot of people at OccupyWallStreet don’t much care for pharma.   I know it takes a lot of milk of human kindness to love us but try, people, try.  It’s really important that you try to understand this problem.  Because if there was ever an industry that needed to be liberated from Wall Street it would have to be pharmaceutical research.  Wall Street and pharmaceutical research are about as incompatible as two entities can get.  Wall Street is all about short term profits and paying the shareholder.  Pharma research “used” to be about developing cures through science and long term committments.  The Wall Street crew does not care if there is a research industry left in this country.  It is not interested in your excuses that research takes time and human organisms and their cells are very complex.  They are deaf to the pleas that we are being squeezed by the FDA to make our imperfect drugs perfect and need to carry out more and more expensive clinical trials that will cause some drugs to fail to advance.  All Wall Street cares about is whether the quarterly estimate will be hit or not.  And the MBAs who populate pharma’s corporate office suites are there to see that it is done.  That’s why they make the big bucks.

This is an opportunity, occupywallst, to take pharma back and make it work for the public.  Don’t pass this one up.

Moving on to cures of a different kind:

The people at ApartmentTherapy are starting the 20/20 Home Cure on Monday.  It’s 20 minutes a day for 20 days.  Each day features a different project to get your house back in shape.  You can sign up at ApartmentTherapy on Monday.  Here’s Maxwell’s introduction video to explain what it’s about.  If you are a bit more ambitious and need more structure in your home clean up routine, check out the 20 minutes for 30 days plan.  You can add these tasks to your favorite productivity tool (I’m testing out Home Routines for the iPad) and they can come up on a regular basis.  I have heard that if you do something for 21 days, you’re more likely to make it a lasting habit.  So, if you’re like me and you spend  a bit too much time hunched behind your computer, join ApartmentTherapy on Monday for the Home Cure.

Apartmenttherapy is just a great site to add to your daily routine anyway.  If you’re looking for a way to change your home environment in some way, they have the answers, ideas, DIY projects and plenty of design inspirations from people on budgets, updated frequently throughout the day.  They have several sibling sites too that cover everything from renesting, food, and parenting to planning your next high tech gadgets.  Another blog of visual relief for the home is Design*Sponge by Grace Bonney and her crew.  Highly recommended.

On the menu for a cool fall evening, Roast Pumpkin with Cheese Fondue.  I made this last year.  Dead simple to assemble, delicious.  Should be served in front of a toasty fire with salad and a crisp white wine.  Yummm.

ooOOoo, the chemists are getting restless

Last Friday, Derek Lowe posted the latest rumors on Amgen.  The pointy haired bosses are saying euphemistically loaded code words for liberating the wage slaves:

Amgen is out today speaking the sort of language that we’ve all come to fear. It appears that the local Ventura County Star picked up some rumblings from inside the Thousand Oaks headquarters, and when they asked the company about it, they got this:

“We are currently evaluating some changes within our Research & Development organization to improve focus and to reallocate resources to key pipeline assets and activities. . .”

Been there, done that.  The whole day at Amgen was wasted with scared shitless labrats floating from cubicle to cubicle running down the options.  Those who weren’t constructing elaborate scenarios were furiously updating their CVs, searching for their publications and slapping together presentation slides.  Lots of networking going on.  “Heeeey, how are you doing?  Haven’t talked to you for, what is it now?  Five years?  Oh, I’m doing fine.  Working at Amgen.  Yep, great site.  How are the kids?  Really?  High school already?  Doesn’t time fly?  Is it true Satanaco just made you director of flarnjarn chemistry?  How’s that going these days?…”

Thinking back on it, there is a certain pattern to these announcements.  They occur roughly a year after the email about the multimillion dollar contract the company just signed with a consulting firm (located more frequently in Massachusetts, hmmm…).  So, be on your guard, guys.  Don’t wait until the big announcement to bug out.  Do it as soon as you hear the consulting firm is studying your discovery process.

For the past 10 years, chemists, who tend to be introverted types, watched as their work environment disappeared lab by lab.  At first, they were able to jump around locally.  Then all hell broke loose in 2008 and the layoffs came like a blitzkrieg.  There is absolutely no relief, no place to go and no security.  No sooner have you unpacked your new clean labcoats in the new company before there’s a merger announcement or a restructuring and, once again, you have to figure out if you can afford the house *and* the small apartment you’ll be forced to live in during the week in Massachusetts while your employed spouse works in your former state of residence.

The chemists grumbled but took it.  But now that so many of them are out of work, some of us permanently as far as we can tell, the labrats are getting mad.  Here’s a promising comment:

“The reality is that we have all gotten to the good old days when you could stay with the same company with job security. Those days are gone! Do not blame your management! Face the reality. For the chemists, why you think you would be entitled to a good job if the need is not there for your services?”

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that lately in light of the last nine months in the world. Sure, chemists may be smart and resourceful and maybe can deal with getting laid off a lot, but most humans aren’t. Most humans do expect relative job security and certainty for the future. A lot think they are entitled to it. Don’t believe me? Look at Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Greece, Spain, and now New York. It all sounds fine to say that we need to adjust to the new market, but I’m guessing that in the future the financial industry will have to throw billions at people to keep them in boring, steady jobs with a degree of future certainty just so they don’t tear out a banker’s throat. Much as Saudi Arabia is doing now by flooding Egypt and Yemen with billions in the futile hope that the hunger and unrest doesn’t spread.

I’m sorry, but I don’t think humans are evolved enough for today’s market. Maybe in a few thousand years… but the instability and uncertain future has obviously risen beyond what the human species as a whole can support with the current gene mix. Too many people want a certain stability on a primitive level. This whole business with the Euro collapsing and the Arab world imploding/exploding will lead to a lot more problems for Pharma (and not only them) in the future.

Sad but true.  Human beings have not sufficiently evolved to give up their food and housing addictions.  If we were, getting laid off repeatedly would be much more pleasant than it is.   I must say that the image of bankers’ throats being torn out by a crowd of angry labrats gave me a momentary feeling of delight, sort of like a lion that has finally downed its prey and is ripping the esophagus out of the neck, like bloody banker steak tartare…  Where was I?  {{catching breath, straightening clothes, wiping chin}} And this comment from an Amgen Oldtimer tells the story of Amgen’s demise.  Substitute any well known biomedical research company for Amgen, it’s happened to all of them:

Yes Amgen was a great company. Under George Rathman it was an awesome culture. For about 15 years, early 80’s to mid-nineties, almost no one left. Attrition ran less than half industry standard. It was a vibrant, scientist driven culture of innovation. Team culture was strong, people supported one another, careers were nurtured, ethics were everyday stuff, not laminated speaking points. As a young scientist there, I awoke each day early and got off to work because my head was full of anticipation for the day.

The middle period was run by Gordon Binder. A decent man, but he set the seeds for future failure. He ran a tight ship financially, growing the company perfectly to beat estimates steadily, quarter over quarter, year after year. A lot of people got rich, but also complacent and no risks were taken with the revenue other than to support internal research. While that was a good thing, the senior team had lost some steam, and was also stubbornly resistant to the McKinsey minded management movement that was threatening all research organizations. While I think this was wise, lack of performance and suggesting no alternatives other than to do what we’ve always done led to the next disastrous phase.

Kevin takes over. In comes GE based performance systems [Jack Welch’s “rank and yank” that nurtured Enron as well], in comes BCG (Boston Consulting Group) lead restructuring of R&D processes to generate “seamless alignment”, in comes an attitude that R(esearch) only costs money. Team culture evaporates, those that can manage up well shift around from function to function, with success claimed for new initiatives before any measure of impending failure. Scientists who have clarity about the folly, and speak up, are shown the door. New “superstars” are hired that have no track record of success (but amazingly are all friends!), and that is still true now after a decade at Amgen. ESAs are over-promoted, Hematocrit pushed to high and the fall begins.

Management structures bonuses based on revenue, so Amgen buys Immunex and enbrel, which produces a lot of revenue, less margin, pays too much, but pads bank accounts. Stock falls, so management changes incentive at low price to be aligned with shareholders, taking more money out of the company. In the end, company sheds something like 40-50B in market cap, lays off employees while the CEO buys 2 corporate jets and takes home about $250MM. Amazing pay for shedding that much company value. Amazing lack of concern for employees and patients. Amazingly different company than George Rathman led.

Great company, once.

The anger isn’t limited to Wall Street but Wall Street had a significant role to play in the demise of research in this country.  And now, as one commenter noted, the flood gates are about to open to admit more foreign STEM workers because companies are whining that they don’t have enough well-trained workers in the US.  That might be motivated by Wall Street’s pressure for profits but the ultimate responsibility for reducing STEM professionals to low wage jobs with no security will fall on the president and Congress who don’t prevent the H-1B visas from flooding the system with cheap, expendable labor that can be sent back to Asia when the season’s over, like migrant workers rotating from lab to lab.

Obama should think about that. Chemistry used to be a good career.  The work requires a lot of education, technical skills and experience.  The salaries were decent if not spectacular compared to the corporate office purchasing administrators and sales reps.  Chemists paid their fair share of taxes and had nice houses in the suburbs where they sent their children to local schools and attended school board meetings.  They did demonstrations for kids at Science Fair night.  They coached soccer.  These are not the people you want to alienate in an election year.

Because these are the same people who may show up at a OWS site in a nearby park carrying signs like this:

One more thing:

Over at Craig Crawford’s Trail Mix (nice blog), there is a video of Matt Taibbi talking to Don Imus about Occupy Wall Street. I’ll see if I can embed the video. One thing that annoys me is Don Imus asking Matt if he thinks any of the occupiers even understand the banking issues. Condescend much, Don?? A lot of us have read Michael Lewis’ book The Big Short and can tell you exactly how securitization of mortgages work, what a tranche is and the difference between a CDO and a CDS. Yep, and we know the people at ratings agencies are unreliable at best, looking for jobs with the people they rate at worst. AND that the SEC did nothing about the concerns that were raised by some hedge fund managers. And that derivatives are not regulated to make them transparent. And that fund managers love their status and money and have very little interest or incentive to protect their clients’ pension funds. Is that enough, Don, or do you want more?

Jeez, he hasn’t aged well. He’s younger than my mom and looks about 10 years older. Ahhh, I see. Prostate cancer. That’s not good. Too bad I don’t do cancer drugs anymore…