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When I told you Research had left NJ, I wasn’t making it up


Hoffman-LaRoche Nutley, NJ- recently shuttered.

NPR ran a recent piece on the problem of ghost towns being left in the wake of the great pharma mergers and layoffs of the last 10 years.

The facility I worked at in Bridgewater, NJ closed in 2011.  I’m not sure they were able to find renters but the MBAs seemed to have a habit of overestimating what new tenants for labs space would be willing (or able) to pay.  The lab buildings I worked in were beautiful with lots of natural light but they were never full. The facility I worked at previously in Monmouth Junction, NJ was also abandoned for awhile but I had heard that there were some plans to lease it.  Or bulldoze it.  I can’t remember which.  I stand corrected.  Google maps says the site is “closed”.  That building was smaller and more contained.  It would have been perfect for a small biotech company on the rise.  It had a state of the art animal breeding facility and room for about 400 people. More than that makes it feel too cozy.

But as I wrote back in 2011, it is difficult to get funding for a startup.  The vulture capitalists like to see most of the work done before they commit their money.  Then there is the problem of finding money for equipment (this is cheaper due to the big pharmas auctioning off all their stuff), subscriptions to journals, buying expertise for robotic HTS assays, structural

The place where I spent the best years of my life

biology, specialized analytical chemistry and ADME analysis, and every other thing that a small biotech doesn’t have in its own arsenal.  A regular Joe researcher funding his own research will probably lose his house before the year is out.  So, he and his colleagues don’t have a whole lot of money to spend on lab space, which despite its abundance, is going to be expensive.

In the meantime, Big Pharma is counting on graduate students living on subsistence wages to pick up the slack on what are now reduced government grants.  It was hard enough to be a graduate student in Chemistry before the sequester.  Now, the money is much harder to come by.  For a person who may not get a decent paying job until he or she is almost 30, the prospects are bleak.

You can see Paul Krugman from here!

You can see Paul Krugman from here!

Funny how Paul Krugman doesn’t talk about this.  He’s living in the heart of what was Big Pharma territory and the desolation is hard to ignore.

Some of the lame excuses that Big Pharma gives for pulling out of NJ is that it’s too far from the City and the kids nowadays want to be right in the middle of some hot urban action, complete with expensive tiny apartments that they will have to share with roommates until they retire.  Also, Big Pharma has relocated to the coasts to be close to Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Scripps.  That’s so they can share ideas in the areas where genomics and molecular biology are king.  But this is utter bullshit.  For one thing, if you are working in Cambridge, MA or San Francisco, you are precluded from talking about your work with anyone.  There’s no sharing going on in the spirit of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century.  It’s all proprietary and very hush, hush.  Your work won’t be published until the lawyers have taken out anything that’s remotely patentable.  It could be years before you can share your big breakthrough.

Plus, there is this new fangled device called the internet.  If I wanted to, I could use an online tool to order up a synthetic gene from California from the comfort of my backyard wisteria covered swing in Pittsburgh.  I can access thousands of journal articles, provided I had $33/electronic copy and could get over my impulse to strangle the ACS and Elsevier every time I had to do it.  I could attend meetings and conferences.  My work does not depend on my location.

And here’s one more reason why pulling out of NJ to go to Boston doesn’t make sense.  It’s fricking expensive.  If the MBAs were trying to save money, which is what they always claim is the reason for shuttering labs, why the hell would they relocate to some of the most expensive real estate in America??  Why not go back to the midwest where the mothballed labs are still cheap?  That’s where most of research was before the big mega mergers in the 90s brought everyone to the Northeast.  Cinncinnati, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor all had thriving research communities before the business people decided to manage things.  Or even Pittsburgh.  This place is hopping lately, it’s urban, housing is cheap and there’s plenty of mass transit.

And this is where I think we come to the crux of the matter.  The relocation is about what the business people want.  They don’t want to be stuck in dowdy, suburban NJ with the high property taxes and they can’t think past the rust belt image of the midwest.  It’s not glamorous enough for the people who consider themselves the culture of smartness.  Smartness demands that it hang around other smart people.  Maybe if the business types rub shoulders with the supersmart MIT researchers, they won’t feel like they sold out their biology degrees to become finance wizards?  Projection of sorts?  I can only guess.

It’s also easier to jettison your workforce if you claim you HAVE to move to stay competitive.  Yep, just cut those hundreds of thousands of experienced STEM workers loose when they are in middle age and have family responsibilities.  Leave them stranded in NJ while their property values sink and they are stuck peddling themselves as consultants from one poverty stricken startup after another.

This is no way to treat the people who brought you Lipitor, Effexor and Allegra.  And, yet, this is the way it’s going.  Big Pharma sees its future as chronic illness specialists.  They will charge hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a drug that some people can’t live without and will expect insurance companies to pay for them.  Think of it as sponge from some Nathan Brazil Well World novel. I know that a few of my friends are still making a living in companies that are focusing on orphan diseases and oncology but there’s something immoral about hooking up people to drugs you know they can’t live without with the goal of milking every dollar from them.  I realize that research is expensive but we didn’t use to be so mercenary about it.  Instead of solving the problem of out of control research costs, the new wizards of pharma finance have glommed onto cheap, dirty and unsustainable new ways to make money. Reduce your workforce to desperation, focus on the poor unfortunate chronically ill and ignore everyone else. This is the new business model.

And it is broken.

The Desolations of Smaugs

Gotta make this quick so I can bop down to the farmers’ market in East Liberty.

Here are two posts that belong together.  The first is about the crazy amount of money that the wealthy are just sitting on and not investing.  In The World’s Richest People are Sitting on Gigantic Piles of Cash that aren’t Earning them Anything, we get confirmation of what we have suspected for some time, that is, rich people are hoarding money.  But the reason they are hoarding makes no damn sense.  Apparently, the wealthy are waiting for a market correction before they dive back in to investing and since that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, they’re going to sit on the cash.  Now, I can understand that feeling if you’re a poor schlub like me, hoarding the miserable little bit of IRA you have left after several years of employment insecurity.  It makes less sense if you’re a plutocrat with more money than god.

Hmmm, maybe we should be wondering why the wealthy think there is going to be a pullback.

The second is about the consequences of hoarding all that money.  When the shareholders demand more money and less investment, companies tend to shutter their facilities.  Recently, Hoffman-LaRoche in Nutley, NJ closed it’s doors and is preparing to dismantle the site.  When I was a young chemist a long, long time ago, I visited the Nutley campus.  Like many research facilities, it was more like a small town with a gatehouse and a shuttle that delivered the visitor to her destination.  Now that Roche has decided to stop doing research in the US because shareholder value (and Americans are notoriously easy to lay off since they have virtually no labor protections whatsoever), the Nutley facility is about to undergo a radical transformation.  If it is anything like my facility where the rent the company was demanding from small startups was prohibitively high, they probably won’t get many takers.

In other words, if some of the scientists they laid off decided to get together and try to operate one of the buildings as a small incubator, they wouldn’t be able to afford it.  And these days, vulture capitalists want a lot of the research done up front so they don’t actually have to risk any money at all.  That makes research on small scale even more difficult to finance.  Rent, reagents and researchers are expensive.  So, if Roche can’t get any takers to rent its empty labs, it may go the route of some of the other companies in similar circumstances and demolish perfectly serviceable, and in some cases, brand new research buildings, rather than keep them on the books.


One final thing, Hillary Clinton gave an interview to Terry Gross, former Obama fangirl extraordinaire, the other day.  It got a little testy about half way through when Gross started pushing her on same-sex marriage.  Hillary talks primarily about her four years as SOS and seems to think that Edward Snowden had other options to spill the beans.  I’d have to differ with her there though.  Snowden had superuser privileges.  Anything he revealed while he was still in the US would trace right back to him very quickly.  You don’t give su privileges to many people, or at least I don’t think the NSA and its contractors would.  I could be wrong about that.  It seems a little sloppy to allow one person to download massive amounts of information and have no one notice.

Given the reaction of the Obama administration to leakers, I think Snowden did the only thing he could have done and I’m not unhappy that he did it.  I meet people everyday who are pretty non-political who are keenly aware of what Snowden revealed and they are not happy to know that the government has so much information on them.  Until Snowden, the conversation about spying on Americans was tepid at best.  Hillary should know by now that timing is everything.  Snowden forced door open and let the sunshine in a lot more quickly than some politicians might have found convenient but he sure did get their attention, didn’t he?  No putting the genie back in the bottle now or slowing that genie down now.

Ok, enough with the foreign policy stuff.  What about domestic issues?  I want to hear about that now.  No time like the present.  Let’s not put it off any longer.


Wednesday: Running, junk and diapers

 Update:  Holy Hemiola!  Susie says that the heat has buckled part of the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia.  That’s not good.  The last time I had to go to Philly, the traffic was one of the most miserable experiences of my annus horribilis.  Looks like it’s going to be closed during rush hour.  Good thing it wasn’t an I35 bridge style collapse. Still, *I* wouldn’t drive over this section of highway.  Nosiree.  If only we had a stimulus package that could have fixed our aging infrastructure…

Run for the Employable

I got a little behind on my Couch to 5K running plan during the rainy May we had in NJ.  For those of you with iPhones, there’s an app for that. The one I use is called Get Running. It’s easy to use and you can play your own music in the background over the cheery cues of your British running coach. Happily, I am back on track and working on week three, for those of you who want to follow along or join in.  In another week or two, I propose that interested parties get together to run in the cool hours of the morning.  If any employable people want to run with me, let me know in the comments below and I’ll let you know where you can meet me.  I’m still taking suggestions for T-Shirts.  My present concept is black letters on white that says “em-ploy-able” in three lines across the front and your job title across the back.

My run list is shown below.  Today, I added Paul Young’s “Love of the Common People”, a little ditty popular during the Reagan Recession, and for our union friends out there, Billy Bragg sings “There is Power in a Union”.  These two songs are great for the brisk walking/warm up stage.
1.) Amazing Grace- Laura Love (warm up)
2.) Paul Young – Love of the Common Peopple
3.) There is Power in a Union
4.) The Heartbreak Rides- AC Newman
5.) Firework – Katy Perry (one of the best running songs.  What a surprise)
6.) Fireflies – Owl City
7.) Real Wild Child- Iggy Popp
8.) Jessica- Allman Brothers
9.) Raise Your Glass- The Warblers (Glee)
10.) Welcome to the Future – Brad Paisley
11.) Iko Iko – The Belle Stars
12.) My Big 10 Inch Record – Aerosmith
13.) Love Today- Mika
14.) All These Things That I’ve Done- The Killers
15.)Let the River Run- Carly Simon
16.) River of Dreams- Billy Joel
17.) Run – George Strait (cool down)
18.) Volcano- Jimmy Buffet (post run stretch)

Basic guidelines:

See your doctor before starting any exercise program.  Don’t take on more than you are physically able.  Run if you can, if you can’t run, walk, if you can’t walk, roll.  Other activities, like Zumba for the Employable, are totally cool by me.  Just do it together, where’s it’s visible.  Wear whatever shoes you like.  I wear Nikes because they are the only running shoes that don’t give me intense shin pain for two weeks.  Yes, I have tried others.  If Nikes bother YOU, don’t wear them.  Keep your eyes on your own shoes.  Running shoe purity is not welcome here.  Dress comfortably.  Nothing too tight or too loose.  Batten the boobies.  Drink water and make sure to stretch before and after.  Lunges, hamstring curls, calf stretches all highly recommended.  If you forget, your body will remind you a few days later.  So, it’s best to take a few minutes and release the tension in your muscles.  It will feel good.

On the pharma front:

The Supreme Court has ruled against Stanford University in favor of Roche in a disputed patent case.  I haven’t read the whole decision but Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has been following this for some time now.  This is what happens when you don’t consult a lawyer before signing over your patent rights. It’s a little intimidating to be in a room with suits who slide papers over to you and tell you they can’t do business until you sign. I’m particularly concerned these days because Big Pharma seems determined to turn its employees into independent contractors.  After we budding entrepreneurs figure out how to cure Crohn’s disease or cancer on our own, Pharma and venture capitalists will want in on the deals.  And that’s where the innovator had better be very careful when signing away their rights to the patents.  It could mean years of work for very little return.

In fact, I’m more than a little concerned that there are no professional organizations looking out for independent R&D professionals, now forced to make their fortunes on their own.  The ACS does not seem to be evolving, sadly.  Maybe it’s time to reintroduce the concept of the guild for R&D professionals.  We need protection for our intellectual property as well as a fair return on our investment of time and money.  And for those of us with the requisite 10,000 hours that indicate mastery of our subject matter, it’s time we considered ourselves to be professionals like doctors, writers and plumbers.  Does anyone know anything about Thomas Malone and the new guild concept for e-lancers? My gut feeling is that we dispossessed better move on this quickly.

Moving on…

The black hole that is the administration’s plan for the unemployed seems to centered around Tim Geithner.  His name keeps popping up over and over again.  And not necessarily in a good way. The latest is from Matt Yglesias, he who was able to snag a gig at a prestigious online magazine at the tender age of twenty something.  Still can’t figure out why more lefty women aren’t getting tapped for money paying writing opportunities.  You’d think the world had never heard of George Sands or Currer Bell or George Elliot.  We could be unsexed.  But I digress.  I’m sure there’s a reason why that Y chromosome carries so much gravitas.  Let me know when someone figures it out.


Matt Says that Christina Romer and Larry Summers, who were in favor of tackling unemployment, were overridden by Tim Geithner and Peter Orzag who want to bring down the deficit.  Romer was supposedly the expert who should have had the most pull in this situation but Obama sided with Orzag and Geithner.  Summers probably undercut Christina Romer’s position years ago with his stupid remarks about women being incapable of great mathematical and scientific thought.  Thank you, Larry.

It’s very interesting how the finger pointing has increased  lately.  Lots of leaks from the Obama economics team members both credited and un.

Here’s the money quote from Matt Yglesias:

 In general, the Obama administration stands out for having at times a weak grasp of the non-legislative functions of the presidency and doesn’t seem to spend much time worrying about Fed appointments or stimulative things executive agencies can do.

No, $#@*, Sherlock.  That was the number one reason why 18,000,000 of us voted for Clinton.  Obama hadn’t been in the Senate long enough to know where all of the bathrooms were much less run the executive branch.  With Clinton, not only would you have gotten someone who was more of an FDR style Democrat and had been around long enough to see the mechanisms of government working, you would have gotten a mentor thrown in for free!  But we’ve been over this again and again.  The Obama fanbase was simply wrong and ignored all evidence that the other candidate was the one they should have been supporting.

There’s a good reason why we shouldn’t give twerpy, sychophantic twenty something brats their own by-line in journals like The Atlantic.  Their overconfidence is a result of successful asskissing, not any particular genius or political insight. But I don’t want to turn this into a diatribe against Matt.  His record should speak for itself.  He was one of the guys who shoved Obama down our throats until we gagged.  Thanks a lot, Matt.  Want to make my COBRA payment for me and my kid in a couple of months when the money runs out?


But wait!  There’s more.  Atrios (not a putz) at Eschaton has another link to a Geithner story.  It turns out that Geithner’s approach to the economy is going to be shaping the president’s campaign for next year.  His approach sounds an awful lot like “protect the holders of those toxic assets at all costs!”.  Isn’t that special??  I can’t wait for 2012.  The last time I took so much time off from work was when my daughter was born 15 years ago.  But it looks like we jobless can look forward to an indefinite period of underemployment and economic uncertainty for years to come, whether a Republican or Obama win in 2012.

If I were to write Obama’s performance review, I would give him a 2 and give him 6 months to turn it around or send him packing.

Many of us got “outstanding” and “exceptional” reviews in the year of our layoff and we still got shown the door.  There’s no excuse for retaining the poor performers in a time of layoffs when there are plenty of people who could perform the job better.

And here’s a little blast from the past for Anthony Weiner.  David Vitter gave a press conference the day he admitted to visiting a DC prostitute.  I can’t recall if he mentioned which brand of disposable diaper he wore but details like that are not important.

Showing your junk to the world is so high school, Anthony.  Nowadays, adolescents attend mandatory assemblies on the perils of sexting.  Just last season on Degrassi, Alli Bandhari sent a sext of her nekkid boobs to her boyfriend and that sucker was all over school before the end of the day.  (Brook records it on the DVR, why do you ask?)  Maybe Nancy Pelosi can add an assembly to her calendar.  But don’t resign over it unless Vitter goes first.  After all, sexting is just immature.  Prostitution is illegal.