The problem with big Pharma

The recent economic crises hit hard across the board taking no prisoners. Funding for academic research has dropped significantly and in industry there have been massive layoffs.

“According to recruitment specialists Challenger, Gray & Christmas (Chicago, IL, USA), the number of pharmaceutical industry jobs eliminated in the first ten months of 2010 was 45,263 (in 2009, it was 58,696 jobs). “

So what does this mean for fresh faced young PhDs and postdocs ready to begin their careers? Honestly, I don’t know…I’m not going to pretend to know how to fix the problem but I think I know what some of the problems are.

This article in Nature Biotechnology does a pretty good job of outlining the issues and presenting proposed solutions.

OK..that’s the good stuff backed by lots of background and research…here’s my opinion backed by 3 wonderful years working as a scientist in a pharmaceutical company. There are 3 main issues that I feel need to be addressed:

1. Too many chiefs not enough Indians:

There are too many layers of management and not enough people doing the work. Brilliant scientists are rewarded by being promoted as it should be, but each promotion takes them further away from the bench. While scientists left at the bench are good at what they do and have years of experience under their belt, they often lack the motivation to step outside their comfort zone.

Definitely not the best breeding ground for ground breaking science = not enough compounds in the pipeline = not enough new drugs on the market = not profit for pharma = layoffs and hiring freeze

2. Not enough educated risk taking:

“It’s a business”…the most overused phrase regarding drug companies. Often times, promising projects get killed way too early because it would take a more time and money to get the project off the ground. Rather than investing in a risky but promising project, a safer target is chosen which may or may not end up making it all the way to the market.

3. Failure to promote career development:

This kind of goes hand in hand with the number one problem. Getting a good, secure job is like a marriage. People get into a comfortable routine…come in at 9am…leave at 5pm…lunch at 11:30am, 2- hour long meeting and whatever work you can get done in between the meetings and all the compliance training modules/ faux team building exercises… wonder no new discoveries are being made.

I digress…

If career development is made a priority, employees can be pushed (gently at first..and the progressively less gently) to expand their horizons and explore other areas that they might find interesting…even if it means stepping away from the bench and exploring other avenues. This way, employees that want to be at the bench and develop their career in that direction and the employees that want to grow in another direction can do so with renewed zest thereby increasing company productivity. It’s a win-win situation for both employee and company.

Happy wife..happy life!

I guess my bottom line is this…to make it in industry, we have to stay flexible and be willing to expand our knowledge base to include learning new skills and techniques while retaining the ability to get down and dirty at the bench when the need arises..corner office, company car and personal assistant be damned!

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