Skip to Content

Elisabeth Pain

Medicinal Chemists Need to be Not Ordinary

Are you, or do you intend to become, a medicinal chemist? Derek Lowe, author of the pharma industry blog In the Pipeline, discusses in ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters the forces that have been challenging the place of the profession in the pharma industry over the last 25 years. 
Lowe’s conclusion:

The days when you could make a reliable living doing methyl-ethyl-butyl-futile work in the United States or Western Europe are gone …. There’s still a lot of that work that needs to be done, but it is getting done somewhere else, and as long as “somewhere else” operates more cheaply and reasonably on time, that situation will not change.

Lowe advises medicinal chemists to strive to be all but ordinary if they want to survive in today’s tough job market.

Medicinal chemists have to offer their employers something that cannot be had more cheaply in Shanghai or Bangalore. New techniques, proficiency with new equipment, ideas that have not become commodified yet: Those seem to be the only form of insurance, and even then, they are not always enough.

With the pharmaceuticals industry increasingly shifting away from medicinal chemistry and toward biotechnology to create new drugs, Lowe also sees room for medicinal chemists to develop new skills at the interface between the two disciplines:

There are plenty of interfaces between small-molecule chemistry and biologics: drug-protein conjugates, aptamers, chemically stabilized proteins and oligonucleotides, carbohydrates, modified enzymes, and more. These things are going to need the synthetic organic expertise that we can bring.

Tough times are ahead, but medicinal chemists should take heart in their adaptability, Lowe adds.

Medicinal chemists do not specialize as much as biologists do …. We should be using this to our advantage, expanding the limits of our science, helping to drive these areas of study, and making them our own. No one else is better placed to do it.

You can read the full article here.

We interviewed Lowe, among other experts, in our recent Science Careers articles assessing the state of the pharma industry and giving job search advice.