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Science Careers Blog

Pharmaceutical

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.

The pharmaceutical industry may have arrived at its own version of 'publish or perish': 'Develop or disappear'. In 2008, as reported in Chemistry World, Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) instituted a policy requiring its research teams to pitch and defend their research programs to executives and outside analysts, a la the U.S. television show Shark Tank. Three years later, as reported on 21 August in The Sunday Times (and freely accessible on the Ottawa Citizenthose teams are up for a progress review -- and not everyone will make the cut.

According to The Sundays Times, GSK's research and development program is starkly different from the traditional model, which follows a more top-down approach with creativity arising from the top and responsibility for production filtering down the chain of command. The sagging economy has forced pharma companies like GSK to reduce their R&D investment, and combined with federal regulations requiring more and more stringent clinical trials, the traditional model just isn't pushing out top-tier creative ideas right now, say industry watchers mentioned in the Times article.

According to the Times, the new policy puts more responsibility and creative control directly into the hands of the scientists themselves. They decide which diseases they want to target, come up with a research and production plan, and then try to sell their higher-ups on the idea.

GSK hopes that process will spur the pharma industry's lately sluggish drug development. The pressure is on for pharma companies to create the next blockbuster drug, as patents for many of the big names such as Lipitor, Flomax, and Aricept expired last year, opening GSK and other drug companies up to competition from makers of cheaper generics.

You may read the full Sunday Times article here.