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Blog Housekeeping

August Day Off

If my workplace and my commute are any indication, about half the biopharma world is on vacation. Let’s take this August Friday off and reconvene on Monday! Those not at work, carry on, and those at work, well, at least you can get to the equipment more easily. See everyone then. . .

10 comments on “August Day Off”

    1. Fountain says:


  1. David P says:

    Wondering why today of all days is the “day off”.

    Is there a lot of grouse hunting up in New England?

  2. John Wayne says:

    Most people are hunting for air conditioning; it is like a Turkish bath around here.

  3. It’s like a dog’s mouth today in Maryland, too.

  4. Mark Thorson says:

    Since there’s no fresh meat today, I’ll throw something out. What’s the stupidest waste of time you’ve ever had in your workplace? I was peripherally involved with a fiasco. We were trying to develop a polymer formulation that was resistant to swelling when exposed to solvents. We thought we were making steady progress, with the new formulations doing better than the earlier ones. We were working with a much larger company, and were giving them our formulations and experimental data. They couldn’t reproduce our work. Finally, we send out our main guy on that project to their lab to make the formulation.

    We were using xylene as our solvent, and we’d built our own apparatus to measure solvent swell. The other company built an identical apparatus. After a few days over there, I got a call from our guy in which he said the other company suspected our xylene had gone bad. He told me to pour some samples of our xylene into watch glasses, weigh them, then put them into the fume hood to let them evaporate. About 10 or 20% of the “xylene” refused to evaporate and instead congealed into something similar to glue. Oops. Our “progress” was actually the oxidation and polymerization of our solvent. When I obtained some fresh xylene, it evaporated away completely, as did our “data”.

    1. Oops says:

      Academic lab, synthesis/med chem (but mostly synthesis). This story is mostly in the past, but I’ll omit details just in case.

      One of our active projects was trying to make analogues of a commercial antiviral compound that could hit the human homolog of the enzyme. So you test this FDA-approved drug as a negative control and lo and behold, the commercial compound itself has anticancer properties! It inhibits cell migration! It affects cell signaling! Our PI starts presenting posters on the amazing results we got from “Compound X” and pours time and resources into firming up the data for the inevitable Nature paper.

      And then it all stopped working. The cell migration data, the signaling, all of it. Same compound from the same bottle is indistinguishable from vehicle. Repeat everything the same way… no dice. We eventually found out that the otherwise-excellent undergrad who was doing all the cell assays had trouble getting one particular stock solution to dissolve in a timely fashion, and had heated the (closed, but evidently not sealed) eppendorf tube in a sketchy shared water bath. By the time we figured this out, we had long since thrown out that one eppendorf tube and the water bath water had been changed a few times.

      I sometimes wonder if it was a known compound that someone had just spilled, or if the algae on our lab equipment are an untapped source of natural products.

    2. Mark Thorson says:

      To continue the story a little bit, I had not been paying too much attention to the solvent swell tests because I had other more pressing duties. I admit that was a mistake, because I was one of the few people who had enough background in chemistry that I might have stopped this farce much earlier. I didn’t have much confidence in the homebrew solvent swell test apparatus, so I certainly did not have much interest in looking critically at the choice of solvent. Not until I did the evaporation tests. Once I looked at the spec sheet for the solvent, I could see we had a problem. Xylene comes in three isomers, ortho, meta, and para. This crap was a mixture of all three, plus (as I recall) 16% of a related compound, ethyl benzene. As I told the project lead, this is a grade of xylene you normally order in railroad tanker cars to make paint or carburator cleaner or something like that. (We ordered it from Fischer, so we had assumed it was a pure substance.) After becoming educated about xylene, we only used technical grade xylene of one isomer (ortho, I think).

    1. eugene says:

      I saw that on a Retraction Watch weekend read. It was already part of a court settlement, so I’m guessing that GSK gets out of this without any further financial pain. In terms of the scientist who consented to ghost writing and putting her name on dodgy, willfully misinterpreted data, it seemed rather serious since actual people died because of it, but from a quick internet search about the news, it looks like the psychiatry community is resigned that Karen Wagner is not going to lose her job, and the ghost writer and US marketing company manager is not going to jail, despite the pretty obvious scientific misconduct.

      Maybe in ten years things will be different, but it seems like these sorts of marketing practices were pretty common at the time the article was ghost written (early 00s). Probably it would get at least a comment on PubPeer these days, I would hope.

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