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Boehringer Ingleheim Shuts Down Ridgefield Med-Chem

I’ve heard from several sources that Boehinger Ingleheim has decided to shut down all medicinal chemistry in their Ridgefield, CT site. At least 120 jobs have been eliminated – more details as they become available. Very bad news, and another example of the “Happy Holidays!” effect in pharma layoffs. . .

Update: according to this story, med-chem functions will continue back in Biberach and in Vienna. The company’s site in Milan is closing as well.

Update 2: here’s a statement from BI’s own management – this is the whole text:

“Following a careful examination of our human pharmaceuticals business, we made the difficult decision to reduce approximately 244 additional headcount nationwide since July 1. This includes approximately 120 in small molecule Discovery Research and 60 in other functions located in Connecticut. We have also reduced the size of our sales force by an additional approximately 64 headcount nationwide. 

The actions we are taking now will help us reinvent the way we serve the needs of our patients, and enable us to continue to identify new medical breakthroughs.

In order to continue to deliver on our research strategy, we must create a leaner global Discovery Research organization by consolidating small molecule discovery to two sites in Biberach, Germany and Vienna, Austria. This decision will result in the closure of the small molecule discovery functions in Ridgefield, CT and Milan, Italy.

The creation of a leaner global Discovery Research organization will allow for increased investments in Oncology, with a focus on cancer immunology. The ability to modulate the body’s own immune system has opened new exciting ways to treat cancer. A new group will be formed, and led out of Ridgefield beginning in 2017 that will focus on cancer immunology discovery research. This new group will result in approximately 35 new positions in Connecticut.

We are sympathetic to the impact this decision will have on Boehringer Ingelheim employees and their families.  We are committed to treating all employees with dignity, respect and sensitivity. We will support affected employees in a number of ways, including severance, outplacement services, and identifying other employment opportunities within the Boehringer Ingelheim network, as appropriate.”

40 comments on “Boehringer Ingleheim Shuts Down Ridgefield Med-Chem”

  1. metals wrangler says:

    Yep, it’s true.

  2. biotechtoreador says:

    “approximately 64 headcount nationwide”

    really? The IR drone who wrote this approximated at 64?

    1. Hap says:

      A computer maybe, or someone who only knows binary?

  3. Hap says:

    It’s been said before, but it’s probably better to know now, before you’ve gotten into spending Christmas money, rather than knowing afterwards and having spent money you wouldn’t have spent if you thought you were being laid off. Puts a real damper on the holidays, though. I don’t know why it can’t be pushed back earlier, though (early- to mid-November) or if that would actually help.

    I wonder if the need to lay people off at the holidays (presumably for end-of-year accounting) affects the well-known unhappiness of many people during the holidays.

    1. Mike says:

      If it’s like the layoffs I was involved with, employees knew this was coming months ago.

      1. Hap says:

        The only layoffs I’ve seen close up, no one seemed to know about them until they happened. Rumors probably don’t help much with financial or career planning, and if people knew they were being laid off, all of those emotional distancingXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXsecurity measures wouldn’t be of any use.

  4. Lyle Langley says:

    Wonder if those 60 in other functions in CT includes Process. Know many chemists at B-I in both Med Chem and Process. Wish everyone the best.

  5. Mookie says:

    Folks, it’s time to face the obvious. Pharma as we used to think of it is never coming back. In fact, it is probably a dying industry. Every time you hear a PR flack touting “leanness,” think of a terminal patient feigning approval about his/her emaciation.

    1. Hap says:

      Except other businesses died here because they didn’t work anymore – someone could do what they did cheaper and better. No one seems to be able to do drug research better – rather making drugs requires money that no one wants to spend (but they still want the drugs and their revenue streams).

      Doing anything that requires an investment in time and money with an uncertain outcome seems to be verboten – people (businesses) want money now and forget everything else. Of course, that’s not how we got the money and the things it bought us in the first place (it’s a pretty good way to lose them, though), but as long as you won’t be around for the bill, no problems.

      If we’re dying, it seems like it’s not because we as a society can’t do useful things, but because we won’t. Eventually “I got mine” will be our tombstone.

      1. Mookie says:

        Yes, I agree completely. It’s not that pharma is no longer a viable business model, it’s that priorities focused on instant gratification preclude the long-term thinking/investment that are necessary to do it. We had a good run, but our ability to do great things as a society is now impeded by elites that are ignorant and debauched.

      2. To see an interesting set of comments around this theme, I urge people to check out @ZacharyBrennan on twitter today. He’s reporting from a session with several Biopharma CEOs talking specifically about innovation, pricing, and what drug companies are/should be trying to do.

        Let’s see if this works to embed a few examples:

        $PFE's Read: We have to get the FDA more efficient. $REGN's Len shaking his head no.— Zach Brennan (@ZacharyBrennan) December 1, 2016

        $REGN's CEO: We're covering up a lack of innovation. People don't raise prices when you have a strong pipeline— Zach Brennan (@ZacharyBrennan) December 1, 2016

        If it doesn’t, well, twitter is a click away. Neat reporting suggesting Regeneron’s Leonard Schleifer is not happy with Pfizer’s Ian Read.

      3. Kemist says:

        Most existing drugs (most of those being generic), work for most people, most of the time.

        It just doesn’t make a lot of financial sense anymore.

        Not from the seller or buyer point of view.

        There really isn’t very much to do “better”.

        Business types are fed up with how dysfunctional and inept scientists are too.

        Talk, talk, spend, spend, talk, talk, spend…….. no results.

        1. Hap says:

          You know, complaining how much less food there is and how the crop yields suck when you ate the seed corn is…somewhat unhelpful.

        2. HTSguy says:

          Really? Where are the cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, most forms of cancer (I don’t mean 3 extra months of life). Your implication that there isn’t any medical need for new medications is way off base.

          1. loupgarous says:

            To answer your question, the three single most dramatic treatments for my cancer haven’t been immunological. One involved ligation of a potent short-lived radionuclide to a peptide preferentially taken up by my tumors. The second was straightforward surgery to remove a relatively large and accessible tumor. The third was delivery of two well-recognized cytotoxins by transluminal catheter directly to tumors inoperable due to their location.

            Business opportunity lies in serving unmet needs, but the bean counters all seem to be deciding “me, too” drugs in a race between companies to get the silver bullet that passes Phase III studies and gets NDA first. It’s a little reminiscent of World War I trench warfare, seeing the Big Pharma firms all whaling away at the same corner of, say, drugs using immunological response to kill cancer, only one of which will get good market share (unless a late entry into the market can capture share by being dramatically more effective or less toxic).

            In the treatment of my cancer. I’m seeing less sophisticated but more effective treatments work wonders (I think they’re pretty wonderful). And two of those treatments happened to involve not so much new molecules but new ways of delivering them to do the most damage to the tumors and less damage to surrounding tissue.

            If there’s going to be a change in the unpleasant side of Big Pharma (I got horrible news one December, myself, just like those poor guys in Connecticut), it might come from venture capitalists putting their money in Big Pharma ventures that aren’t “me, too” treatments for diseases, but comparatively simple, novel and powerful ways of using existing molecules or radioisotopes.

      4. tangent says:

        I’m trying to think of an earlier example: an industry that went away, not because its product stopped being desirable, not because it had a cheaper substitute, but it just got too expensive to produce for what it was.

        How about household service? Not of the drudge level that was largely replaced by washing machines, but the butler level — we still don’t have robot butlers. We just do without. Not that a lot of people ever did with, I mean, but now it’s 100x fewer.

        1. Andrew Rusinko says:

          The steel industry comes to mind. Once the US dominated the markets but other countries built factories that produced quality steel cheaper and more efficiently.

  6. Dr CNS says:

    I am so sorry for our colleagues affected . I was there in the recent past – you will get through!

    PEOTUS DJT… phone is ringing? Are air conditioners more strategically important than our health?

  7. bhip says:

    All current discovery (i.e. Chem + Biology) in Ridgefield getting tossed?

    1. hypnos says:

      Biology will stay and grow a bit (35 new positions). Chemistry will be done in Europe (more work for the same number of people).

  8. Anonalso says:

    How long until process is dissolved at B-I? I know they just built a brand new pilot plant, but maybe the heads are bringing everything back to the EU for economic/political/etc reasons. Maybe this is the first step in a complete release of BI research in the US.

  9. Sad Face says:

    I worked in R&D for over 20 years at BI before being laid off a few years ago. I always enjoyed working in a research environment when all the expertise necessary to bring a drug through the entire process (idea to launch) was present on site or at least somewhere within the organization. I made close colleagues in every field, learned a lot from them, could cross the hall or switch building to see people face to face. We all felt part of something great and I always thought this was the best model to discover drugs. No need for CROs I thought, we can do it ourselves… Today’s announcement hits me because I know so many people in Ridgefield but also because I have no other choice than to admit that this integrated R&D model is dead in the western world. Perhaps it will be reborn somewhere in China or India because History keeps repeating itself. Money talks and will always do. No point blaming managers in their ivory towers. The world is changing. All I can say is that I was part of the lucky bunch who enjoyed the good old days of pharma. And my five cents… the unfulfilled promises of HTS and the billions that big pharma invested in it are in my opinion part of the industry’s downfall. That’s when we stopped thinking, let ourselves buried and distracted in gigantic piles of data, and counted on serendipity to do our work. OK! i stop here.

    1. Simon says:

      I do not think China or India will repeat this unless their Pharma Industry is stronger than westen world. Their current strategy will be good service and smart follower.

  10. marklar says:

    At least all the employees are being treated with dignity and respect, much like I was at Pfizer.

    1. Nick K says:

      Do I sense a little sarcasm in your comment?

      1. Pfired says:

        Probably not a little?

  11. theQCDept says:

    @Derek
    Typo in Headline and first line of text:
    Ingelheim.

  12. tiny tim says:

    My sympathies to the BI scientists. Having gone through this (also early one December) it really does put a damper on the holidays. Good luck with the transitions ahead – may you land well.

    I was always under the impression that since BI was privately held that it would be better able to play the long game of R&D, i.e. relatively immune to the market pressures of a publicly traded company. Successful drug discovery R&D output takes years, whereas the market is all about immediate gratification. Any thoughts to share about how BI’s financial structure has enabled BI R&D to be more sustainable (or not)? Would things be worse if it were publicly traded?

  13. steve says:

    The major downfall of pharma is the aggregation of companies into larger and larger behemoths that are only satisfied by the creation of multi-billion dollar blockbuster drugs. That resulted in decisions being made by marketing guys who use models to try and predict market size rather than science to determine need. The marketing models have been proven false and non-predictive many, many times (for goodness sake, according to the McKinsey study by Cha et al. in Nature Discovery 2013, they can’t even project sales 6 years AFTER launch) but pharma still uses them. The need to feed the beast has dramatically altered the landscape and the end result is that the old days of meeting clinical need is gone. I have to say the Steve Nissen bears some of the blame after the fiasco he set into motion with the thiazolidinediones, destroying some perfectly good drugs because of alleged cardiac issues and now many companies have left diabetes and CV altogether because of the huge trials the increased FDA scrutiny now requires. Bottom line is that the current system of huge pharma companies needing commensurately huge profits coupled with overly burdensome FDA requirements is not a prescription for a healthy drug development environment.

  14. Davo says:

    No problem! One phone call from the US president elect, and BI management will no doubt change their minds about these actions!!

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Only if they’ve threatened to move to Mexico. Germany, I’m not sure. . .

      1. steve says:

        No, Davo is right. After all, why shouldn’t every single major employer in the US threaten to leave and get all the goodies from Trump that Carrier did?

        1. cold air yes, medicines not says:

          … and he hasn’t even started his tenure yet….
          Oh boy… any pill I can take to go and sleep for 4 years?

        2. loupgarous says:

          A $7 million state tax break over 10 years isn’t even remarkable these days – it sure wasn’t anything Trump had the legal power to do at this early date, nothing Federal. All Trump and Pence did was the sort of tax holiday stuff that states and even counties have been doing for decades. In the little south Louisiana parish I grew up in, every one of our dozen-odd petrochemical plants were brought in by use of tax holidays. And since the Carrier plant was in Indianapolis, Mike Pence had a lot more to do with it than the Donald.

  15. Sad Face says:

    Tiny Tim: Although private, the BI share holders nevertheless want a profit on their investments which must be within a few percent of a target number. They may endure a few years of poor returns but eventually the machine must give in. Otherwise they may want to invest their money somewhere else.

    BI has existed for 130 years and survived several crisis. There is something to be said about that. If anything, BI has been the last major company to react to the big pharma hardship, resisting major layoffs and site closures while the competitors already indulged in it. This may be one of the benefit of being private (although being laid off last makes it more difficult to find another job, especially in smaller markets). It was a good company to work for and I keep good memories of my years there.

  16. Sisyphus says:

    This was a long time coming. The discovery chemistry management made this an easy decision for the BI leadership to make. This group was a decade behind other big pharma companies. They spent too much time rating employees on the number of reactions run or number of compounds registered, Incredibly unproductive micromanagement typical of managers who pride themselves on regressive thinking. Risk taking was definitely not rewarded. Their time would have been better spent studying better targets to pursue or improving their incredibly long data cycle times. I would never advise anyone in the U.S. to pursue a discovery chemistry career at that company. And now, thankfully, I don’t have to.

    1. Hap says:

      Other (repetitive) peeve, though: Those seem like bad management choices. Getting rid of medchem (but not the people who made those choices) isn’t going to solve that problem, nor is diversifying into biologics.

      If you are changing focus or don’t have enough money and need to save effort and cash for where you best can use them, laying people off makes sense. If you keep making bad choices, though, then layoffs seem like another one, unless you get rid of the people who keep making poor choices.

  17. john adams says:

    As an example, at Merck, it seems the vast majority of severances (and there have now been ~35,000 positions eliminated since the “merger” with Schering Plough !!!) have occurred in the 4th quarter, usually around mid Oct–mid Nov. Pardon my cynicism, but I think the reason for this is that the beancounters in Finance run the next years numbers in 3Q, realize the profit forecast is too low (just check out what’s been happening to our revenues over the past decade or so), and Senior management responds by eliminating X positions to reduce costs proportionately…With the closure of the New Jersey MRL “flagship”, they’re really cutting into bone at this point. Tragic !

  18. Life after BI says:

    I worked at BI for 9 years at two of their sites on two continents. I feel for the people there; they are very talented, hard working and nice. I just hope that they can find a job elsewhere, and I’m sure they will. My opinion is that Boehringer Ingelheim is a dying company. It will completely disappear within the next 10 years. The number of novel drugs that they’ve put on the market is far from impressive and the level of inovation is very low. The’re many years behind other major pharma companies and light years behind biotechs. And this is not the fault of the scientists who work there and who are excellent, creative and talented. The management style, encouraged and imposed by the Germans, is very bad. The company doesn’t want to take any risks (think about their amazing HCV compounds that they nevery pursued… later on, BI lost the race to Vertex. Then, think about Flibanserin, dropped by BI, later on bought by Sprout… then think about the BIX compounds against G9a that they never pursued. They probably had one of the first epigenetic inhibitor in hand but could not recognize the value of it! Unbelievable…).
    I also agree with @Sisyphus. The managers ranked chemists according to the number of compounds they made per year. That’s the best way to discourage people from making difficult compounds. There is no way they could make another HCV protease inhibitor: too complex – let’s focus on biphenyls that we can make by the hundreds via Suzuki cross-coupling reaction!
    Unfortunately, I don’t think the pharma industry will suffer if BI disappears. The only good thing is: biotech companies will be able to recruit exceptional scientists that are ready to do good science instead of worrying about preparing dozens of stupid libraries of useless flat Suzuki cross-coupling compounds.

  19. Pfizer Joe says:

    Pfizer has quietly “downsized” about 35 chemists in Groton and Boston sites. Older scientists “asked” to retire and low performers ( not all) told to leave.

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