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Business and Markets

Institutional Memory

This is a topic that came up in the comments section of a post last week, but it’s important enough that I wanted to give it some exposure here on the front page. It was a question from someone outside the industry, who asked about how companies can retain “institutional memory”, what with all the well-documented instability (mergers, layoffs, reorganizations and so on).

I think that these effects are simultaneously immediately apparent to all of us who are actually out in the R&D organizations, but very much underappreciated by the business side of the industry. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing it officially mentioned. Now, you don’t expect anyone to say “Despite the damage that this will do to our corporate expertise. . .” or anything like that, but there are (as far as I’ve seen) no mentions about how the proposed merger or re-org will preserve that expertise, either. It’s as if it doesn’t exist.

But it sure does. And drug discovery is a field that (as fate would have it) lends itself to this sort of institutional memory being even more valuable than usual. There are several effects leading to that. A big one is that every drug discovery and development project is its own little world with its own specific problems. All those factors that go into a successful drug (potency, selectivity, pharmacokinetics, formulation, and the assays that determine them) are being optimized at the same time, and every project has its own problems and its own ways of balancing them and trading off one for another. This leads to a vast amount of detail, which develops in odd discontinuous ways with detours, sudden bursts of enthusiasm and/or panic, the contest of strong opinions and the need for teamwork, and so on – so you can imagine that assembling a definitive history of just how a particular project went is not an easy job.

Make that “more or less impossible”. At the end of the project, everyone involved will have a slightly different (perhaps very different!) idea of what happened and why. Now, you do sometimes see big wrap-up papers (or a series of them) published in J. Med. Chem. and other journals, and those are valuable. But everyone on the project will tell you that these articles do not (and cannot) tell the whole story. Narrative bias and the needs of scientific publishing can make things look more rational than they were at the time. Side quests get left out of the story or ret-conned to appear in a different guise. Mistakes (and there are always mistakes) are smoothed over – this isn’t deceit so much as it is human nature.

But those same humans remember what doesn’t go into the journal reports, or even into the internal company reports. They remember the quirks of particular assays, of particular chemical series, animal models, cell lines, and all the rest of it. And as people gain experience, they gain the ability to sit up during later projects and say “Hey, you know, when we had the such-and-such project, we ran into something like this, and. . .” That applies to all stages of discovery and development, and you never know where an insight is going to come from. But the key thing to note is that a lot of these things are either never really written down, or are never available in a form that allows people to make the connections. Those connections are made in the heads of the people involved, who saw these things happen and remembered them.

And when they’re laid off, that knowledge goes with them. It’s not like anyone, after being told that the company no longers sees a reason to employ them, immediately starts writing down all the unusual knowledge that they might have. It’s not possible to call that stuff up that way, for one thing, and it’s not like humans work that way when they’ve lost their jobs, either. No, one’s first thoughts are not of random experiences that might turn out to be handy in the future for their former employer. That knowledge departs, never to be seen again.

Now, companies lose experienced employees to retirement all the time, and in that more orderly process some of them do attempt to pick up on that experience beforehand, if possible. But a big merger or re-org clears a lot of people out at the same time, and it tends to hit a disproportionate number of experienced scientists and managers. They’re more expensive and more likely to be made redundant, at least on the org chart. A comment in last week’s post summed it up perfectly: “If many employees leave at once (as in a merger), it’s like the company has a stroke. It can take years to recover from it.” A followup comment noted that in some mergers, it’s like both companies had strokes.

I can’t put it better than that.Even among the employees that remain there’s a fog of uncertainly that slows progress in all of R&D during a merger, but this is another effect on top of that one. And no one putting together M&A deals ever mentions either problem, or even acts as if they exist.

59 comments on “Institutional Memory”

  1. Cog says:

    That’s because R&D people/process is either fungible or irrelevant due to the time window? It’s like 5-10 years out and getting M&A people to think more than a couple of quarters is probably impossible…

    1. mark says:

      What ever happened to “fortune favoring the prepared mind”? with the prepared mind being the researchers collective genius.

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        Exactly – and the more prepared minds you have around, the better off you are.

        1. Hap says:

          Someone put it in a post a long time ago (approximately): “Employees used to be the asset that comes in at 09:00, and now they’re the liability that goes home at 17:00.”

          Maybe they’ve assumed that they’re going to fail so often that spending the money to keep expertise (better radar, from Executive Orders) is unuseful, and so they just want to make as much as they can while they still can. It seems like a shame to be invested in pharma if that’s what you think, though.

  2. NMH says:

    Or maybe management is thinking it needs to get people they think are smarter than their current staff. Plenty of fresh new PhD’s from the Baran, Corey and Walsh labs that could solve their problems!

    1. Anon says:

      I think this is a big part of recent thinking. ‘You guys have only delivered us x drugs in n years, your whole process is broken so we will put someone else in charge’, to paraphrase. Maybe there is some truth in this but it is a blunt instrument.

      1. PhotoDeTox says:

        A healthy R&D organization needs that memory of experienced scientist as Derek has just outlined above AND once in a while young people fresh from university. It’s the mix that makes great teams.

      2. Bagger Vance says:

        lol “The last ten Corey grads we hired led us right into the ditch, but the next one’s going to really be a game-changer!”

        (I do agree the preponderance of grads from ‘top groups’ must have generated a lot of ‘groupthink’ in the industry.)

  3. Ravi says:

    With the advent of CADD, senior management doesn’t care about institutional memory!!

    1. Peter Kenny says:

      With homeopathy, even the water molecules have memory.

    2. Natural stupidity says:

      CADD is so old-fashioned. Who needs knowledge when you have artificial intelligence?

  4. Isidore says:

    All fair points. Is there a solution other than eschewing M&As altogether?

    1. Old Timer says:

      I don’t understand why the purchase of IP portfolios isn’t more common. If BMS likes Celgene’s cancer portfolio, buy it. In biotech, it appears (I haven’t dug into the numbers) much more common to either purchase a company’s IP or the company’s team (expertise). The big guys seem to spin out their sales/veterinary meds/generics/whatever, only to repurchase them a few years later to realize new “synergies.” That is dumb. But buying IP portfolios and leaving R&D programs intact and humming would go a long way to increasing x drugs per n years. You heard it here first!

      1. Barry says:

        The Plexxikon team survived selling off their B-Raf IP, but that still seems the exception. More often the whole company is acquired and destroyed

    2. eub says:

      I wonder if it would change the way of the world if we had a believable quantification of these real things.

      Corporate capitalism accepts “goodwill” as an asset on the balance sheet. Whatever the shenanigans are that lie behind that $XXX figure, a figure comes out, and everybody knows what to do.

      If “institutional knowledge” were a quantifiable asset, would that feed into the machine just as smoothly? It is, obviously, a real asset. Tag it “synergy” if that’s what it takes to pass the checks.

      1. Skeptical says:

        eub, that is a fantastic point, and if our accounting rules were more sensible, that’s something that companies would have to report.

  5. Peter Kenny says:

    Success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan.

  6. a. nonymaus says:

    When construction workers are laid off, they take their tools with them. When athletes are laid off, they take their muscles and skills with them. What of it if the research working class does the same?
    Indeed, we are forced to leave more than we should (e.g., any dataset or method too large to commit to memory) because of odious “work for hire” IP clauses. Compare our situation with a hired photographer, who retains not only the raw data, but also the copyright to any photographs they were hired to make. We must organize to retain ownership of our inventions (possibly with assignments that revert to the inventor(s) on cessation of employment) or we will continue to be discarded for short term gain.

    1. busdev says:

      I seem to recall in Switzerland, that you cannot be legally stopped from working on the same project once made redundant from one company and you go elsewhere… you’re knowhow can be reapplied

    2. Jake says:

      Construction workers tend to have a union.

    3. Paul says:

      “We must organize to retain ownership of our inventions”
      Corporations were invented to organize ownership. You can buy shares of the corporation that you work for to gain ownership of its IP. You can retain this property even if you are fired. Alternatively, you could start a corporation and own all of the IP that you produce. You may, however, need to cede some if this ownership to your employees.
      If you leave your current job, be assured that the law prohibits an employer from depriving you of your muscles, skills, or any apparatus that came in hitched to your belt.

  7. busdev says:

    Is there a corollary with when projects are out/in-licenced? When a project comes in without the background personnel that worked on it, how hard is the effective transfer of all the associated knowledge of that project that can’t be captured in a few pdfs or ppts? what are peoples’ experiences there?

    1. exGSK says:

      My experience is abysmal. We in-licensed a compound from another company, and the deal was handled solely by the business people. They , being the dummies they are, forgot to request the clinical trials data in a usable format in the contract. All we had were scanned in paper output as PDFs.

      1. RTW says:

        Yes – A potential problem, but not insurmountable. There are plenty of applications that will read in PDF files, and translate them into computer readable files that can be accessed by some truly amazing indexing software that would allow you to do data analytics explorations on that mound of data.

    2. VA says:

      Oh yes! Tech transfer and know how transfer clauses only provide so much protection. The same principle applies on licensed projects too. We see that all the time.

  8. Professor Electron says:

    An additional problem is that much work is not written up fully but summarised in e-mail and presentations. When I started work in the 1990s, there were formal project reports which were as thorough as journal articles and regular departmental reports that gave details of new methods and results. That’s pretty rare these days – a victim of supposed efficiency.

  9. johnnyboy says:

    I was actually amazed the other day, reading a business article that cited an investment guy who was actually acknowledging that big pharma mergers can be detrimental/cause delays to research. First time I ever saw this acknowledged by business types. Perhaps the message is finally trickling through, 20 years or so after the start of the mega-mergers era.

    1. John Wayne says:

      There is probably some sort of discussion, on some level, about why all the acquisitions don’t work out. Why did you buy these magic beans? Well, none of us have seen magic beans before, and we thought that these looked good.

      There are very few people that have the experience to see past the dogma, disease experts, and outright marketing. Once you know enough to realize that you (and everybody else) don’t know very much, you reach a singularity. On one hand, you can design great experiments that drive programs forward or set them aside. On the other hand, it is hard to market your hard won ignorance.

      1. dearieme says:

        “it is hard to market your hard won ignorance”: nice turn of phrase.

  10. ENES says:

    Pity indeed….and this is what I think is referred to as tacit knowledge and as the examples in the link below show, at times it is pretty much the secret sauce to make something work…

  11. 10 Fingers says:

    A couple of comments, wandering a bit afield:

    Occasionally, when money folks intersect with a really productive discovery organization, they will talk about “the secret sauce” of the group – a seemingly magical, unknowable factor that must be responsible. My personal view is that, where I have helped create such a group, it has resulted from a thoughtful, aggressive, hypothesis-driven approach to “getting to a drug” and not kidding yourselves along the way. This is hard to create, and harder to maintain. A hyper-political environment can be toxic to this approach – it shifts the reward structure towards venality and mendaciousness. In reorganizations, often, many of the “truth-tellers” are first in line to go – middle managers get more concerned about protecting their turf rather than success of the enterprise. Once that happens, it can be a death blow – not just because the institutional memory is gone, but because the environment for the remaining people and teams who wield that knowledge to best effect has been compromised, never again to be whole. To extend the stroke analogy: many who suffer stroke or TBI develop long-term epilepsy as a result of the acute event, and even if their primary symptoms abate they are never “normal” again.

    There is a flip side to this as well, when it comes to turning an organization around. I have observed a case where, over a long period of time and multiple reorganizations (and parent companies), the embedded culture of vituperative politics was found to be incredibly durable – even when senior leadership knew of and attacked it. It could be beaten back, but would emerge again in a new generation of managers. Some of the greatest scientists (and teams) I have known effectively went by the wayside during these times without success (I left many years ago, as well). In keeping with the disease metaphor, over the years I have come to view this problem as organizational cancer. In a healthy thriving organization, as a senior manager one has to be on the lookout and prepared to “resect” it when it is discovered. One also has to be able to diagnose when the disease is so widespread that it is likely to be terminal.

    All this, as if the science wasn’t hard enough.

    1. Earl Boebert says:

      I worked and supervised in a different technology domain, but this was exactly my experience.

      1. Nick K says:

        My experience too, in Big Pharma.

        Unfortunately, the corporate environment seems to reward and encourage sociopathic traits such as mendacity and backstabbing, while truth-tellers are always the first to get the bullet. Perhaps this is a fact of human nature.

        1. Nowhere man says:

          Contrary to the moral of the fable, the emperor will not appreciate being told he has no clothes.

  12. Nick K says:

    Sometimes the supposed gain from a merger can be diminished or even negated by the loss of informal knowledge and institutional memory. The Belgian pharma company Labaz (RIP) was taken over by Sanofi in the 80’s. The HPLC guys there were superlatively good, often helping their French colleagues to solve problems. When, inevitably, Sanofi closed the site some years later, the chromatographers were put out to grass. A few months later, the French were under pressure to develop an LC method to assay a drug for clinical trials. They ran into difficulties, and the trial had to be delayed. In desperation, they actually tracked down their erstwhile Belgian colleagues at home and pleaded for help. Needless to say, the French were told to push off and never come back. The clinical trial was held up for months as a result.

    1. John Wayne says:

      Good for them. I would have put on my MBA hat and asked for ten thousand euros per hour. When compared to the costs of a clinical trial delay, that is a deal.

      1. Nick K says:

        Ha! I hadn’t thought of that! Unfortunately, the Belgians were officially retirees by then, and couldn’t earn more that a nominal sum per year. The French knew this, of course, and had the nerve to ask them to work for essentially nothing…

        1. Peter S. Shenkin says:

          That would appear to be a general denial by government regulators of the usefulness of tacit knowledge.

          Whatever you do, keep the blind old Dandolos!

  13. mky says:

    I took a tour of the Caris Mirror Lab that under the sports stadium at The University of Arizona where a senior scientist was describing the miraculous process by which they get sand from Japan, melt and spin it into an insanely precise gigantic parabolic mirror. Some questions about secrecy etc. came up and I remember him saying something like “all this stuff is published, but you could read every paper line by line and you still wouldn’t be able to do this”.

  14. Wavefunction says:

    This post on institutional memory reminds me of all the German scientists and mathematicians who were driven out by Hitler during the 1930s. Not just institutional memory but hard-earned national memory was lost then: when a Nazi administrator asked David Hilbert how mathematics at Göttingen was doing, Hilbert replied the question was irrelevant since there was no mathematics at Göttingen.

    At least in case of academic the knowledge is open source so it’s possible to recover it, but in industry it’s actually worse since with decades-old employees being privy to siloed knowledge, new scientists are going to be pretty much clueless in terms of institutional memory.

  15. SP says:

    I left my previous position for a better job- there had been some layoffs, I was not affected but I was not comfortable in the environment any more and had a better opportunity. I voluntarily (as in, I decided to, wasn’t even asked) wrote up two ~3000 word documents summarizing the state of the projects where I had significant responsibility and pointing to where relevant data etc. could be located. Even so a few months later they asked me to come back for a couple hours to answer some questions, which I did for free (couldn’t bill due to current employment situation.)
    Why did I do this? I guess I still felt responsibility to the coworkers I had, even if I disagreed with the direction senior management was going I didn’t want people I had worked with to fail. The projects themselves were promising for eventually helping patients so it seemed wrong to derail them over employment issues. Professionally it also seemed like a relatively low cost way of maintaining bridges, generally being known as a responsible person among potential future colleagues. (Contrast that to a story I heard about someone laid off at Pfizer…) I can see how people treated badly absolutely have the right to not do this, but it’s a choice on both sides- respect people and maybe they’ll be motivated to help you when they don’t have to.

  16. Emjeff says:

    I recall a time at Gigantic Super Kolossal when this really hit home. It was about a year after a round of layoffs which included most of the bench scientists for this particular area. A new and abrasive MD project leader was asking about off-rates for the receptor – why didn’t we have them, how were they measured, etc. No one answered, and she started getting very indignant. I finally said, “All the people with that knowledge were fired last year. The information you want is probably in a notebook somewhere, but no one has the time to search through all the notebooks for this project, even if we were allowed to.” That shut her up…
    There’s no question that researchers are considered fungible – look at GSK again. They sell their entire oncology pipeline and the people to Novartis. Five years later, what are they trying to do? Re-start the oncology research effort, by hiring new people from top to bottom. Maybe it’ll work, maybe not…

  17. RTW says:

    This is stuff I espouse over and over again when I discuss R&D Knowledge Management with potential and existing customers. I spent 20 years in R&D doing drug discovery as a chemist. Front Line sort of stuff. But I saw all too well good scientists spending way to much time reformatting data and disseminating it in paper form or on disconnected file shares and document management systems, rather than do actual science. Too much time being an administrative person than a scientists. So back in the early 90’s when the mosaic web browser and web servers were getting started I started to create while still a bench chemist mind you our organizations first MedChem project web server to disseminated and collect as much about the projects going on in the organization as possible. It was widely popular and since it was created by a peer rather than an IT department it contained precisely what the departmental membership desired.

    This built up to my self education in a new career in Knowledge Management and E-Notebooks. But unlike most I favored these E-Notebook systems as being more than just a day to day chemical reaction and analytical data repository but instead a honking big knowledge management system around the WHOLE project. I encouraged people to not only record their experiments in the system, but correspondence with peers on the project in and outside Medicinal Chemistry, add project weekly meeting presentation materials and even go so far as upload snapshots of project plans and Gantt charts of progress.

    Somewhere I have a slide deck of a presentation where a major consulting firm examined the loss of this institutional knowledge across several non Pharma organizations. Automotive, Construction, Energy production etc. And I believe if I remember correctly that every 5 years something in the neighborhood of upwards of 70% of institutional knowledge walks out of a company due to layoffs, retirements and plan old job changes. That they determined translated into repeated attempts at projects where the organization had no memory of having done these projects . Some where the effort to pull information together and educate a new project team was so high it was apparently just easier to start over from scratch. This translated into millions sometimes 10 of millions in costs.

    So if an organization wants to maintain institutional knowledge I think they should hire some good consultants to build robust knowledge management systems for themselves before they enter into these M&A type transactions that result in loss of knowledge. Because once its out the door its gone for good most of the time. In fact I would think Knowledge management would be a very good investment for any company and less expensive in the long run.

  18. Gilbert Pinfold says:

    I like how RTW espouses knowledge management systems, followed just a little further on by this quote: “Somewhere I have a slide deck of a presentation…”

    1. RTW says:

      Well – I Think I have it burned on a CD on one of my shelves or on one of my many USB Drives. I have a lot of data floating around my home office. Given a little time I can probably lay my hands on it. But I just didn’t have time when I posted that. Granted – I espouse Knowledge Management but my personal data and files are spread across three computers and many USB drives and CDs. I would really like to pull much of that together but as I have limited personal time to build a personal knowledge management system, its usually way behind the times and the product I use changes pretty frequently and is time consuming to update – particularly its latest iteration as its back end data base has been greatly changed. But I get your point – this is one of the hardest things to convince end users of – that organization of this stuff is worth their time.

  19. OldLabRat says:

    I was once told by a very senior person in Pfizer that institutional knowledge was invaluable, by which he meant that it had no measurable value. In M&A, if it doesn’t have a discrete monetary value, it has no value. Thus, the hard won, useful, and time saving institutional knowledge was not factored into job cuts, etc. As RTW suggests, an organization that can monetize institutional knowledge will reap the riches, both short and long term.

    1. RTW says:

      I likely know you. Where you in Ann Arbor?

  20. John Wayne says:

    I agree with the sentiment that organizations need to do a better job of collecting and preserving knowledge. I fall off the wagon when folks claim that you can create high functioning teams with stuff in a computer.
    (1) In order to capture key knowledge, you need to know what it is now and what it will be in the future.
    (2) Capturing the knowledge needs to take less time than recreating it; also, people need to actually do it
    (3) High functional teams are an emergent phenomenon. I think we should try and model emergent systems, but I keep my hand on my wallet and count my rings when somebody tells me they have the solution (AI folks – I’m looking at you.)

    1. zero says:

      My experience has been that a team with an assigned documentarian / project manager tends to do best at this kind of knowledge capture. Most organizations won’t commit a paid position for this work, but more of them probably should.

      I’m in a different industry but there are some parallels. For brevity I’ll call our documentarian/project manager ‘Doc’.
      We have 30-minute morning meetings to cover status and assign tasks. Doc maintains a list of active projects and any goals / actions planned. Team members work independently and report results back to Doc, who compiles all the activity and updates the project documentation live.
      Any time we need to work formally with another group or with a vendor, Doc handles document requests, runs meetings and connects people directly when they need an expert from another group. Doc doesn’t need to be an expert on any of the systems or projects involved, just on the management of data. (Our manager handles the managing of people.)

      Doc handles three major groups, taking care of information tracking, connecting people to facilitate efficient work and helping managers prepare reports. We have comprehensive historical details of the status and track of our projects, any documentation generated internally or received by outside groups, and a project plan with both short and long range goals.
      This one position significantly streamlines the daily work effort of perhaps 40 people while maintaining an ever-growing library of information about our projects.

      We’ve lost two managers and four team members on my team, plus gone through two reorganizations that changed our relationships with other teams. Work continued without interruption, although goals and priorities change over time. We’ve had five ‘Doc’ people over that time, although often with two at a time; each took four to six months to get up to speed with our structure. We are not facing the kind of M&A meatgrinder that pharma is up against, but this structure seems fairly resilient.

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        That’s very interesting to hear about. I have never been on a drug discovery project that had a dedicated knowledge-manager/documentarian person of that sort, and I wonder how many other biopharma people have?

  21. drsnowboard says:

    I think the old Rumsfeld quote is applicable here. People learn hard lessons from direct experiences. Some of those are codified in the regs system (PGI’s, active metabolites etc) when it gets to that stage , some of them are nascent in discovery programmes and ‘experience’ and ability to ask the killer question is a learned skill. Some people never learn it, some organisations never reward it, sometimes no-one wants to hear the question out loud….. Personally, I think small organisations are better at listening to ‘old lags’ because everyone is acutely aware if one of 3 projects dies, everyone loses, not least the patients who had 20 highly trained scientists just piss 5 million up a wall because they were convinced history wouldn’t repeat.

  22. Eugene says:

    Typically I have found that management considers employees in all functions (except upper management) as interchangeable, functional widgets that can be disposed of and replaced at will to accomodate demands of short term P&L. How often do you hear about a corporations stock price taking a hit when they miss the quarterly earnings projection. This drive to meet these short term goals results in playing accounting games (cutting labor costs is always a sure thing). Actually had a CEO when announcing lay-offs of production, engineering and R&D (no management) say “that he was able to preserve the management team he had built”. Clearly the attitude is that the only important function is management.

  23. Michael Hamilton says:

    At a talk a few years back one of the higher ups at one of the bigger chinese CRO’s commented on this when I asked what happens when two companies are going after the same target, and basically they have two independent teams going after the same thing devoid of any information about the other group. and in the end each company will receive the results from only their team and all of the “institutional memory” will be lost.

    1. yfp says:

      No, actually the institutional memory remained and aggregated at the CRO, if they choose to use it.

  24. Tapio says:

    Is there a good way to quantify the financial impact of thist lost institutional knowledge? My hypothesis would be that companies that do less M&A should have performed better – assuming that institutional knowledge is indeed a major factor. Has an analysis like that ever been done?

    I feel as if a lot of this discussion is based on valuable anecdotes, but nobody has analysed it in a rigorous manner. How can we convince management of the importance of not disturbing their researchers when we don’t have any hard facts?

  25. Some Dude says:

    In a way many academic labs have the same problem. There is very little funding for permanent senior positions, e.g. a senior postdoc with a permanent job, and therefore experimental expertise is often lost with the turnover of grad students and postdocs. The PIs mostly have very litte hands-on knowledge, and it’s quite possible that a complex method a lab developed 15 years ago is no longer usable for current problems as nobody from that time is in the lab anymore. Hence the method needs to be re-established often from scratch, leading to much wasted time and money.

    Interestingly here the funding bodies, i.e. society, make similarly bad choices as the pharma managers mentioned in the piece. Long-term thinking is hard for everyone.

    1. Hugo van Beek says:

      I think in academia this problem is almost fundamental. The average scientifically active person has 4 years in the lab, and there’s a continuous loss of protocols, expertise and all kinds of data that’s remembered but not published.
      The average Phd student probably spends a year trying things that are completely useless when looked at through the eyes of a long-term colleague in the lab. Too bad these people aren’t around (especially not at the post-doc level).
      In my opinion, this is also a good reason to work with common protocols (for the same stuff) and collaborate a lot within the group. It prevents too much knowledge from being lost at once. “this is how we’ve done it for the last 10 years” is often really not that bad

  26. Steve Parent says:

    Great Blog topic Derek. Unfortunately this is something that is always overlooked. I’d also argue that the significant numbers of mergers and reorganization’s in the industry over the last few decades has contributed to the pharma industry’s falling productivity.

  27. exGlaxoid says:

    A related issue of the one of old chemical samples. I have seen many novel, rare, expensive, or unpublished chemicals simply tossed because there was no good mechanism for storing the samples, keeping track of their identity, finding the notebook prep, finding their analytical data, or there were no employees left to care.

    I have seen cases of extremely valuable precious metals (Pd, Pt, etc) disposed of as waste, reagents not available anymore disposed of, novel intermediates tossed, and dozens of boxes of old compounds sent to the incinerator because there was no budget to deal with them. Alfred Bader did a great job of buying and curating some of those type of chemical libraries, but few people since him have had the time, effort, or curiosity to do so. Many companies have likely tossed valuable cures that way.

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