Like most people working in drug discovery and development, I've watched the waves of mergers between pharma companies with sadness. The mergers never seem to do much good for the companies- hundreds of people are laid off, but even worse, the productivity of the resulting company never seems to live up to the promises made by senior management at the time of the merger.
No company demonstrates this sad recent history more that Pfizer. When I was leaving graduate school, a job offer from Pfizer was greeted with enthusiasm. Now, people are reticent to take a job there, because the industry scuttlebutt is that morale is at rock bottom, and no one trusts that his or her job is safe.
As I've written before, I think we all need to adjust to a world without job security, but I can attest that it is possible to have high morale in the absence of such security- most biotech jobs are quite insecure, but I love the energy and team atmosphere in biotech.
Last week, Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline had a post that led me to a recent write-up in Fortune about the most recent shake up at Pfizer. It is depressing, but fascinating, reading. I think everyone should care about this, not just those of us whose industry has suffered from the upheavals at Pfizer. If the pharmaceutical industry self-destructs in a wave of short-sighted, finance-driven mergers, who will develop the new drugs that will treat the many conditions still in need of treatment?
Despite what you may have heard, government and academic scientists do not make new drugs. They excel at identifying new drug targets (the proteins that the drugs modulate), and recently they have started to do some very good work in lead discovery (identifying a small molecule that has the right properties to be the starting place for the development of a drug). Some have even started to push towards clinical candidate identification (a clinical candidate is a small molecule that has been thoroughly tested for activity at the target, checked for undesirable off target effects in vitro and in various animal models, and also shows good properties with respect to metabolism, absorption, etc.). But I am not aware of any academic or government site that is doing large scale development- the work of taking a clinical candidate and figuring out the formulation that can go into humans, doing the preclinical testing required by the FDA, and more. Maybe they will start to do so. Maybe small and medium-size biotech will adapt to fill the void. Maybe the resulting system will work even better than the one that has been destroyed by the recent rounds of mergers. But I have to think there was probably a less painful way to get there.