A warning to/from AstraZeneca

I want to echo the sympathies banding around twitter and blogosphere for the guys at AstraZeneca.  They have been through a hell of a lot the last few years with re-organisations and redundancies, and todays formal announcement is another huge blow.

I have been lucky enough to spend a fair bit of time at Alderley Park (Cheshire UK) over the last couple of years, in the chemistry labs of both the oncology and CVGI departments.  Also, I was lucky enough to work with a wonderful scientist (and person) who did the unusual, and came and did a placement in our lab at the University of Manchester.  The AZ chemistry guys, from the lab to the team leaders are not only great chemists, but inspirational scientists with a passion and a true belief in what they do.

As I know so many of the guys, today’s news that 250-300 jobs in R and D are to go at Alderley is really heartbreaking (I am not sure there will be any R and D left?), but also my sympathies to the rest of AstraZeneca who have to go through this process for the umpteenth time!

The immediate impact for those who will loose their jobs is apparent, but for AstraZeneca the concern must be about those who are left behind.  Morale in the pharmaceutical industry is at all time low, the prospects are bleak, with a weak pipeline and an ever more challenging market the future is not looking too bright, and everybody knows this.  For the scientists who are left behind, this constant upheaval and lack of security must slowly be grinding them down, and to motivate those who remain will prove a huge challenge.

Scientists (9/10) do what they do for the love, the money certainly is not good enough to carry you through a career! The passion of discovery, the excitement of research and the belief that what we do can really make a difference is what drives us, but we have to have belief that what we do is valued.  The fact that scientists, who are the foundation of the company – try making drugs without them – have been swept aside so readily and so often over the last five years does not instill that value that drives them forward.

And what about the future? For me, my dream job was R and D in big pharma, where I thought I would get the chance to really make an impact on medicines of the future. Now though, moving into pharma for me, and for many of the next generation of scientists is a decision that can not be taken lightly. I want to give my all to being a brilliant scientist, but I want to be valued for my contribution.  Who will be the scientists of the future for a company like AstraZeneca?

Maybe the reality of the future though is something we as scientists are avoiding, and today’s announcement is not just an immediate blow, but really a warning.  Big pharma have shown that the existing model of drug discovery has come close to having run its course, a shift to smaller companies doing the leg work and big pharma then stepping in to take compounds through clinical trials and to market, is more and more apparent. As this model grows, the need for discovery scientists in big pharma will only decrease.

So back to my question: Who will be the scientists of the future for a company like AstraZeneca?

Maybe nobody.


3 thoughts on “A warning to/from AstraZeneca

  1. Unfortunately though there is still a skills vacuum. Although the new players such as China and India are growing, the experience and skills in these markets is still a way behind. They may be cheaper due to sheer numbers of people that can be thrown at things, though as standards of living etc. grow, wages and the like will also be required to keep up, and this will no longer be so easy. Due to their relatively recent introduction to the pharmaceutical industry on such a big scale, they do not have the numbers of highly skilled and experienced staff required to perform at the same level pharma is used to in the west. I often hear stories of outsourcing going awry because of this!

  2. Pingback: Post-doc at AZ anyone? « A Retrosynthetic Life

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