Big Pharma’s biotech shift means layoffs for chemists

Looking back, 2007 will perhaps be remembered as the year Big Pharma moved away from chemical-based drugs and fully embraced the biologics revolution. AstraZeneca, Sanofi, and (most notably) Pfizer--among many others--have announced sweeping changes that involve boosting investment in biotech drugs. The shift is due to a number of factors. Many of the world’s biggest blockbuster drugs are coming off patent in the next few years, and there aren’t many pharmaceuticals in the pipelines to replace them; Generics are expected to cut $67 billion from top drug makers' annual U.S. sales between 2007 and 2012. Additional, biologics are far less susceptible to the generic competition that’s chipping away at Big Pharma’s bottom line.

But with chemical-based drugs out of vogue, there’s a group in the industry that has also found themselves job-hunting: chemists. Traditionally, chemists have responsible for formulating some of the highest earners among Big Pharma’s portfolios. But few blockbuster discoveries have made their way through the pipeline as of late. Biologists, on the other hand, are in demand as Big Pharmas place their bets on biologics. “The shift is exacting a human toll, as big drug companies like Pfizer lay off thousands of chemists, casting a pall over what was once a secure, well-paying profession,” notes the Wall Street Journal. No exact figures on the number of pharma-based chemist jobs lost, but 116,000 were employed last year, down 24,000 from 2003. Meanwhile, 4,000 more biologists were employed in 2006 than in 2003.

The WSJ profiles Dr. Bob Sliskovic, a 23-year lab veteran who helped create Lipitor, the world’s best-selling drug. Sliskovic lost his job as a highly-paid chemist when Pfizer made the decision to dismantle one of its flagship labs in Ann Arbor, MI earlier this year. Take a look at this article to see how Pfizer's decision to stake its future on biotech is affecting researchers in the industry.

- here's the WSJ article

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