New CRO grows from ashes of cuts at Pfizer

Ex-Pfizer researcher Andrew McElroy has made the quick transition into becoming his own boss at a new contract services group after his job at the drug giant's Sandwich, U.K., site was axed last year along with hundreds of others. The Research Network, as his startup CRO is called, began operations last year and has been searching for more work to fuel its growth, McElroy told the journal Science.

The Research Network, which specializes in marshaling work to outsourcing outfits for drug discovery customers, came about as a direct result of Pfizer's ($PFE) major R&D cuts last year--which CEO Ian Read (photo) has undertaken as his own company ships more work to external service providers. McElroy, who coordinated outsourcing activities for Pfizer before being let go, is seizing the opportunity to capitalize on the outsourcing trend rather than falling victim to it.

His group of former pharma workers is available for hire to biopharma outfits that want help with dispatching discovery work to a constellation of contractors with different areas of expertise and technologies to get the job done. Yet the learning curve for McElroy has involved learning the ins and outs of running his own business, something he never had to worry about during his career spent at GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Pfizer. And he now has the responsibility to bring in business to keep his nascent group thriving.

As thousands of pharma R&D employees get pink slips, many of them have gone to work for CROs, which have been hiring people to help support large development projects coming their way from drugmakers. For example, ICON was on the hunt for hundreds of employees after Pfizer picked the Ireland-based CRO and its rival Parexel International as strategic outsourcing partners, and at least some of ICON's planned hires were expected to come from Pfizer, Outsourcing-pharma has reported.

McElroy has mixed feelings about his transition.

"I was quite happy doing the work I was doing previously, so it's not a change I was looking for," McElroy told Science. "Having said that, it has definitely been a good development opportunity for me. Certainly, I've learned a lot and I've enjoyed the past year. I have mixed feelings really about the change, but overall there's been a lot of positive aspects as well."

- here's the Science interview