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Career & Employment

December 6, 2010
Volume 88, Number 49
Web Exclusive

Hard-Hit Industry

Tough times in pharma provide opportunities for academe

David Pittman

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Anyone who follows the pharmaceutical industry won't deny it has been hit hard by the recession, which started in 2007. C&EN estimated in early 2009 that almost 130,000 pharmaceutical industry workers had been laid off during the prior three years (C&EN, March 16, 2009, page 24). And the numbers have only grown worse since that time. Just last month, Roche announced it would eliminate 4,800 jobs in the next two years, and AstraZeneca plans to cut 3,500 R&D jobs by 2014 (C&EN, Nov. 22, page 6).

In the wake of the recession, pharma workers are, in general, worse off than other chemistry fields. According to the 2009 American Chemical Society comprehensive salary and employment status survey of members, 5.5% of the chemists who identified their field as medicinal/pharmaceutical were unemployed. That's higher than the 3.9% unemployment rate for all chemists as a group (C&EN, July 12, page 37).

Although times have been rough for some industry workers, a few universities have capitalized when a pharmaceutical company leaves town. In Ann Arbor, Mich., where about 2,100 workers lost their jobs in 2007 and 2008 when Pfizer closed its sprawling campus there, the University of Michigan bought the complex and moved in last summer (C&EN, Jan. 5, 2009, page 12). The school now uses the site as incubator space for biotech start-ups and interdisciplinary research. Within a few years, the North Campus Research Complex, as the school calls it, hopes to bustle with 1,000 researchers, faculty, and staff and as many as five private companies.

As another example of universities taking advantage of the drug industry's decline, Yale University in 2007 bought a 136-acre campus in West Haven and Orange, Conn., that was vacated by Bayer HealthCare (C&EN, June 18, 2007, page 38). The school has used the 1.6 million sq ft of research, office, and warehouse space to enhance Yale's medical and science research programs.

Other schools such as Vanderbilt University; Emory University; Temple University; and the University of California, San Francisco, have formed research partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.

Future growth in drug design will have to take place in academic settings, says UC Berkeley chemistry professor Michael A. Marletta. "I don't see a lot of possibilities within big pharma."

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