Ranbaxy to Shed as Many as 400 Middle and Senior Management Jobs

Posted in BioBusiness

The UK’s Economic Times reported  today that the troubled Indian generic drug manufacturer Ranbaxy may shed as many as 400 jobs from its various divisions. Most of the persons receiving pink slips will be senior and middle management who are likely losing their jobs because of ongoing serious drug manufacturing problems that have plagued the company for over three years.  The drug maker employs about 14, 600 people in 43 countries.

While the job cuts do not represent a significant percentage of Ranbaxy’s workforce, Daiichi Sankyo which owns the company, is likely eliminating members of the management team that have been responsible for the company’s ongoing manufacturing problems. According to the Economic Times article

“On Thursday, some senior executives from the finance department at Ranbaxy were asked to leave. On Friday, some senior executives from the Research & Development wing were given marching orders,” an employee familiar with the job cuts told ET. Another executive said some officials from the API(active pharma ingredient) division have also been handed pink slips.

This past May, Ranbaxy paid the US Department of Justice $500 million to settle criminal and civil charges to resolve the manufacturing problems that prompted the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the sale of dozens of drugs manufactured by the company.  More recently, FDA inspectors issued an unsatisfactory inspection report for one of the company’s manufacturing plants in India.

Ranbaxy is one of the world’s leading generic drug manufactures and the company’s ongoing manufacturing problems have certainly hurt Daiichi Sankyo’s image. Also, it has led some analyst to question whether or not Daiichi Sankyo ought to have purchased the troubled generic manufacturer for $4.6 billion in 2008.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

The Number of Prescription Drug Recalls Continues to Rise

Posted in BioBusiness

Last week, I reported in a post that in 2011 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved a near-record of 35 new medicines. Coincidentally, earlier this week, Ed Silverman posted on the Pharmalot blog that prescription drug recalls are rising and nearing historical records. 

According to Ed, “During the third quarter of this year, the number of pharmaceutical recalls jumped to 150, compared with about 90 recalls during each of the first two quarters of 2011, according to FDA Enforcement Reports. Moreover, the recent tally dwarfs the roughly 65 recalls that were made during the last quarter of 2010 and nearly doubled the 80 recalls that were notched during the 2010 third quarter.”

The reason for the spike in drug recalls? Some suggest that FDA is getting tough and still trying to reinvent itself after the 2004 Vioxx debacle and the tainted heparin incident. Also, Congress is putting pressure on the agency to better enforce manufacturing regulation and supply chain management practices. Sadly, the only way for FDA to accomplish this is by increasing the number of inspections that it conducts on both foreign and domestic manufacturing facilities. And, given that the agency’s budget for enforcement activities has not increased much over the past few years; it is unlikely that increased regulatory scrutiny will occur any time soon.

Finally, for those of you who may not know. FDA does not have the authority to recall drugs. Recalls are voluntary and must be orchestrated by the company that manufactures the product in question. Luckily, FDA has many financial and legal methods at its disposal to induce companies to “voluntarily” recall suspect or tainted products from the US market.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

 

What's Up With FDA Inspections Anyway?

Posted in BioBusiness

BioJobBlog readers who understand Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) for pharmaceuticals and biologics know that the US Food and Drug administration is mandated to review approved drug manufacturing facilities once every two years. While this is the mandated inspection schedule, most industry insiders know that manufacturing plant inspections now take place once every three or more years. This has resulted because of an increased reliance by US drug makers on foreign manufacturing facilities to produce licensed pharmaceuticals and biologics, a lack of regulatory oversight by the agency during the Bush administrations and funding shortfalls that have resulted in a shortage of FDA inspectors.

Congress recently took the agency to task about a lack of oversight for food and drugs manufactured in foreign countries. In September, the Government Accountability offices reported that FDA inspects foreign drug facilities on average once every nine years as compared with every 30 months or more with US plants. To correct this, FDA announced that it aims to increase reliance on third party inspectors in other countries to maintain better oversight of ex-US manufacturing plants. In other words, it is less costly to train and work with inspectors already in foreign countries rather than send US inspectors overseas.

In a post last week on the Pharmalot Blog, Ed Silverman reported that Bloomberg News reviews almost 10,000 inspections at US manufacturing plants from 2000 until September 30, 2010. While the Bloomberg report did not provide details on the frequency and nature of violations uncovered at the inspections, the results of the reports were eye-opening. According to Ed:

“The FDA makes 0.9 visits, on average, to each facility each year, compared with 0.6 visits annually when George W. Bush was in the White House. Looked at another way, the agency NOW visits each of the 2,567 plants registered in the US almost once a year.”

Further he noted:

“Some of the biggest drugmakers do not have a good track record when it comes time for FDA inspectors to visit their plants. Overall, the FDA found violations at 54 percent of plants inspected last year, up 20 percent from a decade low in 2007, according to data obtained from the agency by Bloomberg News. And 80 drugmakers failed more than half of their inspections.”

So, which companies had the poorest inspection track records? Ed noted

“Abbott Labs failed 59 percent of 111 inspections; Pfizer flunked 57 percent of 202 inspections; Merck bombed out on 52 percent of 134 visits and Johnson & Johnson failed 48 percent of 161 inspections. By contrast, [generic drug manufacturer] Mylan passed 79 percent of 56 inspections!”

Republicans are threatening to slash FDA funding for US inspections mainly because the agency is focusing more on overseas manufacturers and suppliers. In response to the funding cut threats, the Obama Administration proposed that drug manufacturers whose production plants fail inspections would be required to pay fines of roughly $49,000. At present, there are no mandatory fines levied against drug makers that fail FDA inspection (the agency can and does impose fines if companies that fail inspections refuse or are reluctant to fix the problems that were uncovered).

I find it interesting that despite the numerous drug recalls and problems with drug safety of approved drugs over the past few years that the Republicans, could in good conscience, threaten to cut FDA funding to increase the frequency of inspections to bring them in line with the mandated once every two years rather than once every 2.5 to 3.0 years that has been the norm for the last decade.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

 

A Good Example of Why Politics and Science MUST NEVER Be Mixed

Posted in BioBusiness

Last week, the US House of Representatives voted to cut FDA funding by $220 million. The House vote was not surprising given the prevailing attitude among many pharmaceutical and biotechnology company executives that FDA approval of new drugs and devices has become increasingly difficult. While there is no question that the current approval process for new drugs and devices has become more rigorous as compared with the incredibly lax process (and in some cases, the almost non-existent process) used during the Bush Administration, the FDA is simply fulfilling the mandate for the agency when it was created in 1938. That is: to provide the American public with SAFE and efficacious drugs to treat unmet medical need. 

Until recently, the FDA had been chronically under funded. And, because of this, the American public was forced to suffer through the Vioxx scandal, the heparin scare and the appearance on the market of many unapproved medical devices. These and other events that occurred over the past decade beg the question: “Should the American public’s safety be placed in jeopardy again simply because the Republican-controlled House is looking for ways to cut deficit spending?”

Unfortunately, the activity of anti-FDA lobbyists (funded mainly by US pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies) has been ramped up ever since the Democrats lost control of the House. And, since most Republicans believe that any government regulation whatsoever is too much regulation, it is easy to understand the House would vote to cut FDA funding. Nevertheless, insufficient funding will not allow the agency to hire the number of inspectors required to insure that drug manufacturing is conducted according to FDA-mandated regulatory guidelines. These activities are essential to insure the safety of the prescription drugs and medical devices sold on the US market.

According to FDA Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) guidelines, drug manufacturing plants for all approved drugs and devices are to be inspected every two years. Inspections are required for all manufacturing plants in the US as well as FDA-approved manufacturing facilities overseas. Because of ongoing shortages of FDA inspectors (and the emergence of numerous overseas manufacturing facilities), these inspections are typically conducted every three to five years rather than every two years! Clearly, this is not in the best safety interests of the American public.

A report published by the General Accounting Organization about the heparin scare of three years ago nicely sums up the issues.

“In its response to the heparin crisis, FDA took several actions related to its responsibility to protect the public health by ensuring the safety and security of the nation’s drug and medical device supplies. FDA increased its activities related to oversight of heparin firms by conducting inspections and investigations and monitoring heparin imports, and worked with drug and device manufacturers to recall contaminated products while ensuring that an adequate supply of uncontaminated heparin was available. With the help of external entities, FDA identified the unknown contaminant and developed tests to screen all heparin products. Additionally, the agency reached out to its international regulatory partners during the crisis. However, FDA faced some limitations in its efforts to inspect heparin firms in China and collaborate internationally, and the agency was unable to determine the original source of contamination.”

Interestingly, as today reported by the EyeonFDA blog, the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee announced today that it was re-opening examination of the heparin contamination issue.  A letter was sent by the Chair of the Committee, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) as well as other members to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg requesting that the agency supply all documents in connection with the heparin investigation from January 1, 2008 until present.  In its announcement, the Committee stated:

“It has been almost three years since the FDA linked deaths and serious allergic-type reactions of patients in the United States to supplies of heparin that came from the People’s Republic of China which was adulterated with overly sulfated chondroitin sulfate (OSCS). FDA officials believe this was an instance of economically motivated adulteration,” the members wrote. “However, neither the Chinese government nor the FDA has identified those responsible for the contamination or described how the heparin actually came to be contaminated.”

Mark Senak, author of  EyeonFDA blog aptly noted:

"It is certainly important in that any public health crisis involving the contamination of food or drugs be thoroughly investigated. But the investigating body can’t have it both ways. You can’t criticize an agency for not conducting inspections that are not funded by the same members of the same investigative body."

Is this any way to run a country?

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!

 

Situation Not Improving at Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Healthcare Unit

Posted in BioBusiness

Johnson & Johnson’s McNeil Consumer Healthcare, already under Congressional investigation for selling allegedly tainted Tylenol, announced late Tuesday that it was recalling other products made in the Puerto Rico manufacturing facility in question.

According to an article in today’s New York Times, “McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the Johnson & Johnson unit, said that it was recalling four lots of certain Benadryl allergy tablets and one lot of Extra Strength Tylenol gel pills. McNeil did not respond to a reporter’s query about how many bottles those lots amounted to.”

Since last November, McNeil has recalled about 11.7 million bottles of various Motrin products and about 6.3 million bottles of Tylenol Arthritis Pain caplets made at the Puerto Rico plant in question. The company began the product recall after receiving numerous consumer complaints about a moldy odor emanating from some of its products.

Company representatives contend that the moldy smell was caused by contamination from a chemical byproduct of a substance used to treat wooden transport pallets. Further, McNeil suggested that the risk of serious medical problems was remote and people should not stop using the products (yeah right).

The current recall just adds to McNeil’s growing manufacturing problems. The company is already under scrutiny by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform over a recall last April of an estimated 136 million bottles of liquid pediatric Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and Zyrtec.

I suspect that more problems will be uncovered as the FDA and Congressional investigations continue. Serious manufacturing and quality problems can almost always be avoided or minimized when company executives and management makes a bona fide commitment to quality systems. Clearly, the heads of McNeil Consumer Healthcare might benefit from remedial current good manufacturing practices (cGMP) training.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!

 

Transcending the Transition from Academia to Industry

Posted in BioJobBuzz

It is becoming  increasingly difficult for undergraduate and graduate students to secure entry-level jobs at biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. This is because these students lack the appropriate training and qualifications for entry-level jobs at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Unfortunately, most undergraduate and graduate programs do not offer training to their students in drug development, quality systems and manufacturing. The is likely due to: 1) lack of well informed and qualified faculty members to initiate and develop specialized curricula on these topics and 2) a belief that job training is the responsibility of prospective employers, not academic researchers. Unless substantive curricular change is made to existing academic programs, the road to employment for many students will continue to be bumpy and fraught with difficulty.

In contrast with academic research, industrial research is highly regulated and guided by legally-enforceable rules and regulations, e.g., Current Good Laboratory Practices (cGLP), Current Good Clinical Practices (cGCP) and Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP). These rules and guidelines were created by regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure the development of safe and efficacious products. In recent years, the FDA has begun to enforce these rules and regulations more strictly. As a result, many life sciences companies now require that prospective employees understand cGLP, cGCP and cGMP guidelines and how to apply them in industrial laboratory settings. Because these rules and regulations are specific to industry and relatively unknown in academia, most academically-trained job candidates fail to qualify for these industrial jobs. Finally, over the past five years, there has been a growing emphasize on the importance of so-called "soft skills" e.g., good oral written and communication skills, teamwork, professional behavior, etc. in existing and prospective employees. These skills are increasingly important as life sciences companies grow larger, more diverse, and increasingly multidisciplinary in their approach to drug discovery and development.

Unfortunately, few academic programs develop these skills in a systematic way; this failure hinders the ability of students to obtain industrial jobs. Although the transition from academia to industry can be difficult, students can do several things to improve their odds. First, take advantage of available resources in preparing your resume and learning how to interview for an industrial position. A well written, carefully crafted resume can result in an interview, and a professional interviewing style can increase the likelihood of a job offer.

Working with a skilled and well-connected professional recruiter may also increase the probability of securing an industrial job. Second, many community colleges and several companies now offer specialized training in quality systems, regulatory affairs (cGLP, cGMP and cGCP) and other areas.

Finally, there is no better way to get an industrial job than to have previous industrial experience. To get industrial experience, seek out training opportunities that include an industry internship as part of the curriculum. Some biotech and pharmaceutical companies may offer volunteer opportunities, and some have postdoctoral positions.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

 

Genzyme Announces It Will Outsource Fill and Finish Operations for Cerezyme, Fabrazyme, Myozyme and Thyrogen

Posted in BioBusiness

Genzyme announced in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Monday that it inked a "fill and finish manufacturing services" deal with Hospira for several of its top selling drugs including Cerezyme (Gaucher disease), Fabrazyme (Fabry disease, Myozyme (Pompe disease) and Thyrogen (thryroid cancer). The move follows a series of highly publicized manufacturing problems at the company’s Allston Landing, MA biomanufacturing facility in 2009.

Beginning in March, Genzyme received a warning letter from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) detailing "significant objectionable conditions" at the Allston facility. The agency identified deviation and violations of current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) in four areas including: 1) maintenance of equipment, 2) computerized systems, 3) production controls and 4) the failure to follow procedures aimed at preventing microbiological contamination.

In June, Genzyme shut down the biomanufacturing plant to clean up viral contamination that had been slowing down production of Cerezyme and Fabrazyme. The virus, Vesivirus 2117, is known to interfere with the growth of Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells and is believed to have been introduced through a cell culture nutrient. The virus doesn’t infect humans, but the shutdown cost the company millions in revenue and caused shortages of Cerezyme and Fabrazyme. Production restarted at the plant in September.

Meanwhile, in November, the Food and Drug Administration said it found tiny particles of steel, rubber and fiber in finished vials of Cerezyme, Fabrazyme, Myozyme, Aldurazyme (mucopolysaccharidosis I) and Thyrogen. These and other violations are outlined in a 483 that was issued by FDA following inspection of the troubled facility.

The deal with Hospira, which makes drug and medication delivery systems,calls for the initial term to expire on Dec. 31, 2015. There are options for a two-year extension. The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. The deal is still subject to regulatory approval for manufacturing the products.

While GMP deviations and warning letters are common place at many biotechnology companies, Genzyme’s ongoing manufacturing problems had potentially grave medical implications. This is because, unlike most of its competitors, Genzyme focuses almost exclusively on the development of orphan drugs. Orphan drugs are used to treat diseases like Gaucher, Fabry and Pompe disease which are rare, afflict relatively small numbers of patient and usually result from genetic mutations. Generally speaking, there is usually only a single manufacturer of orphan drugs. Consequently, manufacturing problems can result in drug shortages which may inhibit access to these life saving drugs. As corny as it may sound, patients with orphan diseases have literally placed their lives in the hands of the drug companies that manufacture these orphan drugs.

Until last year, Genzyme had an outstanding and impeccable reputation and was regularly lauded by the orphan drug community. Unfortunately, its management team lost sight of its original to commitment to quality—a sign that changes may be necessary in the executive suite. Hopefully, the new fill and finish deal with Hospira will eliminate many of the company’s manufacturing problems and Genzyme can restore confidence in its brand!

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Manufacturing !!!

 

Another Day–Another Salmonella Outbreak

Posted in Career Advice

Tainted pistachio nuts are the culprit for this week’s Salmonella outbreak.  Fortunately, Kraft Foods’ quality unit was doing its job and was able to alert consumers about the problem before the outbreak reached epidemic proportions. At present, there are only two suspected cases of Salmonella gastroenteritis that may be linked to tainted pistachios. The contamination has been traced back to a California company which, according to reports, is the second leading producer of pistachios in the US.

As I have mentioned several times before, Salmonella outbreaks are nothing new and not out of the ordinary in the food industry. However, what is new is the growing lack of regulatory compliance that seems to be pervasive at American food manufactures. Many blame declining food safety on the US FDA’s lack of trained inspectors. While this may play a role, I believe that the real problem lies with the failure of many food industry executives to make a commitment to quality outlined in FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs). 

I have been teaching cGMP to biotechnology students for the past six years or so.  I always tell them that the regulations are meaningless unless management makes a commitment to quality. And, the only way to accomplish this is by insisting that all manufacturing taking place at a company stringently adheres to all GMP regulations and guidelines. For those you who may not be familiar with cGMPs, they are the minimum regulatory standards that must be met to insure US product (food, drugs and cosmetics) quality and safety.

Over the past decade or so, Americans have grown accustomed to a wide variety of choices when it comes to raw and processed foods. To meet demand, US food manufacturers must source and import fruits, vegetables, spices and other foodstuffs from all over the world. Regardless of the origin of a food source, cGMPs clearly state the onus is on the manufacturer (not the supplier) to perform the necessary tests to insure food safety and quality. The recent spate of Salmonella outbreaks suggests that some food manufacturers are either cutting corners or don’t fully understand what testing is necessary to guarantee food safety. Unless something changes, Americans confidence in the safety of US food supply will continue to wane.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Easting (avoid pistachios)

 

BMS To Buy Kosan Biosciences

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Bristol-Myers Squibb announced today that it will purchase California-based Kosan Biosciences for approximately $190 million. Kosan has been developing two classes of oncology drugs known as heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) and epothilones. One of Kosan’s Hsp90 compounds is currently in Phase III clinical testing for the treatment of multiple myeloma.

Kosan’s epothilone program will complement existing BMS programs designed to develop novel chemotherapy-based oncology products. The Hsp90 clinical program will help to sure up BMS’s push to become a next generation biopharma company.

Kosan was originally founded as an antimicrobial drug development company based on a novel combinatorial drug development (polyketide) platform but eventually morphed into a cancer-focused business. In addition to Kosan’s pipeline, BMS will inherit a small GMP biomanufacturing facility.

The acquisition is good news for Kosan which has been struggling of late. Unlike most other companies, BMS usually retains the employees of companies that it acquires. That said, only time will tell.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!