Blizzards and the American Work Ethic

Posted in Career Advice

It’s been a while since my last blog post but the hysteria over the would-be blizzard of the century got me thinking again.  The Great Recession that began in 2008 (which appears to be over) has forced the American workforce to work harder (without commensurate increases in salary and vacation time) than ever before. Consequently, those who were lucky enough to retain their jobs are frequently stressed, fatigued and pushed to the breaking point. Therefore, it is not surprising (to me at least) for any excuse –like an exaggerated, overhyped blizzard–to not go to work!  Put simply, looking for cataclysmic climatic events to get the vacation time that employees so desperately need is not in the best interest of the American workforce!  Perhaps employers ought to allow employees to take more time off and guarantee them paid sick time rather than rely on blizzards to give their workers a much needed break.

The US economy seems to be in good shape as compared with the rest of the world.  Although American productivity is at a historical high, I do not think US workers will be able to maintain it into perpetuity. That said, the US greatest advantage over other countries in the world is ingenuity and innovation.  And, to innovate, people need time to think and identify the next “big thing”   And, while a snow day here or there may be restful, the time off is certainly not sufficient for workers to garner enough time to think about the next world-changing technology or innovation.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Digging Out (if you got any snow)


Alternate Careers: Entrepreneurship

Posted in BioBusiness

There is no question that the US is lagging behind other nations in science, technology, engineering and math. While this may be troubling to some, Americans possess one skill that provides them with an unheralded advantage; that is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial skills cannot be easily taught or learned. And while most Americans don’t know it, entrepreneurship is a passively acquired trait that most non-Americans would “kill for.” Unfortunately, the recent recession and increasing global competition had dampened Americans entrepreneurial enthusiasm to the point where risk-adverse business behavior is threatening to stifle US innovation.

Peter Sims addresses this issue in a NY Times piece entitled “Daring To Stumble on the Road to Discovery” where he laments “…our education system emphasizes teaching and testing us about facts that are already known. There is much less focus on our ability to discover, create and reinvent.”

He contends that Americans can no longer expect that jobs will be waiting for them and that everyone needs to think about “inventing” their own jobs. While this may seem unlikely for many jobseekers, he offers the following to those who may be willing to try.

“INVENTION and discovery emanate from the ability to try seemingly wild possibilities; to feel comfortable being wrong before being right; to live in the world as a careful observer, open to different experiences; to play with ideas without prematurely judging oneself or others; to persist through difficulties; and to have a willingness to be misunderstood, sometimes for long periods, despite the conventional wisdom.”

Further he offers:

“All these abilities can be learned and developed, but doing so requires us to unlearn many of our tendencies toward linear planning and perfectionism.”

In other words, take risks and dare to be different. The worst thing that may is happen is that you fail. And, if you ask many successful people what contributed most to their success, they will likely tell you about their failures and how they helped them to “get it right” the next time.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!

A New Way Forward for FDA?

Posted in BioBusiness

Last week, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner unveiled a “blueprint” that contained immediate and actionable steps that can be taken to spur innovation in the life sciences. The report’s proposals stem from a review of FDA’s current policies and practices, as well as months of meetings with major stakeholders nationwide, including key industry leaders, small biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device company owners, members of the academic community, and patient groups. Entitled “Driving Biomedical Innovation: Initiatives for Improving Products” the report focuses on seven major actions:

  1. rebuilding FDA’s small business outreach services
  2. building the infrastructure to drive and support personalized medicine
  3. creating a rapid drug development pathway for important targeted therapies
  4. harnessing the potential of data mining and information sharing while protecting patient privacy
  5. improving consistency and clarity in the medical device review process
  6. training the next generation of innovators
  7. streamlining and reforming FDA regulations

The blueprint was issued in response to growing concerns that—despite record investments in biomedical R&D—the drug pipelines at many US life sciences companies has grown exceedingly thin. Not surprisingly, most life sciences companies blame the agency for the thinning pipelines but in reality both side have contributed to the problem. Hamburg’s bold plan seems reasonable. But, it can only be implemented if Congress provides sufficient funding to underwrite the new initiatives proposed in the plan. And, while these funds ought to be allocated, it is not clear whether or not it is likely given the poor economy and the current, unprecedented political divisiveness that exists in Washington these days.

Moreover, Mark Senak, author of the Eye on FDA blog, suggests that FDA can improve its effectiveness by learning how to communicate better with its stakeholders. Mark, a social media advocate provides this compelling insight into FDA’s communication problems and the agency’s inability to grasp that the Internet and social media can help to improve its communication skills:

"The extremely long track record of FDA in attempting to figure out the Internet (first public meeting held in October 1996) and social media (first public meeting held in November, 2009) has yielded no guidance, with little transparency into the process.  It is time for FDA to seek outside communications expertise to help the agency better formulate policy on a timely basis."

While I believe that Commissioner Hamburg’s blueprint for improvement is a good one, it isn’t clear whether she will get the necessary support to implement it.

Until next time…

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


Are US Immigration Laws Really Hurting Life Science Innovation?

Posted in BioBusiness

A report in Bloomberg News today suggested that Eli Lilly & Co. Chief Executive Officer John Lechleiter, PhD told a technology conference today that unfavorable US permanent resident (green card) laws are to blame for declining US innovation in the life sciences. With this in mind, Lechleiter plans on calling for US immigration officials to issue more green cards and adopt a shorter and simpler process for highly skilled foreign nationals to gain permanent residence in the US. According to Dr. Lechleiter, one of only a handful of big pharma CEO who is also a PhD-trained scientist, current green card regulations are so-called job killers and force many talented foreign nationals to return to their native countries to work with firms that directly compete with American life sciences companies. Unlike most of his peers, Lechleiter has been very outspoken about the lack of US life sciences innovation.

While Lechleiter comments may have been appropriate five or more years ago, they are no longer germane to America’s waning innovation in the life sciences. There is little doubt that many bright and talented foreign nationals were denied permanent residency during the Bush era (2000 to 2008) because of stringent immigration policies and limits on the numbers of green cards allotted for persons from certain parts of the world; mainly China, India and the Middle East. This, in turn, forced many life scientists—many of whom desperately wanted permanent residency in the US—to return to their home countries to look for work and gainful employment.

As Lechleiter rightly asserts, these scientists found work with companies that began to directly compete with US life sciences. This phenomenon, coupled with the rapid assent of the middle class in many of these nations, made it possible to begin to conduct Western style research at a much lower costs in these countries. To that end, by 2007, most big pharma companies—many of whom had dwindling pipelines and monstrous overhead costs—realized that it would be more cost effective to outsource or move R&D to countries with emerging pharmaceutical and biotechnology markets and a well trained R&D workforce. And, for the past four years downsizing and outsourcing of R&D are exactly what have been taking place at many American big pharma and biotechnology companies.

In my opinion, the larger question that must be addressed, as far as US innovation in the life sciences is concerned is: why are so few Americans willing to pursue scientific careers? To wit, the main reason why so many foreign life scientists were educated and trained in the US over the past 20 years was because there weren’t enough American students to fill the incoming roster at most American graduate training programs. Put simply, America’s growing lack of innovation in the life sciences over the past decade can be directly attributed to far fewer Americans pursuing scientific careers and an increased reliance on foreign nationals—who were unable to stay in the US—to innovate! While changing US immigration laws may allow some foreign nationals to more easily remain in the US, there simply aren’t enough life sciences jobs left in the US to make it worth their while! In fact, the likelihood of them finding life sciences jobs in their home countries is now greater than it is in the US. In my opinion, the only way to restore American innovation in the life sciences is to convince American students that pursuing scientific careers is worthwhile and that the requisite training for industry jobs is available to them.

Interestingly, after leading with changes to US immigration laws, Lechleiter also suggested that America’s innovation problem could be solved by lowering US corporate tax rates and American companies should not be forced to pay taxes on oversea earnings. Also, he asserted that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should stop putting off decisions or erring on the side of avoiding risk when considering new drug applications. 

This begs the questions, how do lower taxes, no overseas taxes and expedited drug approvals help to spur American innovation when most life sciences R&D is conducted outside of the US?

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Innovating!!!!!!!!


Pharmaceutical R&D Continues Its Eastward Migration

Posted in BioBusiness

For the past three years or so, Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter has publicly criticized America’s lack of math, science and engineering preparedness. Further, he has lamented that this lack of preparedness has resulted in a lack of innovation and that it threatens the US standing as a leader in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Finally, Lechleiter squarely places the blame on American science educators. 

Therefore, it came as somewhat of surprise to me when I learned that Lilly (and many other pharmaceutical companies) are outsourcing an increasing amounts of drug discovery and development to Chinese contract research organizations (CROs pharma companies continue to outsource drug R&D to ostensibly lower development costs and get drugs to market faster. According to Chuan “Joe” Shih, a former Eli Lilly employee of 25 years and executive vice president of integrated drug discovery at Crown Bioscience a Shanghai-based CRO, the total annual cost for one researcher at Lilly might run $300,000 to $350,000 a year. The figure at Crown is one-third of that. Shih also disclosed that Pfizer was one of Crown’s clients.

In addition to Crown, Eli Lilly has outsourced R&D to other Chinese CROs that includeWuXi AppTec and ChemExplorer. It also operates its own research-and-development center in Shanghai and is building a diabetes research center here. Like Lilly, big pharma companies like Roche, Novartis and others have also established research centers in China.

Some analysts contend that the reasons given for the current R&D outsourcing trends—lower costs and faster market times—are red herrings. They suggest that establishing R&D in China helps position companies to sell into the huge, emerging Chinese market. Within the next decade or so, the Chinese market may eclipse the US as the major pharmaceutical market in the world.

Interestingly, in an interview in Shanghai Lilly’s Lechleiter said that he believed that CROs in China have more to offer than cost savings. “The skill level and the quality and the increasing availability of high-skilled and high-quality operations in the contract-research space render these firms globally competitive,” he said. Further, he added that in recent years, Lilly has had difficulty getting green cards or permanent resident visas for some of the Chinese people graduating from American universities it wants to hire. “So we need to follow the talent, and I expect there will be people recruited to the U.S. who will want to stay in the U.S. And there will be Chinese people and others who want to come back here. Our research center in Shanghai gives them a place to land.”

Does this mean that Lechleiter has given up on his quest to improve American science preparedness and American innovation? And, what will become of the 100,000 or so American pharmaceutical scientists who were laid off in recent years or those new minted American PhDs who cannot find work in the US? Is that the fault of the American education system or pharmaceutical companies that are trying to maintain profit margins at any cost or improving the likelihood of success in emerging markets in developing nations?

Until next time…

Good Look and Good Job Hunting (try the BRIC countries)


Science, Innovation and the Future of the America

Posted in Career Advice

I know that I have been blogging a lot lately about science and it importance in American innovation and global competitiveness. And, not surprisingly, some of you may be sick of hearing me drone on about it! But, if you want to get another perspective on the critical role that science plays in the lives of everyday Americans, you absolutely must read Tyler Cowen’s article in this Sunday’s NY Times Business Section entitled “Innovation Is Doing Little for Incomes.”

Cowen, a Professor of economics at George Mason University and a regular contributor to the NY Times, astutely points out the impact scientific innovations have had on economic growth and perhaps, more importantly on the median incomes of Americans over the past 65 years. He points out that from 1947 to 1973—a period of just 26 years—inflation-adjusted median income for Americans more than doubled. But, in the 31 years from 1973 to 2004, median income grew only 22 percent. And, over the last 7 years it actually declined! 

In the article, Cowen asserts that the lack of income growth in recent years can be attributed to the ongoing dearth of truly game-changing technological innovations. Sure, there are computer, the Internet and wireless technologies but as Cowen points out these innovations have not markedly changed the lives of Americans as much as “electricity, the automobile, flush toilets, antibiotics and small household appliances.” While the latter advances impacted ALL Americans, the former have mostly had an effect on the well-educated, curious and often more economically well off. And, while these technologies have yielded measurable monetary gains, they often have been concentrated among a small number of company founders. Put simply, recent innovations have not been “game changers” for the economic well being of most Americans!

So what are we to do about this troubling trend? Cowen rightly suggests that:

“Science should be encouraged with subsidies for basic research, as well as private charity, educational reform, a business culture geared toward commercializing inventions, and greater public appreciation for the scientific endeavor. A lighter legal and regulatory hand could ease the path of future innovations.”

Further, he contends that:

“Sooner or later, new technological revolutions will occur, perhaps in the biosciences, through genome sequencing, or in energy production, through viable solar power, for example. But these transformations won’t come overnight, and we’ll have to make do in the meantime. Instead of facing up to this scarcity, politicians promote tax cuts and income redistribution policies to benefit favored constituencies. Yet these are one-off adjustments and, over time, they cannot undo the slower rate of growth in average living standards.” In other words, it is time for the US to seriously address its waning proficiency in science technology, engineering and math. "

To that end, he states that:

“Until science has a greater impact again on average daily living standards, the political problem will be in learning to live within our means. Because neither major party seems to support a plausible path to fiscal balance, or to acknowledge how little control politicians actually have over future income growth, we unscientifically keep living in an age of denial.”

Call me crazy, but what Cowen says makes complete sense to me!

Until next time…

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


Promoting Science Literacy Among Undergraduate Humanities Students One Student At A Time

Posted in BioEducation

In 2005, The National Academy of Sciences issued a worrisome report entitled “Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future” that warned that America is slipping in competitiveness in all areas of science.

While this ought to have been a wake-up call for all Americans, in 2010, the Academy issued an update entitled “Rising above the Gathering Storm: Approaching Category 5." Not surprisingly, the findings in the update indicate that the US is still lagging in its capacity to innovate and compete and that the trend continues to move in a downward direction. For example, in 2006 (the most recent year for which data are available) 16 percent of American college students received undergraduate degrees in natural sciences or engineering as compared with 47 percent in China, 38 percent in Korea and 27 percent in France. Recommendations in the original report called for creation of 25, 000 undergraduate scholarships per year in math, science and engineering. Although the updated report indicated that Congress had taken some steps to implement the recommendation, progress has been severely lacking in this area.

Almost all US colleges and universities require that undergraduate students have some instruction in science. Unfortunately, most of these courses are lecture driven and lack a laboratory component (mainly because laboratory instruction is costly and time intensive). This is problematic because science is a laboratory driven discipline that requires data collection and analysis; neither of which is taught in most lecture settings. Recognizing the growing lack of science literacy among American undergraduate students, Leon Botstein—music director and conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra and President of Bard College an artsy liberal arts college in NY—decided to do something about it. To that end, he created a program at Bard called Citizen Science; a mandatory science course conducted during winter break that all Bard freshmen are required to take for graduation.

Citizen Science is a two and a half week long program in which students spend six hours per day immersed in laboratory science. The 2011 program taken by 480 students focused on the molecular biology of infectious diseases. Using laboratory equipment, computer modeling and classroom discussions, student explored various aspects of infectious disease research including bacterial and viral detection, creation of vaccines and techniques that can be used to manage global disease outbreaks. The students were taught by two dozen scientists who were recruited from all over the country. There are no grades or credits received by program participants. This was done to promote learning for learning sake according to Brooke Jude an assistant professor of biology and the director of Citizen Science.

Botstein, who incidentally is the brother of David Botstein a world renowned geneticist at Princeton University, has been an outspoken critic about deficiencies in American education. He previously has taken many of his colleagues to task for “shirking their responsibility to create a well-rounded citizenry.” Botstein, with help from his brother, decided to “put his money where is mouth is” by creating Citizen Science. 

According to Botstein, “The most terrifying problem in American university education is the profound lack of scientific literacy for the people we give diplomas to who are not scientists or engineers.” He added, “The hidden Achilles’ heel is that while we’ve found ways to educate scientists in the humanities, the reverse has never really happened. Everybody knows this, but nobody wants to do anything about it.”

Not surprisingly, the Citizen Science Program has received mixed reviews from the 480 Bard freshmen who participated in the inaugural program. After all, a majority of the students who chose to attend Bard have a decided bent toward music and the arts, not science. Nevertheless, many students suggested that their two and half week scientific sojourn has taught them to think more critically about science. Next year’s theme for the Citizen Science program may be energy or climate change.

While Bard’s Citizen Science program is a fantastic idea, not all colleges or universities have the financial largess or scientific connections necessary to create similar programs at their institutions. Perhaps Congress ought to establish funding mechanisms (in addition to the 25,000 math and science scholarships each year) for post secondary institutions interested in replicating the Bard program.

Government officials can no longer deny what the data are showing them; science literacy in the US is plummeting and we are REALLY at risk of losing our competitive and innovative edges in math, engineering and science. Put simply, it is no longer a question of “if” but “when.”

Until next time….

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


Roche Publicly Affirms Its Commitment to Social Media

Posted in Social Media

Mark Senak, a pharmaceutical social media advocate and the author of the EyeonFDA blog, today reported that the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche published on its website a document entitled Social Media Principles. The document outlines Roche’s rules and regulations guiding the company’s use and commitment to social media.

In an accompanying statement, Roche officially affirmed the role of social media as part of its Communication Policy.

Roche actively uses Social Media to communicate with its stakeholders. As committed in our Communication Policy we want to be a transparent company and thus welcome this new form of communication.

Further, while the company recognizes the use and benefits of social media, it acknowledged the regulatory risks associated with the new medium

Roche recognizes the ubiquity and benefits of social media and welcomes its use – however, we also acknowledge that certain risks are associated with these new channels. We have therefore developed this guideline to help our employees use these new platforms in a responsible way.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, Roche appointed Sabine Kostevc as Head of
Corporate Internet and Social Media. 


Sabine Kostevc

Head of Corporate Internet and Social Media

She may be the first communication executive to hold an official title that has the phrase ‘social media” associated it. Surprisingly, this may be the biggest development of all; mainly because once one pharmaceutical company does something new, they all similar to follow!

Roche’s willingness to publicly commit to the use of social media is a bold and calculated move by a company that recognizes its power and the major role it will likely play in the future of the pharmaceutical industry. Further, it suggests that Roche, unlike most of its competitors, it willing to take a proactive role in helping to shape the social media regulatory guidelines being developed by the US Food and Drug Administration. Finally, Roche executives realize that increased transparency and open communications with its stakeholder may help to improve the public image of big pharma companies and perhaps rekindle the innovation that has been sorely lacking in the industry.

The bottom line: Rather than remaining part of the problem, Roche has boldly proclaimed that it wants to be part of the solution!

Hat tip to Mark and Roche!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Tweeting err Facebooking err Blogging!!!!!!!!!!!


Lilly Lays Off More Employees and Vows to Remain Lean

Posted in BioBusiness

Despite assertions by its CEO that there isn’t enough scientific talent in the US, Eli Lilly announced that it will lay off a couple of thousand employees within the next 90 days. Most of the cuts will take place in Indianapolis at four different sites where the company currently employees about 13,000 workers. According to an article in today’s Indianapolis Star

“The struggling Indianapolis company, which has been cutting thousands of jobs in recent months, told the state on Monday that its downsizing is not temporary, but for the long haul.

The reductions in force at the Indianapolis sites of employment are expected to be permanent," wrote Kay Jackson, Lilly’s senior director of human resources, in a letter to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. She added that the cuts, when added up, are not expected to be more than 33 percent of the head count at any one site, or more than 500 workers at any site."

Like most of its rival big pharma companies, Lilly has cut the number of full-time equivalent workers by about 2,100 worldwide since last September. That’s when it announced it would cut a total of 5,500 workers worldwide by 2011 to save $1 billion in annual costs. The reason for the cuts; an expected steep falloff in revenues over the next few years when the patents on Lilly’s blockbuster drugs begin to expire and face low-priced generic competition  

John C. Lechleiter, Ph.D, Lilly’s CEO, contends that the lack of innovation and new product development at most American pharmaceutical companies can be explained by a dearth of qualified and adequately trained American scientists. Maybe this is why most pharma R&D job are currently being outsourced to China, India, Brazil and Eastern Europe? Alternatively, it may be cheaper to employ US-trained foreign nationals in these places rather than high priced American scientists who perform similar jobs in the US.  

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting (forget Indiana-not there is anything wrong with it)


Lilly CEO: "US is Losing it Edge in Life Sciences Innovation"

Posted in BioBusiness

John Lechleiter, PhD, chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly & Co. today told members of the Detroit Economic Club that the US is losing its competitive edge and that “evidence is mounting for an innovation crisis in the life sciences

Lechleiter blamed the crisis on US tax and immigration policies over the last 10 years that have reduced research and investment funding and driven away foreign-born, U.S.-trained scientists.

He also attributed the problem to the US Food and Drug Administration’s new emphasis on drug safety.  “The FDA approved 92 drugs the last five years. That is the lowest of any five-year period,” he said. “We lose patent protections (on brand name drugs) and that is $100 billion less revenue for the industry and less for research and development” said Lechleiter. Further, he said that “American drug companies still spend 40 percent more on research in development in the U.S. than in other parts of the world.”

To avert the crisis, Lechleiter suggested the following: 

  1. Increase and improve education for students in math and science
  2. Change immigration laws to allow more H1-B visas for scientists and ease the process that allows immigrants to gain green cards to work in the U.S. The last time the H1-B visa cap was raised was in 1990
  3. Increase federal funding for pharmaceutical and basic science research, which has declined over the last five years
  4. Change tax policies to provide more incentives for research and development. The U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in offering R&D tax credits, he said. Moreover, the U.S. should not tax foreign subsidiaries of U.S. corporations

Lechleiter, who was trained as a chemist, is the only CEO of a major pharmaceutical company who holds a PhD degree. Therefore, his ideas resonate more for me than those of his business-only CEO counterparts. To that end, his suggestions regarding improving math and science education, immigration reform (which I have long contended is killing US competitiveness) and increasing federal funding for research make sense. However, the notion that US tax laws and lack of corporate tax incentives is stifling American innovation and competitiveness is pure hogwash.

While corporate tax rates may be higher in the US than elsewhere, there are so many loop holes that most corporations pay less than their share fair. Further, let’s not forget that the personal income tax rate is much higher in the rest of the developed world than it is in the US. It is just so “American” to not want to pay taxes and then demand and expect government services at no cost to the taxpayer (at least in Europe they pay high taxes and get good services).  And, let’s not forget that despite their heavy tax burden it was American corporations not foreign ones that caused the recent global recession.

That said, I gotta give John some credit for his suggestions; three out of four (or a .750 average) isn’t bad in baseball or the pharmaceutical industry!

Hat tip to Ed at Pharmalot

Until next time…

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