Alternate Careers: How To Become a Clinical Research Professional

Posted in BioBusiness, Career Advice

I am often asked about “hot” alternate career paths.  Sadly, even alternate career opportunities for PhD-trained scientists have waned in recent years. However, there is and will continue to be a rising demand for clinical research professionals. This is because life sciences companies are more keenly focused on drug development (which includes human clinical trials) than they are on drug discovery.

The transition from a basic to clinical research career is not an easy one; mainly because clinical research encompasses a wide and diverse range of skills that are often not offered to most graduate students or postdocs during their training.  That said, those of you who are willing to take the plunge should read a great article  entitled Training New Clinical Research Professionals To Work On The Front Line by Eduardo F.  Motti, MD in the July/August 2013 issue of Pharmaceutical Outsourcing Magazine.

Dr. Motti offers an incisive view of the burgeoning clinical research field and the skills sets and training that are required for persons interested in gaining employment in this field.

Until next time…

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

More Trouble at Genzyme

Posted in BioBusiness

Can things get any worse at Genzyme? First there were the manufacturing problems that result in plummeting stock share prices and a proxy battle by Carl Icahn and company. Next up was a $175 million consent decree judgment levied by the US Food and Drug Administration for the manufacturing problems. Then came the $18 billion takeover bid from Sanofi Aventis. Now, patients affected by shortages of the drugs Fabrazyme three patients have petitioned the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to disregard Genzyme’s patent for the medicine to overcome the drug shortages.

Because of the manufacturing problems, Genzyme rationed its supplies of Fabrazyme to one-third of the normal dose for Fabry disease patients. Some of these patients reported increased pain and no newly diagnosed patients could receive the drug. Meanwhile, Shire Pharmaceuticals has been trying to obtain FDA approval of its Fabry disease treatment, Replagal which is approved in Europe.

The patients who petitioned HHS contend that HHS can override the patents because the National Institutes of Health paid for research at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, which exclusively licensed Fabrazyme to Genzyme. The goal of the action is to induce another company to produce the drug in case Genzyme is unable to deliver adequate quantities to new and existing patients. Provisions in the Bayh-Dole Act suggest that this action may not be unreasonable if ‘a licensee cannot reasonably meet the public health and safety needs of the American public.’

Stay tuned for the next installment of the continuing Genzyme saga!


Genzyme Expected to Be Fined Almost $200 Million for Manufacturing Problems

Posted in BioBusiness

Genzyme announced yesterday that it expects to be fined roughly $175 million in fines and penalties related to the manufacturing troubles at its Allston Landing, MA manufacturing plant that resulted in severe shortages of two of its best selling products, Cerezyme (Gaucher disease) and Fabrazyme (Fabry disease) 

The fines and penalties are part of a consent decree that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) intends to levy against the company for the manufacturing infractions. A substantial portion of the penalties included a disgorgement settlement, a process that allows FDA to collect a certain percentage of the sales of products made at the troubled Genzyme production facility.

According to an article in today’s New York Times business section, Genzyme representatives said that patients using Cerezyme would continue getting half a dose for two or three more months. It previously said full supplies would be restored May.

Patients who use Fabrazyme would continue to be allocated a third of their usual dose at least through the third quarter. The company had previously hoped to resolve the Fabrazyme shortage in the third quarter.

The highly publicized manufacturing problems at Genzyme, has shaken both physician and patient confidence in the company’s ability to safely manufacture and supply sufficient quantities of Cerezyme and Fabrazyme; two orphan drugs designed to treat patients with debilitating genetically-inherited diseases. 

Several physicians and patients who were previously loyal and ardent supporters of Genzyme, have indicated that they may switch to recently approved and new treatments being developed by Genzyme’s competitors that include Shire.

The lack of commitment to quality manufacturing by Genzyme executives has seriously tarnished the image of a once highly respected and reputable orphan drug developer.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

Until next time…

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


Some Things You May Not Know About Generic Drugs

Posted in BioBusiness

The rising cost of healthcare, increasing drug prices and the restrictive nature of the formularies of many insurers and third party payers is forcing a growing number of Americans to rely almost exclusively on generic prescription drugs. The trouble is that most Americans know very little about generic drugs; mainly because big pharma has done its best to minimize the discussion about generics and continues to portray generic manufacturers as less than reputable purveyors of prescription drugs. Because of this, I think that American ought to begin to understand an industry that increasingly will play a major role in the US healthcare system. So here goes:

  1. According to IMS Health, generic drugs accounted for 70 percent of the 2.9 billion prescriptions filled in the US in 2009
  2. Generic drugs accounted for only 15 percent of almost $300 billion spent on prescription drugs last year in the US
  3. Since 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received 800 new generic drugs applications; up from an average of 330 applications per year in the last decade
  4. Five years ago, it took FDA regulators an average of 16.3 months to review and approve generic new drug applications; by 2009 the average time to approval had ballooned to 27.7 months
  5. There is a backlog of nearly 2,000 pending generic new drug applications, almost double the backlog at the agency in 2005
  6. FDA’s division of generics had a budget of only $41 million in 2009; its budget for 2010 is $511 million
  7. Unlike branded pharmaceuticals, companies seeking regulatory approval for new generic drugs don’t pay user fees
  8. According to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg generics saved American consumers almost $750 billion over the last decade.

Based on these facts, it is evident that FDA is seriously under funded, under staffed and overwhelmed by the spike of new generic drug applications in recent years. Interestingly, President Obama’s proposed 2010 budget included $38 million in user fees from generic manufacturers to process new drug applications. Not surprisingly, generic manufacturers are not willing to pay these fees unless the approval time for their products is drastically shortened. To that end, FDA is hiring 50 more reviewers and hopes that personnel increases will eliminate the generic drug application backlog by 2012. 

Dr. Hamburg is also looking to streamline some aspects of the generic drug application review process. For example, she proposed giving higher priority to generic drugs applications for branded drugs whose patent expiry is imminent as compared with applications for drugs that have several more years of patent protection remaining.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the agency needs a much larger budget and staff to keep up with the ongoing torrent of new generic drug application. With this in mind, the agency ought to consider reallocating existing resources—rather than wait for budget increases in these financially uncertain times—to process new generic drug applications in a timely fashion. This may be possible because of the annual number of drug applications for new, branded prescription drugs has steadily been decreasing for the past five years.

Hat tip to the New York Times!

Until next time…

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


Healthcare Informatics Staffing Shortages Predicted For 2010

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Healthcare informatics (HCI) is one of the fastest growing professions in the US. This is because the Obama administration has allocated billions of stimulus dollars to create electronic healthcare records (EHR) in an attempt to reduce healthcare costs. 

To qualify for EHR stimulus monies organizations must develop a plan and then take steps to implement it! Not surprisingly, because of the short ramp up phase for EHR, the number of available jobs far outstrips the numbers of qualified and skilled employees to fill them. The acute shortage of qualified HCI employees resulted in a cover story in the December 2009 issue of Health Informatics entitled “Got People?” It is a great read and provides insights into the types of employees that HCI companies are looking to hire.  The EHR Initiative will likely create over 500,000 new jobs in the next few years. For those of you, who may be interested in pursuing a career in HCI, check out this list of the top 100 HCI companies to work for.

Finally, a group of bioinformatics and genomics PhD students and postdoctoral fellows approached me to help them find sponsors for a Health Informatics Career Development symposium that they are trying to develop for the 2010 Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) conference that will be held in Boston, MA from July 9-13, 2010.  

If you are interested in sponsoring the HCI symposium please contact me.

Until next time…

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


Cosmetic Surgery: A New Way to Retain Nurses and Other Hospital Employees?

Posted in Career Advice

There is a growing worldwide shortage of nurses and other typically female-dominated medical professionals. The acute shortage of nurses in Europe has induced at least one Czechoslovakian clinic to develop a novel—albeit somewhat controversial— approach to retain and recruit hospital personnel. According to an article in today’s New York Times (which was also reported on NPR several weeks ago) “When Petra Kalivodova, a 31-year-old Czechoslovakian nurse, was considering whether to renew her contract at a private health clinic special perks helped clinch the deal: free German lessons, five weeks of vacation, and a range of plastic-surgery options, including complimentary silicone-enhanced breasts.” She opted for cosmetic breast surgery (which normally cost about $3,500) and also had liposuction on her thighs and stomach citing that she her appearance is important to her and her patients.  Perhaps, more importantly, she could never have afforded to have the procedures done on her current salary which is lower than most bus drivers. Of the 50 nurses working at the clinic, 10 opted for plastic surgery, while several more were considering it. And, at least one male employee is seriously considering liposuction.

While offering plastic surgery as an inducement to recruit and retain hospital employees is somewhat controversial, it highlights the need to improve the salaries and benefits of nursing and other medical care professionals. In many places in Europe, nurses and other hospital employees make considerably less than bus, truck drivers and other non-technical workers. The same is true in the US which has also been experiencing ongoing nursing shortages. But, hospitals and clinics here have yet to offer plastic surgery options to recruit or retain medical and support staff personnel. Unlike Europe, where cosmetic surgery is booming, plastic surgery procedures have dropped about 9 per cent this year as compared with years past.

Like it or not, cosmetic surgery is an option in today’s world and, accordingly, people ought to have the right to choose whether or not it is right for them. However, it is important to remember that cosmetic surgery is invasive and potentially serious medical complications including infection, disfiguration and death can occur. The fact that 20 per cent of the Czech nurses chose cosmetic surgery over more vacation time or free German lessons may be indicative of the growing pressure placed on both women and men to look young, vibrant and remain sexy. Further, there are marketing and employment studies which suggest that younger more attractive people get hired more easily and advance their careers more rapidly than average, older-looking ones.

When Petra Kalivodova, the 31-year-old Czechoslovakian nurse who opted for breast augmentation and liposuction was asked about her choice she said “People of my mother’s generation look down on me for getting the surgery—“I see it in their eyes. But I don’t care. I did this because I wanted to and I didn’t ask anyone’s permission, including my boyfriend.” I think her comments reflect a changing and growing attitude among women 35 and under who believe that personal choice, feminine beauty and pursuing professional careers are no longer mutually exclusive.

Until next time.

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!


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FDA to Expand Scope of Foreign Inspections-Gee, What a Novel Idea!

Posted in Career Advice

The US Food and Drug Administration announced late last week that it intends to post inspectors in embassies and consulates throughout the developing world to improve the quality of the food and medicines that flow into the US. FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach (Bush’s latest appointee to head the agency), said that he wants to have “boots-on-the-ground in developing nations like India and China and regions like Central and South America and the Middle East.” At present, less than 1% of the food imported into the US is inspected each year

As many of you know, FDA inspectors are required to visit both domestic and foreign manufacturing facilities that produce food, cosmetics and medicines that are sold in the US. By law, these inspections must take place every 3 years. Unfortunately, due to budget shortfalls and inspector shortages, routine inspections at domestic facilities are now taking place every 4 to 5 years– it is unclear how frequently inspections occur at foreign manufacturing facilities.  Based on von Eschenbach’s call for more foreign-based inspectors, the answer is likely “not frequently enough.”

The obvious solution to this problem is to increase the agency’s budget to hire and train new inspectors. However, despite repeated attempts by lawmakers, the Bush administration has steadfastly refused to endorse or consider budget increases for the agency. Instead, White House officials have urged the agency to uses any means possible to “bolster the aggressiveness and effectiveness of foreign health regulators” to prevent unsafe or tainted products from reaching the US market. I do not want to sound overly cynical but good will can go only so far with financial inducements or incentives.

Despite the obvious need for more inspectors, von Eschenbach admitted that his plan to post inspectors in foreign countries is “only in its infancy”. Also, he hasn’t decided whether he will ask Congress for additional funding for the agency or find money in the current budget for the foreign inspectors. I suspect that “finding money” in the current budget would translate into curbing other regulatory activities at FDA –something that would not bode well for the already-embattled agency. The inability of von Eschenbach to secure funding to train and deploy new inspectors is another reason why I believe that the FDA Commissioner ought not to be a political appointee!

Until next time…

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