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Monday, January 22, 2007

Pfizer Falls

Pfizer came up with a new plan. Take ten percent of the work force and get rid of them. Ten thousand human beings working on the Cargo Cult Airport known as Pfizer are going to be set free.

Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, said it would cut manufacturing sites in Brooklyn and in Omaha and would seek to sell a third site in Germany. It would close three research sites in Michigan and said it hopes to close one in Japan and another France.

Pharmaceutical industry analysts have generally been welcoming cutbacks by Pfizer but have said that while cost-cutting is beneficial, the company needs to resume growth by bringing new products to market. Still, Pfizer’s shares were trading down about 1 percent this afternoon.

Pfizer has been suffering from the loss of patent protection on key drugs like the antidepressant Zoloft and the antibiotic Zithromax. Sales of both drugs plummeted more than 70 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006, the company reported today.

At the same time its laboratories have had difficulty coming up with new hits. The company suffered a huge blow in December when safety concerns prompted it to halt development of torcetrapib, a cardiovascular drug that it considered the most promising experimental drug in its pipeline.

The number one drug company in the world today, with billions and billions of dollars cannot come up with new useful drugs. With all of the advances in biological science over the past few decades you would think it would be easier.

The truth about drug science is that scientists all work in cubicles, attend meetings and write reports. They do not go into the lab. After obtaining their PhDs they go out and do what they do best; they talk. They are trained to write grant proposals. They are trained to defend popular notions that they most likely did not think of themselves. They learn to take a certain tone of voice that makes people think they know what they're talking about.

The Cargo Cult Scientist spent a year interpreting DNA data to PhD scientists in the drug industry. These "experts" were too old to have learned molecular biology software. If, for example, they wanted to know if there was a mutation in a clone they had to ask me. The only way they could know the truth was if I told them. And then they had to trust me. Others, less important, could easily bring up the files in Vector NTI software and compare for themselves. They would be able to come up with the mutation if there was one. It's easy if you take the time to learn new things.

Senior scientists have put themselves in positions where they do not need white lab coats. This disconnect between how data is obtained and how it is talked about has created a lull in the productivity of new drugs. Arrogance is a factor. There is also a culture of accepting failure as the norm. So ten thousand people are losing their jobs at Pfizer. This is perhaps a good thing for the industry. Some of us need to find more productive careers. If that means putting on a Home Depot apron and helping people with home impovement projects, then so be it. Society needs helpers more than they do useless scientists desperately clinging on to their jobs. The receptionists, lawyers, accountants and all of the other "carpet walkers" did their jobs. The scientists did not. They failed and Pfizer has fallen.

Ironically, it will be scientists who help Pfizer get back on its feet. Can Jeff Kindler find the right people? Getting rid of the wrong people is a good start.

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