Bio Saga Headlines

Bio Saga

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A blogger studies GSK's pending layoffs and the politics behind them

GSK: Money-Green Outside, Pink-Slip Inside

GSK is indeed wielding the ax today and tomorrow. I'm hearing that that the smallest cuts are around 40% of the entire research staff at the various sites. This is big, and it's bad. . . says Derek

GlaxoSmithKline has been going through some sort of mid-life crisis recently. Their chairman, Jean-Pierre Garnier, just retired amidst the mutter of angry shareholders, for one thing. And the company has been splashing out on some very flashy acquisitions, such as the Sirtris deal which has just now completed. This is all going on against the backdrop of the Avandia disaster, and a perceived drought of current clinical successes.

Now the company is cutting their own head count in research, to what sounds like a pretty serious degree. There have been substantial cuts at their sites in Italy and the UK, and the Research Triangle and Pennsylvania sites are getting it even harder, from what I'm hearing. Some chemistry areas are losing more than half their people. I believe that today is the day that a lot of people are hearing whether they stay or go, and I feel bad just hearing it from a distance, having seen that stuff close up a few times myself.

The proximate cause of all this turmoil is probably the loss of all that Avandia revenue, although that may have just advanced the timetable on some decisions that the eompany was going to make eventually no matter what. Many GSK scientists are (understandably) feeling as if they’re being ditched in favor of a bunch of people whose main advantage is that upper management isn’t so familiar with them yet.

Whether that’s true or not, it’s a tough one to refute. There is a persistent “grass is greener” mentality in the drug industry. Perhaps that’s partly because, on an individual basis, the grass really is often greener. The best way to work your way up in the industry, for the majority of scientists, is to jump ship once in a while, which keeps you from being pigeonholed or taken for granted in your current company. (A less charitable view, accurate in a few cases, is that it’s in some people’s best interest to leave before everyone else catches on to them).

And on a company-wide level, it’s hard not to think of everyone else as being at least a little more competent than your own shop is. That’s because you see the inevitable bozo mistakes of your own workplace up close, whereas you don’t get such good seats for the ones happening elsewhere. And the side that all drug companies show to their competition is a bristling pile of patents and confident press releases about their mighty drug pipelines. You know, looking at your own company’s public face, how much of it is real and how much is bravado or wishful thinking. But it’s hard to keep in mind that the same goes for everyone else, too.

I don’t know how much this effect is contributing to what’s going on at GSK. After all, some of the deals that the company’s making are for specific development compounds that they didn’t have in house. But I’m pretty sure that there are researchers over there who are thinking about whether they could have gotten a sirtuin program off the ground a few years ago, like the one they just bought. Or what would have happened to them if they'd tried. . .

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