Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Future of UK Pharma

A recent email from Scientific Update highlighted an interview with their founder, Dr Trevor Laird, in Chemistry & Industry – the monthly magazine from the SCI. Following a question on process chemistry in industry, Dr Laird was asked “And is the future looking positive?” The reply:

I think globally, in the long term, it is. Unfortunately in the UK, with so many redundancies over the last 2 to 3 years, it’s not great, but there’s a lot of expansion in India and China. I think we have to look at all aspects of industry: pharmaceuticals are in the doldrums at the moment, but you never know what’s coming up.

Organic, electronic chemicals for solar energy devices – that might be the next big expansion in fine chemical manufacturing, giving new opportunities to people in the future.

While not a surprise (in a 2010 OPRD editorial, Dr Laird discussed the question “Is there a future for organic chemists in the pharmaceutical industry outside China and India?”), it’s still not good news for UK chemistry graduates who may have been holding onto hope for a recovery in this once-thriving sector. Instead, as pharma companies move further into the outsourcing model, more positions are opening up in contract research or manufacturing organisations (CRO/CMOs).

The suggestion of solar energy as the next potential boon for chemists is an interesting one. Few positions have been advertised in this sector in the last 18 months on the main job boards, but it would be worth investigating which companies carry out research in this area. For those already developing skillsets in pharmaceutical R&D, an alternative, prosperous, industry to consider would be agrochemicals (eg, Syngenta).

Finally, I thought it may be interesting to turn back to OPRD – the excellent industry journal for process chemistry, of which Dr Laird is editor. With more process chemistry being carried out in the Far East, there was the chance that there may be an increase in OPRD papers accepted from this region.

While the data was supportive for 2011/12, a glance at the 2010 abstracts suggested this wasn't a major trend. Whether contracted companies overseas would even be allowed to publish results is questionable. A final word, and another factor that may be at play, comes from Trevor in his 2010 editorial: 

The only good news on this topic is that, as chemists seek to improve their CVs, they are realising that more publications make them more attractive to employers. As a result, they are urgently writing up their work and submitting papers to Organic Process Research & Development (OPRD). This is great for OPRD, but I’m hoping this will also result in positive outcomes for the job hunters.

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