More news of layoffs in the pharma industry today. Big Pharma are shedding scientists to reduce expenses as patent cliffs approach, compounds fail in late stage clinical trials, and pipelines dry up. Even smaller companies like Alnylam and Scynexis are reducing their already lean workforce to focus resources on their most promising opportunities. A recent report in Motley Fool (No Vacancy: Workers Need Not Apply to This Sector) paints a grim picture of the near future for the industry as a whole. But what really happens to the tens of thousands of displaced scientists? Where do they go, what do they do? I suspect that some get hired by another pharma, only to be let go again as Shrinking Workforce Syndrome makes the rounds. Some probably find other niche areas in science outside of the lab. Some may leverage know-how and even unwanted IP to start small companies.
The reality is that it takes a critical mass of scientific resources to fill a pipeline, and while not all of the pharma cuts have been in research, it does beg the question: who will discover the medicines of the future? Even more importantly, with potentially far fewer scientific resources on the task, HOW will future drug discovery happen? Surely this is not business as usual, and the time for a new way of thinking about how to capitalize on the scientific expertise that has been decentralized through corporate downsizing is at hand. A distributed model where science happens through crowdsourcing, collaboration, open science, and an evolution of academic science centers needs to be explored and embraced. Times of change present great opportunity to challenge the status quo and crank up innovation.