Medicine Personal

The ASCO Meeting: The swag!

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgOrac is on his way home from the ASCO meeting in Chicago. Shockingly, he was so busy that he didn’t bother to write anything last night, his last night in Chicago. Fortunately, he found something from the archives that’s perfect for this occasion. This is something he wrote in 2007, after the last time he attended the ASCO meeting in Chicago. That means if you haven’t been reading at least three years, this post is new to you. It also serves as an entry point for few pictures I want to post, just as soon as I get a chance to suck them out of my iPhone and onto my computer after I get home and put them up, the difference being a contrast between ASCO now and ASCO then. Yes, things appear to be (somewhat) different now. Or maybe it’s I who’ve changed.

Dedicated advocate of evidence-based medicine that I am, I am sometimes labeled by those who do not understand skepticism as a “shill” for big pharma. Of course, such accusations are simply the logical fallacy known as poisoning the well, in which the credulous engage in preemptive ad hominem attacks designed to associate me with the hated big pharma, but it’s a common enough tactic that sometimes I can’t help but joke that I wish pharma did actually pay me for my little hobby here. After all, why do for free (or for a pittance from my Seed overlords) what, if you believe the alties, I could be paid big bucks to do, right?

This post may endanger my chance at that fantastical gravy train; that is, if the gravy train exists, which I sincerely doubt it does. I like the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). It does great work, particularly the ASCO Foundation, which is about as worthy a charity as there is out there, not to mention a very large private supporter of cancer research. ASCO itself provides a voice for cancer doctors, publishes several cancer journals, and disseminates the results of huge quantities of research every year at its annual meetings. Still, I have to admit that sometimes I find the massive big pharma presence at the annual ASCO meetings to be troubling, particularly after reading Dr. Len’s article in which he discussed how ASCO debated in the 1970s about whether to let big pharma in.

However, what does exist, if you attend a meeting like the ASCO Meeting, is an amazing display of big pharma excess, as I alluded to last week. Of course, with big meetings and big displays like this an come big swag, and this meeting had some serious swag.

Because vendors pay a premium for placement close to the entrance, if you look at the entrance to the exhibit hall, you can get an idea of just who the biggest players were this year:




From these pictures, we can see that Genentech, Sanofi-Aventis, and AstraZeneca seemed to have the best placement. True, there was one other place I’d have wanted to be if I were a vendor, and that’s where escalators from the lower level where the shuttle buses arrived dumped new arrivals right in the middle of the exhibit floor, but that’s still not as good as being right up at the main entrance.

The first thing I noticed wandering about the exhibit hall was that the swag at ASCO was better than it was at the AACR Meeting, which I attended in April. A lot of the same vendors were at AACR; some of them even had displays as impressive as the ones at ASCO. However, they weren’t giving out the same level of stuff. Just as an example, the simplest of all swag, the lowly pen, tended to be of the cheap plastic variety at AACR, while at ASCO there were very nice pens with metal barrels, and at at least one booth you could get the pen laser-etched with your name. You may ask why this difference in swag potential between the meetings exists, given that AACR is not all that much smaller a meeting than ASCO, clocking in at around 2/3 the number of attendees. The answer, I speculate, is simple. AACR is primarily a scientific meeting. A lot of physicians attend it, but so do a lot of basic science researchers, postdocs, and fellows. In contrast, the ASCO meeting is almost all clinical. It’s attendees are nearly all physicians, many of them oncologists who prescribe the very chemotherapeutics that the drug companies are selling. At AACR, pens and the occasional laser pointer, along with the ubiquitous bags and occasional mug, were the main swag. At ASCO, I saw wireless mouses, engraved pens, laser pointers, thumb drives; in other words, higher class swag. Whereas at AACR, only a few booths were serving various treats such as cappuccino or fruit smoothies, at ASCO, my impression was that such perks were present at quite a few of the booths.

Believe it or not, I didn’t actually gather that much swag to take home, although I knew at least a couple of people who were total swag-masters, hunting down only the finest items. They would not settle for mere pens, much as, say, Paris Hilton would not settle for shopping at Walmart. One example that stood out was Novartis, at whose booth were being given out leather compendiums. But not just any leather compendiums. Oh, no. Attendees could have these embossed with their names. Even better, the compendiums did not have the Novartis company name etched anywhere on them. Very classy, and appreciated by connoisseurs of swag. Had I needed a leather compendium for anything, I would have been seriously tempted.

However, Novartis’ offerings paled in comparison to those of the company that had to win, hands down, the award for most outrageous swag. That company this year was, without a doubt, Genentech. Here’s what greeted attendees who approached the Genentech booth:


At different ends of the booth, you’d see representatives like this waiting to greet people:


The black things in the wooden display next to the representatives were leather cases about the size of a CD caddy that could hold around 100 CDs. But they weren’t CD holders. Rather, each case had four different compartments into which swag would fit. The attendees’ job, if they decided to take it, was to go to four different stations inside the booth and fill up the compartments. Armed with one of these black leather cases and a multicolored cube, they sallied forth to do battle, and to the victors went the swag. Of course Genentech had it set up so that everyone could be a winner. All one had to do was to swipe one’s ID badge (so that Genentech could deluge one with junk mail, presumably) and take four brief quizzes, one at each station, after each one of which, one would get one of the four items needed to fill the leather case.

“Contestants” started each quiz, by taking one of the multicolored cubes and placing it into a hole in a pedestal, like so:


This would begin the quiz, which basically consisted of mind-numbingly simple questions about Genentech products that almost anyone could answer, and, if anyone couldn’t, the helpful Genentech reps would happily provide the answers. After attendees completed the quiz, they would put their cubes into large bowls:


(I have no idea whose hand that was. It just sort of snuck into the shot.)

So what was Genentech giving out? What were the four items that were needed to fill the leather case? I didn’t actually go through and get them, but I observed, and this is what filled these cases: a wireless mouse; a 1 GB thumb drive; a combination laser-pointer/infrared remote control PowerPoint slide advancer; and, finally, a four outlet USB hub. Here’s a wireless mouse with the Tarceva logo on it (a Genentech/OSI Pharmaceuticals product):


I’m pretty sure that, combined with the leather case, the total value of each one of these swag sets had to be around $100, and Genentech was handing out what to me looked like hundreds of them, if not thousands over the four day course of the meeting.

I found this a bit disturbing because I happen to like Genentech quite a bit as a company. I know a couple of people who work for the company (not well, I should point out, though). Moreover, back when I was in junior high school, I remember doing a report on genetic engineering, part of which included a mention of a (then) brand new biotechnology company dedicated to using genetic engineering to develop drugs and treatments for human disease. The time was the late 1970s, and the company was Genentech. In many ways, Genentech was a pioneer in the entire biotech industry, and as such it’s research-driven in a way that goes beyond that of most pharmaceutical companies. Its research has led to products such as Herceptin, Tarceva, and Avastin, the latter of which was the first major antiangiogenic therapy to be approved for cancer. The company also consistently wins awards for being one of the best companies to work for and for being a “good corporate citizen.” Indeed, in 2006 it ranked #1 in Fortune Magazine’s “best companies to work for” list, although Google knocked it out of that spot in 2007. Somehow, Genentech, in transforming itself from the scrappy biotech company with a vision to use the (then) new techniques of genetic engineering to produce better pharmaceutical products into the behemoth that it is now, has taken on a lot of the excesses of big pharma in the process. I wonder if such a transformation was inevitable once Genentech became as profitable as it is.

All of this also made me wonder whether all this promotion and swag are really necessary. For example, in the case of Genentech, some of their products have, in essence, no competition. For example, there is at present no other drug that does what Herceptin does. Even so, the swag flowed freely from the Genentech booth at ASCO, as it did from many other companies’ booths. I accept that in a free market capitalist system promotions and advertising are necessary, but how much of this swag is really necessary? Does handing out $100 batches of swag, after spending tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars to set up and man a booth at ASCO, really produce that much of a return on the expenditure for promotions? It strikes me as overkill.

If I were a shareholder in any of these companies, I’d want to know.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

34 replies on “The ASCO Meeting: The swag!”

Man, you don’t get anything near that good at entomological meetings. 🙂

Or anything even vaguely social-sciencey – at the major trade show I was exhibiting at, I was gleeful about an A6 notebook with a little elastic loop for a pen – way more classy than the pens I was handing out (and those were my best pens) Mind you, I trumped him by also offering sweets – people who wouldn’t cross the floor for an ipad seem to be magnetically drawn to a bowlful of sweets. Nevertheless, I’m going to need to switch lists into clinical medicine if I’m to get the primo swag.

(Mind you, if I put effort into it, I could have come away from that meeting with my bodyweight in bags. Nothing in them mind you – just the bags themselves.)

Pharma needs access to MD’s to tell them about their products and sway their prescribing habits. The medical community’s misgivings about pharma influence resulted in not only an antagonistic attitude toward Pharma, but a continuing policy of restriction of access.

Pharma Sales divisions are run by their marketing departments, which operate under the same principles as marketers of soap powder. They responded by increasing the number of sales reps by a factor of ten in order to keep the number of interactions between their reps and MD’s constant.

Swag is a direct result of fewer MD’s talking to reps.

Gone are the halcyon days when a MD might look forward to the opportunity to take a break from his clinical work for a few minutes two or three times a week, talk to a mature well-informed adult from a pharma company, and actually learn something interesting or useful about the products, instead of receiving a canned FDA-approved generic sales pitch from a science-naive Barbie doll.

Too bad all around.

Yesterday CNBC,which I use daily in my financial adventures,featured live reports from ASCO(although I looked carefully,I failed to spot either Orac or his “friend”)and suggestions for investors.They will probably be continuing related information today. In the interests of full disclosure:I have never worked for Pharma (although my cousin and his wife do) and have only benefitted from them financially through mutual funds.*And* by having family members living to advanced ages despite serious illnesses like CHF,type 1 diabetes,COPD,epilepsy,etc.BTW,my PharmaDude cousin is a long term cancer survivor.

Man, I knew I shoulda gone into medicine instead of accounting, or at least stayed a pharmacy tech. Believe me, the swag at accounting conferences sucks! (we all sit there either wondering if they’ve paid sales tax properly on the swag they’ve brought into town or how much less expensive the product would be if they didn’t give out the gewgaws)


You don’t want to be in medicine *or* accounting. You want to be in sales. You think that that the sales people gave all the swag away?

Totally jealous of the swag. The best I get at geology meetings is from NASA– last year they were handing out cookie cutters! Of satellites! Although a wireless mouse & flash drive would probably beat that.

Actually, they don’t– a) the company would consider it stealing and b) they have to carry all that crap and check it on the plane, potentially sitting around while it’s searched. The best time to hit booths is the last hour of the conference when they insist on giving you five of everything so they don’t have to take it home. I got three bottles of hot sauce like that once (no, I don’t remember what hot sauce had to do with seismic surveys).

OT, but *wince* you seem to have an Autism Speaks ad on your page…

I don’t reckon you have any control over that, eh? ><

A friend of the family is a PCP who works part-time at one of the local residental mental health centres. One night he brought home a bizarre bit of medical rep swag — a plaque with a plastic singing fish (I think they’re called “Billy Bass”) and the Prozac logo emblazoned on it. My friend and I had a great wine-fuelled night deconstructing the possible existential message implicit in that bit o’swag.

On a personal level, the best bit of swag I ever got from a conference was a coffee cup with the Prozac logo on it. I still use it at the office. Since I work in IT now, it gets attention, as if it were some kind of frequent-user prize.

Hate to disappoint those planning their clinical careers to get swag, but the swag is going away. More and more states are forbidding so much as taking a cookie from drug reps. Ostensibly this is to reduce conflict of interest. Personally, I theorize that the drug companies discovered that it wasn’t cost effective and started the movement to make everyone “pure” to save money.

I’m pretty sure the new PhRMA code means no more free pens, plastic or otherwise.

Nice to hear that professional conference and meeting swag still exists… but of course, travel funding to attend has dried up dramatically! Best tactic I ever learned was from my brother (from his marine safety and engineering conferences) He traveled with preprinted postage paid labels from his office, and would take all the swag and propaganda, box it, and have it shipped back to his office. No lugging overstuffed suitcase of wireless mice, hot sauce, or textbooks. Even smarter nowadays with luggage fees, weighed bags, and TSA scrutiny.

but my current employer (Large, university based Medical Center) had a “drug swag and gimme” purge about a year ago. No more drug pens, post it notes, scratch pads, mousepads, or mugs. Drug company sponsored lectures and bagel deliveries had ended prior to that, and any books or reference goodies have to be donated according to strict protocols. CME lecture/dinner events can no longer be directly sponsored by drug companies, but need to be ‘washed’ by sponsorship thru local medical society or professional organization, with indirect support from BigPharma reluctantly accepted.

Apparently, “research” determined that prescribers were readily and easily swayed in prescribing patterns if they saw a post it or a pen from one drug or another. Not sure if that was while drinking red wine or white, eating fish or red meat, or what other variables might be effective.

I like to think that I continue to prescribe what I think is best for that patient, that problem, at that time, with total disregard to the logo that might have been on a pen. Now I have to pay for pens, the office buys post-it notes, and we never seem to have scratch pads.

AUGIE: I and the rest of the gang anxiously await your witty response!

I have a terrible habit of accidentally stealing pens at work (I am a hospital RN) but since the drug reps stopped being allowed to give out pens in my state, the docs are much more vigilant about getting their pens back instead of leaving a huge trail of them wherever they go. Since I tend to lose pens almost as quickly as I collect them, now I’m always scrambling to find one. It will be a fine day when charting becomes completely paperless.

…and all I got at the PHS conference last week was a foam rubber chicken from BARDA.

We (BC provincial cancer agency) have protocols from which you are allowed to prescribe. Since doctors are salaried and the government does all of the buying of the meds, our conferences are less swag-heavy. At the same time, we get periodic e-mails from tech companies trying to sell us better lab equipment, and there are “demonstration meetings” that are basically just sales pitches.

It’s times like that I’m glad I don’t work in a lab. I am susceptible to the software package salesmen, but most of my work gets done in MS Office or SAS (although I am using R now, which is open-source).

I have to add – Ian is right, there’s virtually no pharma swag in BC – back in the early 90s when I was in pharmacy, the most we had were pill counting trays, and MDs had less! Even back in the days of swag, my GPs office had a policy of allowing one visit per year by the drug reps (practice of 8 GPs) (although they could drop off samples anytime), so both swag and lunches were pretty limited!

I think there needs to be a radical rethinking of this kind of behavior at conferences. It’s unnecessary and it drives up the cost of health care.

I’ve been on the vendor side of this equation before, and the info gained almost never turns into any kind of real benefit.

There is a game going on here. The attendee is usually bored, and looking to take something back to the kids or staff. There is a sort of “swag frenzy” by attendees. They want to get free stuff without getting deluged with junk mails and hard-sell pitches. Docs and PIs who return empty handed get some static from either family or the nurses and staff they work with. It’s become EXPECTED.

The vendor is trying desperately to make any kind of impression at all in a “customer frenzy” where each attendee moves like a ping-pong ball among hundreds of different booths. No message is going to stick. The literature handed out clogs up the trash cans just at the exit of the exhibit hall. No-one wants to haul it home. No-one bothers to read the meaningless marketing-speak anyway.

What Genentech is clearly doing is to appeal to the “boredom and free stuff” angle by offering a game and really cool swag. Their reward is that the customer is forced to recall, however briefly, key marketing messages. It is, quite frankly, marketing genius. They spend more than $100 per pair of eyeballs just on print advertising, and the message is less interactive.

If you think of this NOT as Genentech advertising their products, but as Genentech’s marketing department fulfilling their mandate, it makes a lot more sense why they spend half a million dollars to demonstrate their ability to influence key demographics effectively. Muscle flexing by a group that has to justify their budget. Metrics, to use the hated term.

I’m all in favor of a more rational, ethical system that benefits both parties. My biotech/diagnostics employer is moving towards more workshops and seminars, fewer marketing gimmicks. Hooray for us. You still have to promise food to get people in the door, though.

Orac, you’re seriously underestimating the cost for attending a show like this as a vendor. The swag in chickenfeed compared to the rest. A big set-up like this, you’re talking $50k in rental alone (plus “sponsor” status). The set-up costs probably $10k to buy, $5k to ship, plus several hundred hours of marketing staff time to develop. Add 10 people staffing that thing for 4 days, plus set-up and removal time, airfare, hospitality suites, and you easily get a quarter million dollar budget just for one show. The swag you describe is probably less than $25 per person, so even a thousand kits are only 10% of the budget. The last show we were present with a little 20 ft booth and three people staffing was close to $20k in total budget.

Really, all that from one company?

At natural products expo west all I got was some free chocolate and a bag full of larabars. Oh wait one herbal company was giving away one free ipod shuffle all weekend long. So much for the Big in big supplement. Then again the amount of BS being spun was worth it’s weight in gold. S

Though I did notice a lot of companies having empty product on their shelves, apparently some store owners though it was their right that they get to take what ever they wanted from vendors. it’s kinda funny until you add in the quack fanatic factor of these store owners. They delude themselves into thinking that they are so righteous they can steal and so smart they can heal. But they know not the difference between lpha ipoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid and oleic acid.

CME lecture/dinner events can no longer be directly sponsored by drug companies, but need to be ‘washed’ by sponsorship thru local medical society or professional organization, with indirect support from BigPharma reluctantly accepted.

This sort of thing is exactly what worries me about the new COI rules. If, say, Roche puts on a CME lecture/dinner overtly then I know that it’s Roche and that they want to get the message in about their product. If the sponsorship has been washed through some professional organization then I may not even be aware of the corporate sponsorship and so don’t know the potential biases as well. Of course, we should always view presentations skeptically, everyone has their biases, etc, but it just makes it easier to have the major bias up front. See some of Orac’s posts about Elsevier and their pseudo-peer reviewed journals for a real life example.

WRT Genentech: You know they got bought by Roche, right? This is likely behind the massive swag giveaway. Roche is all about the swag and branding. Always have been. Their Dx division is a particularly fine example of what happens when you value branding more than R&D.

Otherwise, what Mu @ 18 said. Drop in the bucket. I spend more than that in two weeks on consumable lab supplies for my little group of four people.

*scratches head* A question for all you doctor-scientists–Would you see any value in something like a packet of the best basic science papers we do? I mean, there do seem to be various ideas about Big Pharma science and what we actually do, but it rarely matches up with reality, even amongst other scientists. They are often shocked that we do any basic research, even though we publish it in the top-tier journals (PNAS, Baby Nature, etc). Or would that be the sort of thing no one would read without a CME credit involved?

my favorite bit of swag is a wall clock we got when the rep said “Anything else you need?” and office manager said “Yeah a clock.” Rep got a funny look on his face and said “I’ll be right back.”

We may be the only hospital pharmacy with an orange plastic clock shaped like the top of an umbrella, complete with orange sparkly raindrops reminding us that ditropan is good to the last drop.

Hey, I’m still using pens and scratch pads from when my mom worked at a doctor’s office. Drug reps would drop the stuff off and the docs would hand it out to the back office staff.

@21: I’d like it, but I can’t speak for anyone else in the known universe. It might sit on my “will get to this real soon” pile for a long time but it wouldn’t get thrown out the way the drug glossies do.

Since you seem to be in pharma, could I ask you a slightly obnoxious question: How do you like it and which pharma companies do you think are decent to work for? I’m considering a move to pharma. Or possibly Canada. Or the VA. Someplace where I don’t have to alter treatment to take into account what the patient can afford.

It’s not overkill if it works, and drug companies wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work.

I live in Marin where most moms think their kids are above average. What I love about these swag giveaways is that most doctors think they are above average too – that their drug prescribing behaviors can’t possibly be changed by accepting a little pen by big Pharma. We need to get over ourselves and accept the possibility that these things work and they are costing our system a whole lot of money.


Shills and Minions,

Really now, what’s all this fuss about a few trinkets? If there’s one thing we Pharma Overlords have learned over the years, it’s that you monkeys love two things: shiny objects and hyperbolic praise.

Sure Genentech is a tad . . . flashy. They’re a relatively new outpost of the Pharma Conspiritorium run by the V’saak Dominion. They’re a hive mind species and are constantly seeking the acceptance of the Mahrond Reptiloid Polity whose swag is coveted throughout the Sagittarius Arm.

So “cut them some slack”, as the hatchlings are so fond of saying. It is well known throughout the sector that small, decorated note pads and abnormally fat writing utensils are quite effective in inducing the locals to “ask their doctors” about Zestorvytorivir™ or Photoclamavoxx™. As for Genentech’s leather pouches and electronic devices, to quote the hatchlings again, “dude, that shit is sick“.

So when you visit your doctor, or peruse a magazine, or scan Respectful Insolence, or watch an episode of Fringe, remember who pays for it.

A word to the wise my shills, when you’re tempted to criticize our methods, don’t forget who it is that butters your toast. Now let’s get back to work, we’ve a planet to enslave . . .

Lord Draconis Zeneca, VC, iH7L
PharmaCOM Orbital HQ


Dear Lord Draconis Zeneca,

Can you get me seven more of the dark-blue Prozac coffe mugs? I’d like to have a full set for use at family holiday dinners.



Dianne @ 24:

It depends on what you want to do in pharma. Most clinical trial work is done by CROs now, and from what I understand those pretty much suck all over the place–I’m a mere biochemist/bioengineer, so I’m hearing this secondhand, but my understanding is that working for the clinical CROs is fucking horrible in many ways. The main complaint being that they are quite underpaid and don’t have a lot of say in trial design or protocol, lots of pressure from their own management to enroll as many patients as possible and play fast and loose with enrollment criteria–then they get reamed by the client for crappy results. Can’t win. High turnover in the CROs, always a bad sign.

If you’ve got the MD-PhD, and are interested in bossing a bunch of lab geeks, then you can work as an actual Big Pharma minion, black silk cowl and everything, but unfortunately they are mostly not hiring. Everyone’s been laying off, using lots of academic collaborators and outsourcing to CROs, and the CROs cut corners on staffing, would not be willing to pay the big MD-PhD bucks.

As for what the signs of a good pharma company would be, I’d say avoid any company that has gone through a merger or acquisition within the past three years, or had a Consent Decree issued at the site (or a nearby/headquarters campus) within the past 18-24 months. Sadly, that rules out a great many, but there are still some good ones. Vertex and Cubist are both recognized as being quite good for infectious diseases. I have some colleagues at BMS who are happy enough, and do some good stuff. Abbott doesn’t pay as well as others, isn’t exactly cutting-edge, but almost never has layoffs. Boehringer is thought to be nice enough to work for, if you can get in–also rarely has layoffs and does solid research, values smart people as opposed to brown-nosers. I’ve heard lovely things about Shire, most everyone I know there is happy and their managers seem both thoughtful and clever.

Hope this helps

I once worked as a drug rep. 15 years ago. It was the worst year of my life.

The worst example of bribery-for-access I can recall goes like this.

A high prescribing Dr. has a set policy for drug visits. You had to buy lunch for the entire office for 4 minutes with Doc. They had a list of “approved” restaurants that one could order from. Lunch entrees were over $20 each, and they expected salads and desserts too. You had to drop by or have them fax you the lunch order the day before and then turn up with it at lunch hour. IIRC I spent over $300 to feed less than 10 people.

So I showed up at the appointed time to be told by the woman at the desk that Doc was too busy, just leave the bags with her and we’ll fit you in a couple weeks away. She then calls me the day before the next appt to ask why I hadn’t called to take their lunch order. I was dumbfounded! They expected me to pony up again!

So, bags in hand I showed up the next day only to be told that Doc was again too busy, leave the food and try again in a couple months.

I told her sorry, no, if the lunch was the price of admission I had paid it twice and I expected to see the Doc. She told me again, in a harsher tone, that wasn’t possible and that I was to give her the bags and leave immediately. I turned and walked out, bags in hand, and she watched through the front window as I found a garbage can in the parking lot (Doc had his office in a strip mall) and stuffed the lunches in.

I was fired the next day.

Big Blue: Thanks, that is helpful. Disturbing in some ways, but helpful. Do you have any gossip on Novartis and Roche, both of which are hiring right now? Probably a bad sign that they’re hiring in this economy I suppose.

Novartis: I personally would not work there. They are notorious for two things. One is their recent gender discrimination case–they are indeed run by a Good Ole Boys Club. The other is that they expect 60+ hour workweeks of everyone, regardless of actual job duties. As in, if you are very efficient about time management and get your work done in, say, 9 hours, you are viewed as a slacker if you actually go home and rest and eat supper. They pay well, about 15% above the industry average, but people burn out at Novartis. Also, some of their managers are scientifically so stupid they shouldn’t be let out in public. I know many people who have gone there and been unhappy, I know many people who have quit from there to do something more soothing, like work in inner city emergency rooms. That’s why they are always hiring, really.

Roche: Roche is all over the place and doesn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground at this point. Their Diagnostics business is a clusterfuck and probably circling the drain–too many acquisitions, they can’t manage the tech properly and will soon get their asses handed to them by Life. Genentech was once extremely good, the very best, but the acquisition has made most of those folks as nervous as cattle in a slaughterhouse chute. The Swiss managers are extremely conservative, which is bad for the science, so I have reservations about how they can manage a company as creative as Genentech; knowing some of my colleagues there, I can guarantee their best people will head elsewhere or form their own startup in the event of an oppressive culture. They will likely be rather discombobulated for a couple of years before they settle down to making drugs again. I’m sure many have quit just out of being nervous, regardless of actual job security, which is likely why they are hiring.

Have you tried Shire? I believe they are hiring for a good reason, they are expanding their biotech work–their main competitor, Genzyme, effed up pretty badly recently and so they now have zero competition for a few Phase III products AND they have a decent pipeline. They pay decently, I think 10% above average or so, and everything I’ve heard about them is nice. Disclaimer: I don’t work there, I work for Satan, but some of my colleagues do. They enjoy it very much. I believe the site they are expanding is in a really nice location too, outside Boston in a cutesy town. The only downside of a company like that is that they will most likely get acquired on account of being so good.

Thanks, Big Blue. I suspected as much, but it’s useful to know for sure. I’m not sure about Shire, mostly because it’s UK based and I’ve got a concern, possibly unfounded, about the UK’s ability to regulate its food and drug industry. Mad cow disease kind of destroyed my faith in their regulatory system. So however good the company is I’m not sure I want to deal with the lack of backup. Besides which it’s not clear to me that they even have an oncology division. How’s Satan as an employer? I’ve already worked for the VA so my soul’s long gone.

Oh, which regulatory agency you fall under doesn’t matter a single bit with respect to what country the company is based in–they all register in every country at some point, typically starting with FDA or EMEA and then work their way out to Japan and Australia, then down to South America. The order varies only according to the home country of the project director at the moment, so if your commercialization director is from, say, Argentina, then it’ll start in a South American country and work its way North and East. Most of em go the FDA/EMEA route first though, and there is some talk of harmonizing the requirements across the board to make one really big regulatory package that would be good everywhere. At this point the agencies are sort of six of one, half-doz. t’other. I’d even say that EMEA is better, food-wise, than the FDA, believe it or not. There are many things EMEA has banned as hazardous that are still used in the US food supply (e.g. b-steroid agonists–Paylean).

Satan is not so great actually. Layoffs every 18 months, v. bad for productivity. I love my big blue paycheck, and my director specifically is cool, but a good portion of the company sucks. Also, HQ is not a very nice place to live. Seriously, it’s the middle of nowhere, and I am glad to be at a satellite campus–I’m practically in Purgatory, can almost peek at Heaven from my office.

Ah, didn’t know you wanted oncology. In that case, BMS is pretty decent. Biogen is OK (not great, just OK, they have investor issues as they have been plagued with Carl Icahn’s tantrums for years now–a distraction to even the most focused), too. Avoid Takeda, for sure. Any particular reason you want oncology? Many things are sorta multi-purpose these days, really; they go for multiple indications on so many projects. Lots of the old oncology stuff has been recycled for Inflammation. Lymphoma and the occasional leukemia projects are good for that, you see them again in RA or asthma trials, it translates very well if you are interested in that sort of thing. Just a suggestion.

You guys get better stuff than Institute of Food Technology attendants. I went once with my husband and scored one Godiva chocolate and one fat free cookie made with prune puree. I declined the paper cup of seaweed soup.

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