Monday, February 27, 2017

Everyone loves insurance companies

Also in this week's C&EN, quite the story of bureaucratic wrangling to get a drug by Rick Mullin (emphasis mine): 
Anita Kissinger is an aggressive advocate for her health. When the retired teacher and administrator, who worked for a self-insured school district in Missouri, was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2014, she had to fight for access to a cure.... 
[snip] 
...Her doctor prescribed Harvoni, a new drug from Gilead that has the rarest of qualities—the capacity to cure most patients. Then came the bad news: The district’s health insurance plan for prescription drugs, which is managed by MedTrak, a pharmacy benefit management (PBM) firm, turned her down for the drug, which costs $94,500 for a course of treatment.
Kissinger filed an appeal and was refused again. She appealed again and the insurer responded that it would reconsider coverage if a fibroscan indicated there was sufficient damage to her liver. After the scan, the plan turned her down again. 
Kissinger retained a lawyer who began communicating with the insurer on her behalf. Eventually she received approval for a course of treatment with Harvoni. She then took her $5,000 copay to the drug’s manufacturer. Gilead paid all but $15. In the end, Kissinger received the benefit of the $94,500 breakthrough drug for $2,015, including legal fees.
I gotta say, if I were stuck in that situation, I would be incandescently angry at everyone involved. I don't think Gilead can escape some culpability for causing the situation (i.e. pricing Harvoni at a very high price)*, even if they were ultimately not responsible for a process that requires showing sufficient damage to her liver.

*UPDATE: Dr. Zoidberg makes a good point that I missed about Harvoni's value to the patient. I think that Dr Z. is right in that Harvoni deserves a high price in that it is a cure, and that they have done a bad job of communicating its value. What I was trying to communicate (poorly) is my belief that Gilead set the terms of the debate, and should have known that it would come out badly for them, even though they were the ones who were providing Harvoni.

"Go argue with your insurance company" is not a solution that's going to endear pharma companies to patients. 

AK Scientific hit with federal indictment for mislabeling shipping manifests

Also in this week's C&EN, I'm glad to read the government is monitoring those who cheat the regulatory system in shipping of compounds (emphasis mine): 
A federal grand jury has indicted lab chemical supplier AK Scientific, based in Union City, Calif., and its owner, Peiwen Zhou, for smuggling and illegally shipping hazardous chemicals. 
According to allegations contained in the indictment, Zhou told his employees to purchase hazardous chemicals (using false names) from suppliers in China. The indictment also charges that Zhou told employees to ship chemicals to customers in the U.S. and abroad without labeling them as hazardous. 
Reached via e-mail, an AK spokesperson describes the company’s hazardous materials shipment program as “industry leading.” He adds that “AK Scientific looks forward to working with the government to reach a just and reasonable conclusion.” 
If convicted, Zhou faces 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the smuggling charge alone. AK faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and several years of probation. 
The indictment alleges, for instance, that AK smuggled 25 kg of the carcinogenic reagent 1,2-dibromoethane from China in 2012 with shipping papers describing the package contents as “Bema Inkjet Ink.
 Something tells me Mr. Zhou will settle with the US Attorney. 

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles from this week's C&EN:

Friday, February 24, 2017

The View From Your Hood: faint moon edition

Credit: Anonymous
Anonymous submission.

(got a View from Your Hood submission? Send it in (with a caption, please) at chemjobber@gmail.com; will run every other Friday.)

Ask CJ: What to present when you're doing a stealth interview?

Credit: etsy
From the inbox, an evergreen of a question:
I'm hoping to have a on-site job interview coming up, and since I am number of years removed from grad school I am faced with a dilemma. I will need to present something technical, but I'm really not sure what would make sense. My graduate work is getting a bit stale at this point, and since it was what I worked on [a number of] years ago I don't know if its an appropriate topic. I am employed at the moment, and have plenty I could present about from my current work, but I know there is a confidentiality line in the sand that I don't want to cross.
I didn't know how to answer this, but I kept remembering this old Derek Lowe post and I finally found it. From 12 years ago, a great set of answers from the Blogfather himself:
There was a good question asked in the comments to the previous post on first job interviews: what do you talk about when you work at one company and you’re interviewing at another? 
Well, I’ve done that myself, more than once (note to my current co-workers: not in the last few years, folks.) And it can be tricky. But there are some rules that people follow, and if you stay within their bounds you won’t cause any trouble. That’s not to say that my managers wouldn’t have had a cow if they’d seen my old interview slides at the time, but I was at least in the clear legally. 
He starts with work that was published, material that is in patent applications and worst of all, material from previous academic work. Read the whole thing.

I think that about sums it up, although I will make a note that this is why it's probably good practice to routinely be working on side projects that are both publishable and not immediately, directly work-related (not that it is easy to find time for such endeavors, nor are they encouraged by management.) Readers, how have you threaded this particular needle? 

VX nerve agent?

That's the word from the Malaysian government on what killed Kim Jong-Un's half-brother. The DPRK is the gift that keeps giving. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Generals against Powerpoint

(An occasional series) From Tom Ricks' book "Fiasco" about post-invasion Iraq, an interesting tidbit about incoming national security adviser H.R. McMaster*:
McMaster also challenged U.S. military culture, all but banning the use of PowerPoint briefings by his officers. The Army loves these bulleted briefings, but McMaster had come to believe that the ubiquitous software inhibits clarity in thinking, expression, and planning.
Best wishes to General McMaster in his new endeavor.

*Always another great opportunity to mention the weirdest named battle of the late 20th century, and then Captain McMaster's involvement. 

The Medicinal Chemist Jobs List: 85 positions

Doing my best to track down all open research-track medicinal chemistry positions. At the moment, the list has 85 positions.

Want to help out? Here's a Google Form to enter positions, but if you want to do the traditional "leave a link in the comments", that works, too.

Want to chat about medchem positions? Try the open thread.

Positions I'm not including: positions outside the United States (this will likely change), computational positions (this will likely change as well), process positions (coming soon....), academic positions (will likely be included about a year from now?), industrial postdocs (maybe someday soon.)

Coming soon: a process chemistry version - I promise! (sooooooooooooooooooooooon)

Job posting: research chemist, Boragen, Research Triangle Park, NC

Via random clicking, this position:
We are seeking an entrepreneurial and highly motivated chemist to become an important member of an exciting venture-backed startup team, Boragen. The role of the chemist will be to develop novel chemistry to address current agricultural problems, especially regarding antimicrobials and animal health issues. The successful candidate will support hit-to-lead and lead optimization chemistry for a range of biological targets, as well as some formulation studies using chemical and physical tests. The successful candidate must have an aptitude for innovation in a fast-paced startup environment, and a strong commitment to work with a highly collaborative discovery team. The position will be based in Research Triangle Park, NC. 
Prerequisites:
  • Ph.D. in Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry, or related fields
  • Demonstrated expertise in synthetic organic chemistry with experience in the design and execution of complex multi-step syntheses
  • Experienced in developing formulations in agriculture, cosmetics, or pharmaceutical industry is a plus...
Full listing here. Best wishes to those interested. 

Daily Pump Trap: 2/23/17 edition

A few of the recent positions at C&EN Jobs:

La Jolla, CA: Synthetic Genomics is looking for a B.S./M.S. bioanalytical chemist.

Research Triangle Park, NC: Bayer is searching for an environmental fate field scientist. (B.S./M.S./Ph.D., 2+ years experience.)

Rockville, MD: The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is looking for a science communicator; M.S. required, Ph.D. preferred.

A broader look: Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed and USAjobs.gov show (respectively) "1000+", 424, 8,799 and 9 positions for the search term "chemist."

LinkedIn shows 3,532 positions for the search term "chemist" and 19,756 for the search term "chemistry." Job titles from LinkedIn - first with quotes, and the second without: Polymer Chemist: 13/632. Analytical chemist: 249/301. Research chemist: 43/57. Synthetic chemist:  17/604. Medicinal chemist: 22/45. Organic chemist: 35/79. Process chemist: 21/63. Process development chemist: 8/9. Formulation chemist: 54/57.

Huh, that's a new one: Pfizer is looking for a Ph.D. synthetic chemist with 0-4 years experience:
We seek a creative, enthusiastic, and highly motivated synthetic chemist to join our Applied Synthetic Technologies laboratories in Groton, CT. As part of the Photo-Redox Chemistry team, the successful applicant will contribute, through the development and execution of innovative photo-chemical technologies, to the accelerated advancement of clinical candidates.
Never seen that, I feel.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Uh, wow

Thesis defense flyers have gotten more interesting than when I was a student. (via Twitter)

Is there a medicinal chemist generation gap?

...I think we should trade the 12-year exclusivity period from biologics to small molecule drugs. 
Why would this help? Because small molecule drugs are far easier to copy and far easier to produce than biologics. Extending the exclusivity period for small molecules at the expense of biologics might provide the incentive needed to get biopharma to ramp up their chemistry departments again. And in the long term, more small molecule drugs could not only address a lot of serious illnesses, but would also mean more drugs will eventually be made available at extremely cheap prices once they become generic, rather than the more modest 20-50% discount expected for biosimilars (the generic version of biologic) drugs.... 
...There are practical reasons to try to do this now. In the world of biopharma, small molecule approaches have been losing favor to biologics because biologics can command higher prices, are harder to copy, face less severe competition, and tend to have much longer product life cycles. Given the attractiveness of biologics from a business standpoint, the industry has curtailed its discovery efforts around small molecules. A generation of expertise in medicinal chemistry is growing older and the few scientist replacements aren’t being trained quickly enough in all that institutional knowledge. Persuading biopharma to go back to small molecules would help stem the loss of knowledge, which would increase the odds of creating great, eventually generic small molecule drugs.
Is it really true that "the few scientist replacements aren't being trained quickly enough"? Is there a demographic gap between soon-to-retire medicinal chemists and their younger replacements? I could believe such a thing, but I'd like to see some data.

Dr. Serikawa suggests that this would be a good long-term idea for the country; I'm inclined to agree (seeing as how the point is "employ more medicinal chemists".) Somehow I doubt biopharma management and their shareholders would agree, though.

Would a President Trump agree to this? It scratches his "drugs are too expensive" itch, and that might be worth something. I can't imagine that pharma-oriented senators would be excited, though. 

"CHEM PhD and UNEMPLOYED"

Credit: detail of this photo
An interesting detail noticed by Twitter user mem_somerville at the Rally for Science in Boston this past weekend.

Does anyone know who this person is? I wouldn't mind helping them out.

UPDATE: They've been found. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

US chemistry Ph.D.s awarded: 1994-2015

A little tabulation of the data in the NSF's Survey of Earned Doctorates. Data set here.

It's interesting how the number of organic chemistry Ph.D.s went up, just as the number of pharma jobs probably started declining in 2003 or so. 

2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List: 563 positions

The 2017 Chemistry Faculty Jobs List (curated mostly by Andrew Spaeth, with minor help from me) has 563 positions.

Have you had a Skype/phone interview or an on-site with a position on the Faculty Jobs List? Please add the date of the interview to the open thread. The open thread is here.

Do you see anything that needs correcting? Please leave a comment in the open thread, or e-mail me at chemjobber@gmail.com

As the 2017 Faculty Jobs Open Thread has gotten longer, the Blogger software that this blog is run on has added a new wrinkle: when you initially load the thread, it loads only the first ~220 comments and then has a "load more" button near the bottom of the page near the comment box. Only after pressing that button about 7 times does it load the latest comments.

Finally, a web forum! Because the open thread has gotten more unwieldy, I have opened up this web forum ("Chemistry Faculty Jobs List"). Feel free to join/post!

Daily Pump Trap: 2/20/17 edition

A (very) few of the positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Foster City, CA: Gilead is hiring a senior EH&S program manager and also a senior EH&S specialist.

"AdvanSix, previously Honeywell": A listing in Colonial Heights, Virginia for a senior research scientist. It's a M.S./Ph.D. position, with these basic qualifications:
  • MSc organic or physical organic chemistry with 5 – 10 years experience
  • Ph.D in organic or physical organic chemistry 0 – 5 years experience – highly preferred
  • Ph.D Chemical Engineer with 5-10 years extensive experience in Organic and Analytical chemistry 
  • 5 or more years of developing and testing new chemical products and finding applications for them preferred, experience optimizing and commercializing chemical processes a plus. 
That "highly preferred" is very interesting. 

Somerville, MA: Voxel8 is searching for a senior polymer chemist; no education requirements, 6+ years experience. Listed salary is 85-100k. 

Job posting: visiting assistant professor of organic chemistry, Davidson College

Via Twitter, a visiting assistant professor position at Davidson College (Davidson, NC):
Davidson College, a highly selective, nationally-ranked liberal arts college 20 miles north of Charlotte, North Carolina, invites applications for a one-year visiting position in organic chemistry to begin July 1, 2017. Duties include teaching laboratory classes in organic chemistry and possibly directing student research. Candidates must have an M.S. in chemistry for appointment as Instructor or Ph.D. in chemistry for appointment as Visiting Assistant Professor.  ABD candidates will be considered.  Teaching experience is preferred. 
Submit applications online only at http://employment.davidson.edu including a letter of application, curriculum vitae, teaching statement, undergraduate and graduate transcripts, and the names and contact information for three references who have agreed to provide letters of recommendation.  Consideration of completed applications will begin February 28, 2017 and continue until the position is filled but all applications must be completed by April 1. Please direct inquiries to Felix Carroll, Professor of Chemistry, at fecarroll@davidson.edu.
Best wishes to those interested. 

Ivory Filter Flask: 2/21/17 edition

A few of the academic positions posted at C&EN Jobs:

Scranton, PA: Marywood University is looking for an assistant professor of biochemistry.

Dubuque, IA: Loras College is looking for a visiting assistant professor for August 2017.

Greenville, SC: Furman University is hiring two visiting assistant professors; one inorganic, the other open.

San Antonio, TX: Trinity University is searching for a visiting assistant professor. "Salary: competitive."

Monday, February 20, 2017

This most unusual opening to an article you will read this week

Also in this week's C&EN, a story about earwax in the cover story about naturally-derived catalysts: 
As a teenager in the 1960s, Charles V. Johnson of Lake Geneva, Wis., was tinkering with his chemistry set when he discovered that earwax could serve as a catalyst for making pigments. Later on, as a zoology undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Johnson took a daring chance in a chemistry lab: He applied earwax to a boiling chip and substituted it for a palladium catalyst in an organic synthesis experiment. It worked well to make trans-stilbene, although his professor didn’t seem impressed. 
“That’s the thing that has bothered me most,” Johnson told C&EN in a 2012 interview. “My instructors didn’t think there was anything to it.” After graduating, Johnson worked as a chemical technician at Sigma-Aldrich until he retired. He occasionally toyed with using earwax as a catalyst over the years to, for example, polymerize a methacrylate-based material he bummed off his dentist. 
Johnson often contemplated what the active catalyst might be in earwax, but he wasn’t able to do an analysis to find out. Most likely, it’s an amino acid or protein, he assumed. Amino acids such as proline are well-known organocatalysts. And catalytic proteins, known as enzymes, have been used since the dawn of civilization—though not knowingly until modern times—for food and beverage processing.
Naturally, I suspect palladium in the boiling chip, but who knows? I tend to doubt that squalene has catalytic properties for carbon-carbon bond formation...

(Does anyone remember Dylan and his earwax?)

A myriad of feelings

Also in this week's C&EN, a letter to the editor:
It is sad to see the words “Graduate & Postdoctoral Student Chemistry Research” in the title of a symposium to be held at the next ACS meeting. And not just any symposium, but a presidential event, no less. C&EN in its coverage goes on to refer explicitly to “postdoctoral students” (C&EN, Feb. 6, page 65). 
Postdocs are scholars, not students. They have completed the longest and most advanced courses of study available in their fields and earned the highest degrees attainable—degrees that qualify them to be professors. Far from being students, postdocs are highly trained scholars who assist faculty in teaching students, guiding projects, and supervising research groups under the leadership of their principal investigators. 
Postdoctoral scholars are frequently used as cheap academic labor and at least one recent study, based on longitudinal data over more than 30 years, has shown that doing a postdoc is injurious to their long-term career earnings (Nat. Biotechnol. 2017, DOI: 10.1038/nbt.3766). To this injury, ACS is now adding the proverbial insult by calling them students. ACS and its president owe an apology to this underappreciated group of our colleagues. 
Andrew J. Lovinger
Arlington, Va.
It would be vaguely interesting to know who wrote those two words; I doubt it was C&EN.* 

I have always preferred "postdoctoral fellow" to "postdoc", but I'm a Title Voluptuary, I suspect. 

*Reminder: I write a column for C&EN, so fair warning, I'm probably biased.

This week's C&EN

A few of the articles from this week's C&EN:

Friday, February 17, 2017

6 mL transfer pipets

A list of small, useful things (links):
Again, an open invitation to all interested in writing a blog, a hobby that will bring you millions thousands hundreds tens of dollars joy and happiness. Send me a link to your post, and I'd be happy to put it up.

Have a great weekend!

What killed Kim Jong-Nam?

Lethal on landing?
Credit: The Drive
Regarding that crazy story about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's half-brother being killed in a Malaysian airport, friend of the blog Josh Bloom asks a darn good question: 
Organic chemists are a different species (1). While the world was pondering the geopolitical ramifications of the assassination of Kim Jong Un's half-brother Kim Jong-Nam, we were all wondering "what the hell was in those needles?" 
This morbid curiosity became even more so as the story changed. Instead of needles, different reports said that a liquid was either sprayed in Kim's face or applied with a cloth. For us chemists, that is even crazier. What on earth could be applied to the skin and cause dizziness, a headache, and then death so quickly? This has led to speculation about what chemical was used, because, given the "facts" that we now have, there is no obvious answer...
(Here's a little context for this story.)

He's actually got a list, which is helpful and sorta kinda morbid - but mostly helpful. Me, I'm going for an isocyanate of some sort, but maybe I'm wrong. It was probably fentanyl or something else boring-ish.

Readers, what say you? Animal, vegetable or mineral?