Blogging’s going to be pretty light for the next few days, while I write my annual Top Pharma profiles. I’ll try to get my Fenway photos and observations up by the weekend.


Neat article in BusinessWeek about problems with the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This falls into the “I find this stuff fascinating but recognize that many readers don’t care about how some/most/all industries work.”

The article discusses the new model of production that Boeing’s trying to implement for this plane. The company’s engaged in a variety of outsourcing that it hasn’t really tried before, and that may be tied directly to the technological hurdles that the new plane is facing:

Boeing has undertaken a grand business experiment with the Dreamliner. In a bid to tap the best talent and hold down costs, the aerospace icon has engaged in extreme outsourcing, leaving it highly dependent on a far-flung supply chain that includes 43 “top-tier” suppliers on three continents. It is the first time Boeing has ever outsourced the most critical areas of the plane, the wing and the fuselage. About 80% of the Dreamliner is being fabricated by outside suppliers, vs. 51% for existing Boeing planes.

The Dreamliner’s mounting challenges call into question whether such a radical business model can succeed, and whether the advantages of collaboration on such a scale are outweighed by the loss of logistical and design control.

My day job is editing a magazine about outsourcing in the pharma/biopharma industry, so I wonder about how other industries manage this stuff. It’s not the commodity-level transactions that are interesting (like sourcing your wiring or excipients from a provider), but the question of how you look out-of-house for the more integral aspects of product design and development.

Now, for smaller biopharma companies, that’s a functional necessity, since they don’t tend to have the infrastructure to develop things themselves. But when it comes to aviation, in which there are really only a pair of major players left, it’s gotta be a much dicier proposition.

In this instance, the fuselage cracked.

I don’t feel tardy

I’ve been on prednisone for the last 10 days, trying to clear out the ugly ol’ case of poison ivy I picked up from the Memorial Day yard-clearing extravaganza. The pred has left me pasted by heartburn for over a week, which is no fun. I’ve juggled the sleeplessness with some Xanax & gin, which seems to be working okay, but this morning, I finally looked up all the listed side effects of this little corticosteroid and discovered that among of the rarer ones are a “false sense of well-being” and “mistaken feelings of self-importance.”

I don’t even know how you begin to diagnose that. I mean, does the doctor say, “You’re not doing as well as you think! And you’re simply not that important! This is just a side effect!”

Evidently, I may also get them menstrual cramps, real bad.


Sorry I’ve been outta the loop, dear reader. I was just in one of those not-writing-so-much phases. I can’t afford to get caught in that for long, since I’ve gotta write profiles on the top 20 pharma & top 10 biopharma companies this month.

I’ve also been reading that Robert Moses biography pretty devotedly. Since it’s insanely long, I’ve been a little afraid of putting it down for a few days and losing my steam. It’s a phenomenal story, and the author’s just reached the point where all of Moses’ bridges and parkways are managing to create more traffic. The crux of the problem — Moses’ power-thirstiness — appears to be explained as a function of RM’s domineering mother and grandmother, which just sounds kinda boring. I’m hoping that Caro’s interpretation of RM’s personality gets a little more intricate, otherwise I’m afraid that NYC really is just a twisted child’s vision.

In other news, we went to a surprise 40th birthday party for my “big sister” (next-door neighbors who are more family to me than just about anyone beyond my immediate relations) on Saturday night. It was good to catch up with some of them, since we never get together, even though I still live next door to their house (where their mom lives). Just about all my “brothers and sisters” have kids now, so the evening was spent making sure they stayed out of trouble, got enough attention, and didn’t hear my gin-lubricated sailor-speaking mouth. It was good times.

We also discovered a good restaurant earlier in the day, while looking for a birthday present. It’s right across the street from one of the finest pizzerias in NJ, which I had to stare at while eating my rogan josh. It’s a tough life.

On the plus side, official VM buddy (and nearly VM wedding-officiant) Tom Spurgeon is coming to visit this week. We’ll watch the first game of the NBA finals Thursday night, maybe get to the Belmont (if he’s got an extra ticket for me) on Saturday, hit the MoCCA Art Festival on Sunday, and generally shoot the breeze, which I find to be a delightful and worthwhile pursuit.

Across the Transom

Most people get those wacky Nigeria e-mails during the workday. What do I get? An open letter to the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, apparently written by Borat (just out of discretion, I’ve redacted all personal names, except J-P’s):

Jean-Pierre Garnier,
Chief Executive Officer

Sofia, April 29, 2006

Re: GSK in Bulgaria: Lilliputian in One Year

Dear CEO,

Few months ago as the GSK’s chief partner in Bulgaria we’ve revealed the GSK representative was involved in dubious and near corruption practices and have deplored her threatening and intimidating letters in return (all timely & expressly mailed to you). Now, Mrs. XXXX XXXX unilaterally terminated the two GSK cooperation agreements with Commercial League, the largest pharmaceutical company in the territory. Such an illegal act has no material and contractual ground and bears several harmful consequences.

Beyond the severity of the legal and reputationally unavoidable damages I am more concerned about the long term deterioration of CL/ GSK business relations, at the end turning Glaxo to a Lilliputian pharmaceutical company in the fast growing market of Bulgaria, and perhaps other Balkan countries. I am sure you understand, despite systemic anomalies of the representative or any corporate friction by now notwithstanding, as the GSK main contractual partner CL’s unrivaled marketing machine did not compete directly with your product sales. However, this is exactly what your representative, undoubtedly endorsed by Mr. XXXX XXXX, is inviting through the latest hostile and illegal move. Twelve months from now sales of your peers will replace otherwise good portfolio of GSK in all strategic therapeutical arias and only you can take the lead to stop this inevitable down slide, hopefully not too late.

You know, you personally command my enormous respect,

[XXXXXXX] Chief Executive Officer

Someday, only meth users won’t be congested

The true cost of the War on Drugs was the 3 minutes of my life that were wasted in CVS on my lunch break when I bought some decongestant.

I had to bring a product-card to the front checkout so they could give me the decongestant. Then was told I had to sign a registry book with my name, address, time of purchase, and quantity of pseudoephedrine.

So I’m afraid that “Ambulatory P. Groin” of “1313 Mockingbird Ln.” might find himself getting a visit from the DEA sometime soon. He probably shouldn’t have bought “one pound” of the product, but hey.

(I wonder what expression the clerk would have had if I walked up with 200 product-cards and dumped them on the counter. I swear: when I get over this headcold, I oughtta start a meth lab. This is worse than those Truth commericals.)

More on Job Destruction

Last July, I wrote about the nuttiness of the American Jobs Creation Act, a one-time tax break for companies bringing overseas profits back to the U.S. (the tax rate on such earnings drops from about 38% to about 5%). Michelle Leder at Slate just wrote about the subject, calling it an “absurd provision of a law designed to create jobs.”

It’s a good piece, but she makes a “numbers in a vacuum” argument about Pfizer, which leads me to wonder if she’s not being fair toward the other companies, which are in fields that I don’t cover. She writes,

At Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant that announced the single largest repatriation—$37 billion—the one-time windfall works out to approximately $11 billion. That kind of tax savings buys a lot of $600-an-hour lobbyists, though not, apparently, many scientists and salespeople. In its annual report, Pfizer doesn’t list employees by region. But the company’s total head count dropped to 106,000 at the end of 2005, about 8 percent fewer jobs than at the end of 2004.

Thing is, those layoffs weren’t at all related to Pfizer’s overseas profits. They were a result of Pfizer acquiring Pharmacia and Warner-Lambert, along with a raft of smaller companies. Those acquisitions basically guaranteed layoffs in the thousands; this is what’s known as “generating efficiencies by combining operations.” So those layoffs were in the works long before the AJCA was passed in 2004.

Now, you can argue that the acquisitions were foolhardy or unlucky (especially the Pharmacia one, which pivoted on the Celebrex/Bextra franchise), but complaining that the company should have kept ‘redundant’ employees on because it had this one-time tax refund coming is flat-out stupid.

The Passed Over & the Elite

Greeted Passover on a flight home from Chicago. I haven’t held or been to a seder in a few years. The last one was the time I ended up meeting the Zionist Conspiracy To Get Me Married To A Nice Jewish Girl. It’s nice to see that the Jewish lobby isn’t as effective as Drs. Mearshimer and Walt think it is.

But I made it in safe and sound, with a little in-flight bumpiness and traffic delay. Just about finished Geek Love, which I’m enjoying a bunch. I sorta disagree with Dunn’s use of an X-Men-like character in the midst of an otherwise believable world of a really demented sideshow freak family.

The BIO conference went well; I had some good interviews and got a lot of good anecdotes & bits of intel about various aspects of the industry. I also got to meet several people with whom I’ve been in work-e-mail contact for years. That usually helps facilitate the working relationship, except when one of the two parties doesn’t remember having met the other face-to-face at a previous conference.

Anyway, the conference was described to me as “a singles club for CEOs and VCs,” and it’s true that a lot of the conversation was about funding, in-licensing developmental products (as in, a big company looking to buy the rights to a smaller company’s drug that’s currently in clinical trials). The conference is also filled with regional economic development councils for various states or countries (like that Malaysia group I mentioned a while back). They work hard to get companies to choose their regions for R&D or manufacturing facilities, and I like hearing them explain their virtues. The Maine pavilion had a slogan on one of its displays that read (paraphrasing): “Bangor: more metropolitan than you think!”

Well, duh.

Anyway, one of the funnier moments of the last day occurred as we were getting ready to board the plane back to Newark. It was one of the first Continental flights after show’s end, and the gate area was filled. The clerk called for all Elite Access passengers to board. None of us stepped back to make room. Turns out, when you have a conference that’s as money-centric as BIO, with so many attendees who constantly travel, everyone has Elite status.

Except my associate editor, who felt that her non-Elite status was a badge of honor.