I was just reading the “Cambridge News & Crier” – a free door to door paper about all the weekly goings-on in Cambridge. Kittens need loving homes, Area Man grows giant pumpkin – that kind of thing. There was an article in this week’s issue about 40 people being laid off with the closing of a local Astra Zeneca branch. (Thousands are being laid off worldwide.) The article had a human interest angle about how the company was trying to help the laid-off staff members, and a brief paragraph about the type of research they were doing there: developing cancer drugs based on DNA-damage sensing.
Reading those two paragraphs so close together suddenly made me wonder: what happens to the body of knowledge when a commercial lab closes? In academia, accumulated knowledge can be quickly published if a lab is closing, as peer-reviewed paper or in a student’s thesis, or a former lab member takes the project with them to their new lab, but in industry everything is confidential. What happens with the progress they made? Are their patents and plasmids and notebooks being sold to another company? Or has it all been a waste of time, and will another lab need to start at square one to develop similar drugs from scratch?
To put it more dramatically: are more lives at stake than those of the employees and their families when a medical research facility closes its doors?