Readers clarify the details of Pfizer’s future plans, muse on the philosophy of assembly theory and more

Update from Pfizer

The December issue of Chemistry World included a brief update on Pfizer’s proposals for change at our UK research site in Kent (’Pfizer to cut 500 formulation jobs in Sandwich, UK’). We are proud of our heritage of breakthrough science in the UK and in Sandwich specifically, where many significant scientific breakthroughs have been achieved down the years. We will retain a scientific presence in the UK including at our Discovery Park location in Sandwich. We want to take this opportunity to provide some more information, as follows.

We previously announced an enterprise-wide cost realignment programme. Various areas of Pfizer’s global enterprise are making changes to operate more efficiently and effectively. These changes will be implemented on a rolling basis and will differ area to area. One of the consequences of this programme is a plan to consolidate our pharmaceutical sciences small molecule (PSSM) R&D laboratory and manufacturing operations to two primary sites in Groton, Connecticut, US, and Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, resulting in a proposal to discontinue these PSSM capabilities at Sandwich, Kent, impacting approximately 500 roles. These proposals are now in consultation with the affected colleagues, with all job-related decisions being made with transparency and respect.

Under the proposals, other functions at our Sandwich site will continue with a different size. This includes worldwide medical and safety, global regulatory and clinical development and operations functions, and although these functions may propose some changes, they intend to retain a footprint at Sandwich. We recognise that our proposals are disappointing, but Pfizer remains committed to contributing fully to the future of life sciences innovation in the UK as an important part of our mission to deliver breakthroughs that change patients’ lives.

Pfizer UK R&D UK Ltd

Philosophy of assembly theory

The claim of assembly theory (AT) that complex chemistry can become the bridge between physics and life has been received with a degree of scepticism: it is seen as overambitious and oversimplifying. The researchers make the ambitious claim of having reconciled physics with biology, and the stability of the ‘immutable’ laws of physics with the dynamicity of evolution. This is possible because AT redefines the concept of ‘object’ as an entity defined by formation histories and not as a point particle.

What I find interesting is that these questions and possibly part of the results of the research paper are philosophical in nature. The core notions reflect a particular philosophical way of looking at the world.

To start with, the paper has the ambition of changing our understanding of objects, transforming them from stable well-defined entities to historical ones, identified by their history. This reflects a philosophical understanding of what objects are taken to be within scientific thinking.

Second, the philosophy of evolution comes into play when assessing what are the properties defining evolution and evolutionary entities. For instance, an evolutionary phenomenon is normally defined as being not solely made of selection, but of a variety of other features such as traits, functions and reproductive fitness. If this is the case, historical formation is not enough to make the objects properly evolutionary. Another possibility could be to loosen up the notion of evolution to be compatible with the suggestions of AT. And these are only some of the philosophical aspects of the controversy.

The debate could then benefit from a discussion with philosophers, leading towards an interaction between different expertise and reflecting on the general consequences of these scientific results.

Francesca Bellazzi
Birmingham, UK

Representation matters

I was pleased to see Alice Motion’s article on inSTEM. This initiative needs a global roll out. If underrepresented groups see themselves in research they are far more likely to participate.

We also need to recognise the difficulties faced by researchers with disabilities or chronic health conditions and ensure we maximise their ability to contribute to science both by making conferences accessible and networking opportunities possible for them. This is particularly pertinent following the Covid pandemic. We are now seeing conferences going back to an in-person format and this can mean some researchers, particularly those from minority groups, are excluded for either practical or financial reasons.

Furthermore, we must not forget the role of patient, public involvement in research, particularly medical research. This is a way of bringing underrepresented groups into science.

Helen Baxter
Congerstone, UK

Chemical regulation survey

Regulations such as Reach and the Stockholm Convention encourage the substitution of hazardous chemicals with alternatives or technologies if technically and economically feasible. This requirement thus places a responsibility on the chemical industry to develop those alternatives, although the process of achieving this can be challenging.

The aim of my PhD is to understand the role that chemical regulation plays in the decision-making process of the chemical industry. If you work in the chemical industry including trade associations and NGOs, or are a policymaker, academic or consultant with experience of regulation and chemical substitution, I would be very keen to hear from you through an online questionnaire.

The survey will close on 2 February, and will be followed by a number of one-to-one interviews that are currently scheduled to take place after the second quarter of 2024. All information will be treated in the strictest confidence, and all data will be anonymised according to the requirements of the study ethics plan. Please feel free to contact me for further details.

Ola Dosunmu MRSC
Lancaster, UK

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