The future of the MSD branch in the Dutch city of Oss ( ex. Schering-Plough ex. Organon International, ex. AkzoNobel ) looks gloomy. Half of the 4000 jobs will go between now and 2012, partially transferred to the USA. Usually de press does not bother to check exactly what sort of jobs disappear when a company downsizes but this time we are assured all high-end research and development is involved.
Oss, like Chicago used to be a city of slaughterhouses (the locals all own a knife and know how to use one on cattle or on fellow humans) and Organon was founded in 1923 selling insuline produced from refuse. From then on there followed a whole range of hormones. In 1962 the company introduced the birth control pill lyndiol based on the hormone Lynestrenol and later on in 1982 Marvelon (desogestrel). One Internet source recounts the story that de production of the pill in the 1950's was not welcomed at all in Catholic Oss and that packaging was outsourced to another company. After consulting with the local Bishop the pill was branded as a menstrual cycle regulator with temporary infertility as a side-effect. The Internet sources are scarce but a certain Max de Winter is credited here as the father of the lynestrenol pill and one Van den Broek here for the invention of desogestrel. This de Winter incidentally as a Jew before his career at Organon was forced to leave the Shell company in Amsterdam in 1942 and survived Auschwitz only on account of his technical skills by forced labor at Siemens, very much like Primo Levi.
Fokke & Sukke (a duck and a canary) also know their history and remark in today's paper that if only the mother of the present MSD CEO would have used the pill nobody at Organon today would have been fired. And there is of course the blame game: Both the Nafarma (the Dutch pharma lobby) and the company's management and works council blame the Dutch government for not supporting innovative companies (Volkskrant July 8). Management also laments the slow drug approval procedure that exists in the Netherlands.
And in what way has the Dutch government been supporting R&D thus far? By mass-subsidizing commercial companies or simply put: paying the bills (25 million euro in the last 10 years to organon alone, not counting EU subsidies). And what self-respecting R&D CEO is willing to spend his own hard-earned money on R&D when the competition gets it for free from the government next year?. Already the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and even the Oss municipal council are negotiating with MSD the rescue of some business units and the there is talk of setting up a science park at the Organon location. With respect to the science park the MSD CEO has already done the math: the government will again heavily subsidise the new start-ups and MSD can decide at will whether to participate. So instead of just handing over money to technology companies what should the government do? Just make sure there is a large reservoir of skilled people (invest the money in schools & universities) and make sure people want to actually live and work in the Netherlands. That is combat housing shortages, combat traffic jams, combat taxes and combat crime.
Update 21 July 2010: newspaper Volkskrant reports employees of pharmaceutical company Solvay in Weesp also fear R&D shutdown. The paper also reports Oss will get its science park as a result of parliamentary debate.
Update 24 September 2010: Duphar R&D will close down. Organon shut-down postphoned to year-end. New owner for Crucell?