Wade into the crowd at almost any pharmaceutical-related holiday party in the Research Triangle area in the next few weeks and you’re likely to meet someone who is, or has been, employed at some iteration of GlaxoSmithKline.

That could mean Burroughs Wellcome, Glaxo, Glaxo Wellcome or GSK.

As the company has evolved, it has been a bonanza for the Triangle, for its employees, the worldwide beneficiaries of its medicines, and let’s not forget the thousands of suppliers and contractors. Every time the name changed, it provided work for local and global letterhead, sign and business card printers. The list of beneficiaries is mind-boggling.

There are also many “offspring” from the marriages and breakups that go with the territory in the life sciences. The constant changes, especially in the drug industry, occur not only in corporate ownership and management, but also in fundamental technologies and related employment.

The splash of cold water

That fact was brought into stark focus again in early December when UK-based GSK announced plans to lay off 900 of its 2,500 R&D people in RTP. The huge global company has about 4,300 Triangle area employees, including more than 900 at its Zebulon manufacturing facility.

The layoffs to start in 2015 include chemists, engineers, biologists, clinical development scientists, statisticians, and other managerial, technical and support personnel. Our friends and neighbors.

GSK said 450 to 500 workers will be offered positions in a dedicated GSK business unit within Parexel, providing a variety of clinical development services primarily from the RTP area. The parent company, Parexel International Corp. is a global biopharmaceutical services organization headquartered near Boston.

NCBiotech offers helping hands

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center will help with this next life transition for North Carolina’s medical science community. Most of those being released by GSK want to stay in the Triangle. And many are poised to become entrepreneurs and otherwise put their skills and education to work here.

NCBiotech routinely helps people going through job transitions because we’re regularly hosting events where participants meet business associates, hiring managers and others who can help them carve their career path. We stage monthly Jobs Network gatherings for life science workers in transition or exploring options.

NCBiotech will also undoubtedly see an increase in loan applications from new companies being formed by GSK alums, and concurrent requests for advice and connections from those seeking to create new businesses. Let’s hope the NCBiotech budget allocation for the coming year takes that subtle but significant detail into account.

Full disclosure: I was once a Glaxoid, recruited by Glaxo to RTP from another big global pharma company in the late 1980s. And I had several fun and interesting Triangle area gigs ex-post-Glaxo, including helping to start a couple of companies. So I have a unique perspective from my perch as director of public relations at NCBiotech.

Former GSK employees populate NC life science

There’s no way to know how many former GSK employees we have in North Carolina, or how they’re impacting our lives today. But my colleague, NCBiotech Librarian Sperry Krueger, is a digger. She’s a former newspaper librarian. She dug up an interesting snapshot of 239 former GSK employees in NC, culled from NCBiotech’s digital “Rolodex.”

Of these 239 people formerly employed by GSK in RTP or Zebulon:

  • 52 have President or Vice President in their current job title
  • 34 currently have C-level titles – CEO, COO, CSO, CBO, CTO, etc.
  • 20 are consultants
  • 11 are in academia
  • 6 are retired
  • Only 21 appear to be unemployed (or haven’t updated their LinkedIn pages)

More good things to come

Others, like me, are plying our talents and giving to our communities, raising families, contributing as taxpayers and citizens.

Yes, a shakeup like GSK’s cutback announcement is shattering. But these are smart, talented people who will get back on their feet and contribute greatly to North Carolina’s life science future.

Those GSK lab doors rattling shut are also going to open some new ones. New businesses. New opportunities.

So let’s raise a glass, even if you see it as only half full, and be glad for what we’ve had. And let’s celebrate what’s to come. Sure, things will never be the same. But the fact is, they never were anyway.

(C) NC Biotechnology Center

Editor’s note: Veteran journalist Jim Shamp is director of media relations for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and is a frequent contributor to WRAL TechWire.