Summer 2014 Newsletter


Welcome to our Summer newsletter – we hope you are enjoying this glorious sunny weather!

In this edition we report on our extended collaboration with Cresset for clients where field-based approaches can benefit projects, including a roundup of their recent meeting in Cambridge. We look at how you can plan a successful outsourcing project for comp chem and how many companies are now taking advantage of the expanding interim market. And of course we include our usual sections on jobs and events, and make a call for new associates to join us.

We hope you find this newsletter informative and useful; if you have any feedback or ideas for future articles we would be delighted to hear from you.


Cresset & CompChem Solutions extend agreement

Following the success of our initial collaboration, CompChem Solutions and Cresset have agreed to extend the arrangement, enabling CompChem Solutions to continue to use Cresset software for clients where field-based approaches can benefit projects – particularly where reliable protein models have been difficult to generate due to lack of known structural information or likely ligand-induced conformational changes to the target.  The use of Spark for bioisostere replacement has also proven popular.  We have generated field-based models for several PPIs, including RNA polymerase-s70, Calcineurin-NFAT and EIF4E-eIF4G which are ready and available for clients to use on request for projects.  Do contact us for more information.


How has the interim staffing market changed in recent years?

A good question!  Here is our view on the changes we have seen and our predictions for the future.

When CompChem Solutions was set up in 2004 there seemed a clear boundary between those working as consultants or interims and those working as permanent employees. However, in recent years this divide has begun to fade and some reversal of roles is beginning to appear, resulting in a more fluid situation.

As large research organisations have cut back their employees in the UK this has resulted in many highly skilled scientists being made redundant. Some of these skilled workers, many of whom have significant management experience in drug discovery, have sought interim or consultancy work to replace their full-time employment. This has lead to an increase in competition for this type of work leading some existing interims or consultants to move back into permanent roles.

One consequence of this availability of highly skilled scientists coming into the interim market is that many larger organisations who have previously shied away from using interim staff now view interim workers as a crucial component of their resourcing policy, facilitating management of peaks in demand in areas such as computational chemistry.

In the case of large research companies who wish to recruit new staff, highly skilled interims who can make an immediate contribution, can be a valuable temporary resource until permanent staff can be recruited.

We also see some CRO’s using interims to manage the variable demand for their services. With so many high quality interims available, businesses can now be confident that they can be integrated into their teams without affecting the quality of their services.

This upsurge in interest is not confined to the drug discovery market, with many large interim staffing agencies from other sectors reporting that there has been a strong growth in demand for their services. In our own experience we have seen a sharp increase in demand for interim solutions throughout the last 12 months and we expect this to continue as we emerge from recession.

If your company has a need for temporary computational chemistry support and would like to know more about our various services including our interim staffing solutions, please contact us.


We are seeking New Computational Chemistry Associates!

If you are a computational chemist who may be interested in taking on occasional project work from CompChem Solutions do contact us!  Due to a recent surge in demand for computational chemistry services we may be able to offer work in the future to both experienced modellers/chemoinformaticians and those more recently qualified in the field.  If occasional work of this nature may be of interest, please contact us and send us your CV.


10 Top Tips for Outsourcing your Comp Chem

As the economic recession at last begins to thaw, many managers are looking at ways to improve the speed and efficiency of their drug discovery projects. One way this can be achieved is to add some comp chem. resource to a project, but how do you do this when costs are still under review?

In the past, the only option for smaller biotechs to boost their computational chemistry was to hire a new comp chemist but recently a different alternative has become available: outsourced comp chem. Over the last decade outsourcing has become increasingly commonplace in a variety of sectors especially IT, finance and HR. Now, biotechs are recognising that outsourcing some of their research function could also make sense for some of the same reasons. Increased flexibility, variable costs, and an ability to tap into a wealth of specialist experience when you need it are all reasons for considering outsourcing.

If this is a possibility for your organisation then here are our top ten tips for making it a success:

1. Define why you are doing it.

There are a number of different reasons why outsourcing might be suitable for your organisation but, unless you are clear about what you want to achieve, your chances of success are going to be reduced. The following are some possible scenarios which might help with your planning:

Outsourced comp chemistry manager: you need an experienced person but not full time, either because you can’t afford it or there would not be sufficient things for them to do.

Access to a team: your skill requirements are going to be variable as your priorities evolve, and it’s going to be difficult to find all of them in one employee.

Skills transfer: you are looking for an experienced person who can train your chemists and coach the management team in using comp chem. more effectively, and then recruit a full-time replacement as your company grows.

Project resource: you need some specific skills and capacity to handle a defined project alongside your existing team.

2. Identify the cost benefit

For many small businesses the benefits of outsourcing versus hiring a new employee are clear. The overheads of hiring an employee will effectively increase their salary by 50 to 100%. With outsourcing there are no overheads and cost should be variable allowing you to use as much or as little as you need.

3. Short term or long term?

If you require a long-term, full time person then recruiting an employee could well be the most cost-effective solution. However, if you are unwilling to commit to the fixed costs or are uncertain as to whether you require a permanent employee then an outsourced resource is a good alternative. You can even use their experience to scope out the full-time role and help recruit the right person when that becomes necessary.

4. Skills and experience.

If budgets are tight then the temptation is to ask chemists to do some of the computational work. If the work is relatively straight forward and you have time to manage them effectively then this might be the right course for you. The danger is that they are unable to carry out more demanding work, and they may become a drain on management time. So be clear about the level of experience you need and consider if it would make sense to have a part-time, senior computational chemist rather than ask a chemist to do some of the work.

Also, be clear about the skills you require; this will be directly related to the specifics of the work that needs to be carried out. By outsourcing you get access to a team that can provide a range of skills and experience of different therapeutic classes.

5. Check out the background & experience of the outsourced resource.

Just as you would evaluate the background and skills of a potential employee the same should be true for hiring an outsourced person. This should include looking at the ‘cultural fit’ to make sure they can work effectively with the other members of your team – unless of course you want them to shake things up a bit!

6. Measurable objectives.

A successful outsourcing project needs to start with a clear explanation of what you are seeking to achieve to allow suppliers to provide a realistic and well costed proposal. Before engaging with a supplier you should agree measurable and timely objectives which will be reviewed on a regular basis.

7. Consider the nature of the relationship.

Before you outsource a project consider what type of relationship you would like to have with the person being engaged. Do you want them to be a card carrying member of staff who will present findings to external organisations such as clients, or act as a consultant? What responsibilities do you want them to have in terms of managing staff? The answers to these types of questions will determine if the person should work on site or remotely, and whether you are really after an interim staffing solution or consultancy.

8. Skills transfer.

One of the benefits of tapping into a highly experienced person as part of an outsourced relationship should be a transfer of skills into your organisation. Whether a short term or long term engagement, you might expect an experienced supplier to transfer skills into your organisation through training, coaching and mentoring, just as a senior internal person would.

9. Credentials and references.

Before making a decision whether to engage someone, take the time to check out the comp chemist’s track record, and ask for examples of previous work and testimonials, and if time allows talk to previous clients.

10. Succession planning.

In those circumstances where you don’t see outsourcing as a long term solution it is important to build a succession pan from the outset. In fact, many clients as they grow hire an experienced comp chemist to define what resources they will need in future as they expand. If you are hiring an experienced comp chemist to deliver a project then make sure you specify what support will be needed afterwards, and if this is included in the project fee.

With these tips in mind you should be able to make informed decisions as to how best to outsource your work, and get a return on your investment.

If you have any questions about this article or would like to explore outsourcing a computational chemistry project, contact us now!


A day at Madingley Hall in the company of Cresset

At Cresset’s recent Field-Based Chemistry Europe meeting some new tools for visualisation of activity cliffs were described as well as new reagent databases for Spark & Forge.  Some interesting talks from users included a very nice description of the landscape of academic drug discovery (including the various funding sources in the UK and the US) from independent consultant Caroline Low, the use of network pharmacology approaches to aid the identification of poly-targeted drugs by Ben Allen of e-Therapeutics, an analysis of chemical fragments from the PDB to aid FBDD by Edith Chan (Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research), a description of the Waterswap method for direct calculation of protein-ligand free energies of binding by Chris Woods (Bristol University) and a fascinating structural story resulting in the design of inhibitors of the Epithelial Sodium Channel (ENaC) by Peter Hunt (formerly Novartis, now with Optibrium).  The meeting was held at the beautiful Madingley Hall near Cambridge, and Cresset looked after all delegates with great generosity, even extending to the handing out of cold beers to the audience during the afternoon discussion session!  Many thanks to Cresset for a great meeting.  Slide sets of some of the talks are likely to be available on the Cresset website shortly.

Cresset UGM FBCE14_delegates_edited-1


Upcoming Meetings


20th EuroQSAR Meeting, St Petersburg, Russia, 31st Aug-4th Sept 2014,

Dotmatics User Group Meeting, Down Hall, Herts, 15th-16th September 2014,

UK QSAR & Chemoinformatics Group Autumn Meeting,  University of Cambridge Chemistry Dept, 30th Sseptember 2014,

Designing Safer Medicines (SCI), London, 13th October 2014,

CNS Drug Discovery (SCI), Takeda Cambridge, 26th November 2014,



CADD Scientist, Roche, Basel,

Post-doc in Computational Biochemistry, University of Oxford,

Senior Computational Chemist, Charles River, Cambridge,


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