HiPO Expert Answer RoundUp

This question was submitted during the Morphic Therapeutic HiPO class Nov 2017.


As a chemist coming out of graduate school, what are the type of experiences that I should be looking for in my 1st few years in industry?

As a chemist coming out of grad school, you want to learn about medicinal chemistry. There are a few good courses one could take that will give you the basics. The Residential School on Medicinal Chemistry and Biology in Drug Discovery at Drew University and the Medicinal Chemistry Gordon Research Seminar are two of them. As good as these courses can be, they are not going to replace the experience you are going to get from working within your company.

First advice, don’t try to lean everything at once, it will take time, relax and enjoy the ride!

You need to quickly learn a very important skill you need to cultivate: be nimble, react quickly to data, don’t get entrenched in one given series of molecule, even less if it’s the one you came-up with! I have seen many very talented chemists getting attached to a series, or spend time optimizing chemistry and get frustrated when what was looking like a good idea on Monday is not looking so bright on Friday after analyzing the data. Lesson #1, react quickly to data.

Second advice, understand the assays used to evaluate the analogs you are submitting each week, most importantly, understand the limit of the assays. The assays used to evaluate your compounds are defining the trail you’re are hiking. If you ignore the signs, what the assays are telling you and what they are not telling you, you’re up for a tough hike, beware of the dead-ends and cliffs. This is a good opportunity to engage with your non-chemist colleagues. They know what you need to know. Lesson #2, learn about the assays, and from those who developed and run the assays

One more thing as you start in industry, connect with medicinal chemists with few years of experience and learn from them. My advice, go to them with your own ideas, as frequently as you / they can tolerate, don’t be shy, ask them to let you know why your best idea is not, after all, such a great idea! Lesson#3, learn by trying, trying, trying again, checking and refining.

JC Harmange, SVP of Drug Discovery at Goldfinch Biopharma

For the first few years in industry, I believe you should look at it as continued education. I would focus on places that you believe you can get the widest exposure to the industry of your choice. It is exciting to think about going to a startup. However, the likely experience there is very narrow. Larger companies offer such a broad base of experiences, it is hard to pass that up if you have the chance. You learn so much and are exposed to many programs, approaches and colleagues – also with a wide array of experiences. It an education on the actual experiences in the industry you choose. I think it was priceless for my personal development. There is always time later to join a small company. It is hard to do it in the reverse order.

Mark Tebbe, VP Head of Drug Discovery Quartet Medicine

Early on it is most important to build your technical skills in industry. Whether it is process chemistry or medicinal chemistry, many important technical skills needed in industry are not taught in graduate school. You will learn the most from the projects you are directly a part of, but also talk often to colleagues to learn from their project experiences as well.

Blaise Lippa, VP Head of Chemistry, Morphic Therapeutic

The primary experience I would expect for a new chemist in Industry is the ability to be part of a multi-disciplinary drug discovery/development program. For most chemists, this will be their first time interacting with biologists, ADME scientists, formulation scientists and toxicologists. Rather than just reading about areas they know little about, they will get to learn directly from experienced practitioners applying their craft in drug discovery. As a program progresses, they will also be able to see how a Discovery program transitions to Development, interacting with clinicians, regulatory scientists, and other chemists with expertise in process development and manufacturing, all of which will help them to understand what characteristics of a molecule make it ideal for clinical nomination. As they gain experience, they may have the opportunity to manage the work of a research associate. But more importantly, whether or not they manage someone on a org chart, they will have the opportunity learn how to influence others who do not report to them, one of the most critical aspects of working in a matrix environment.

Joel Barrish, PhD (Co-Founder and CSO of Jnana Therapeutics)


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