Success in my journey, academics and industry, did not come merely from being under someone’s tutelage. First, I sought out mentors. Regardless of their awareness, I found people I wanted to emulate. Because coping with failure is never easy, it was from these very people that I gathered insights regarding my failures, thus leading to downstream success. Second, I adopted the mindset of “Yes, I will.” It is my opinion that passion cannot be taught. But, it can be caught. Third, I learned how to have vision and be provisional with help from my mentors. They taught me the importance of seeing beyond the here and now and then figuring out how to get there.
How do you think research in academia differs most from research in industry?
Differences between academics and industry: the number of projects, timelines, obligations, goals and objectives.
The sheer volume of failures involved in taking a drug to clinic requires multiple projects to run in parallel. Otherwise, to run in series is too great a time expense.
Likewise, timelines in industry are short. In many pharma and biotech operations, projects must show at least the promise of progressing to clinic within 18 months of project initiation. This means target validation, complete assay development, HTS campaign, initial HIT evaluation, valid cell-based assays and animal models in place and the initiation of lead development.
Many think of the above points as the “industrialized mindset” of drug discovery and science. In certain respects, this is correct. However, industry must, and does, have the infrastructure to support such campaigns. The business of drug discovery is, by its very nature, high-risk and high-reward. Regardless, we have obligations to our shareholders. They expect a return on their investment and we are obligated to deliver. In academics, many researchers focus on a particular topic or topic set for years, decades or an entire career. This is a timeline that is not affordable in industry. This does not mean that these career-long endeavors do not have value. They do. They’re just different. I hold many academic scientists in high regard because they take the time to dissect the important nuances of a particular enzyme, cell pathway, signal transduction mechanism or set of enzymes. Their work is foundational. Industry needs academics to lead in this way.
In industry, our goals and objectives necessitate tracking multiple targets, as our success is not based solely upon the pursuit of evaluating the target itself, but finding the appropriate modulator of that target. The biggest hurdle in drug discovery is not determining the enzyme’s mechanism or the mechanism for describing the modulator of that enzyme. It is avoiding toxicity – off-target effects. To take a new molecular entity to the FDA, you must show the small or large therapeutic molecule is specific, nontoxic and cleared by the body and that the compound’s metabolites are not toxic and have minimal side effects.
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