Job Title: Medicinal Chemist
Type of Company: My company focuses on pharmaceuticals, including small molecule, protein-based, and vaccine drugs to treat various diseases. We also have businesses in over-the-counter drugs and drugs for animals.
Education: BS, Chemistry, Yale University Ph.D., Chemistry, MIT
Previous Experience: I did post-doctoral work for two years then joined a biotech company for over a year as a medicinal chemist before joining the pharmaceutical company where I have worked for the past nine years.
Job Tasks: My job is to work as part of a team to discover new drugs. We work in the area of inflammation, so the diseases that we want to treat include arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. As chemists, we work closely with biologists to find chemical compounds that are promising drug candidates. We may want a compound that inhibits a certain enzyme. For example, aspirin is an inhibitor of the cyclooxygenase or COX enzymes.
Medicinal chemists have many tools for designing compounds: these compounds may be designed with help from structural biologists and computational chemists, or we may look at other related drugs and try to figure out what features are important for binding to the enzyme of interest. Chemists work in the lab to synthesize compounds. Our biology colleagues evaluate the compounds in various assays to determine if the compounds are having the desired effect. We also look at drug properties. For example, we want to know if the compounds are soluble, if they are toxic, if they are stable, etc. The pharmacokinetics of promising compounds are then assessed in thorough testing of lab animals, mostly mice or rats, and the levels of the compounds in their blood are measured. We may examine the behavior of compounds in animal disease models. For example, pharmacologists can induce arthritis or asthma in mice or rats, and then see if our drug candidate alleviates symptoms of disease.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is doing cutting-edge research. My work may help patients who suffer from a disease. I also enjoy working as part of a team of scientists to try to discover new drugs. What is particularly exciting is finding a promising compound that advances to the development phase and working with people in functional areas such as commercial, clinical, and regulatory to bring the new discovery to the market.
The worst part of my job is the inevitable failures. It is very hard to find a new drug!
Job Tips: Focus on a specific area, whether it is chemistry or biology, through college and, if you decide to pursue an advanced degree, in graduate school. You need to have a solid understanding of at least one discipline. You will learn the other skills along the way.
Consider going to graduate school. You may need a Ph.D. to advance quickly through a company but keep in mind that scientists with masters degrees are often in high demand.
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