What was your role at GSK?
I am a medicinal chemist and I’ve worked at GSK for the past 10 years, designing and making prototype drug molecules. I have worked on the full breadth of the medicinal chemistry design process during my time at GSK, from identifying the first examples of molecules which interact with a biological target to defining the final structure of a drug molecule.
I saw the position at the Crick advertised internally at GSK and the opportunity to broaden my skills as a scientist really appealed to me. I originally planned to be here for 12 months, but I’ve actually extended my secondment by another six to allow me to take the project a little further before I leave.
What have you been working on at the Crick?
For the past 15 months, I’ve been based in Peter Parker’s group at the Crick. Their work focuses on the role of protein kinases in diseases, especially cancer. Protein kinases are enzymes which modify proteins by adding phosphate groups in a process called phosphorylation.
Kinases regulate the physical and chemical signals transmitted within cells, including the signals that control cell growth and movement. Faults in these signals are thought to be one of the reasons behind tumours’ aggressive growth.
This means that kinase inhibitors can be important potential drugs for cancer treatment. However, with over 500 different kinases in the human body, they can prove very challenging enzymes to control precisely. This can cause major obstacles to both understanding the role a particular kinase might play in a cell and, importantly, to developing useful medicines.
While I’ve been at the Crick, we’ve been working on a project that brings together the group’s expertise on the role of protein kinases in cancer with my knowledge of the chemistry of kinase inhibitors. We are developing technologies which would help researchers working on kinase biology to gauge the success of more precise kinase inhibition and explore its potential for therapy.
How have you found working at the Crick?
The change of location has been incredibly energising and motivating, everyone has been so welcoming and I’m enjoying the collaboration with new colleagues and how that shapes an exchange of ideas, thinking and culture.
It’s amazing to get involved in all the research happening here. As well as working on my own project, I’m advising on a number of other projects and it's been heartening to see the impact my expertise is having.
What differences have you seen between working in an industrial lab and an academic lab?
When you’re working in a pharmaceutical company, you’re completely focused on the patient from day one. Throughout the whole process of drug discovery, you’re thinking about the impact that your work will eventually have on people. I personally find this really motivating.
In my secondment at the Crick, I have the opportunity to think about innovation in a different way while keeping in mind the ultimate goal of how research can result in patient-focused real-world applications.
Which of your skills, honed in industry, have been most helpful to you and your team at the Crick?
I’m accustomed to continually checking and evaluating my work to make sure that I’m meeting targets and working towards the project’s ultimate goals. This has been a useful strategic skill to have in an academic lab environment.
It means that I’m comfortable planning my research very carefully. I’m used to justifying any resources that I ask for and explaining how the data I plan to obtain will allow me to make an informed decision and to move the project forward. From the point of view of an academic researcher, these are vital skills to acquire if you’re ever setting up a relationship with a commercial organisation.
What will you be taking back to GSK with you when your secondment is finished?
It’s always a risk to try something new, especially when that means a new place, a new culture and even brand-new science. But I’m so glad that I decided to take the plunge.
Working at the Crick has challenged me in new ways that have really helped me grow as a scientist and a leader. It’s left me with a vastly expanded scientific skill set and increased confidence in my own abilities. I’m excited to go back to GSK and bring along some new ways of working; take on some new challenges and tackle drug discovery with a new, broader mindset.
I’m so grateful for how welcoming Peter’s group has been and for the time they have spent helping and training me. I will definitely be keeping in touch with the teams and terrific people I’ve met. My experience with my secondment is a real-life example of how we can all learn so much from each other.