How did you get interested in Medicinal Chemistry?
I have been interested by chemistry since I was a little girl. Maybe it was the “little chemist box” that my mum had offered me, maybe it was something I read somewhere. It is difficult to know. Anyhow, sometime ago, I found an essay, “redaction” in French, that I wrote when I was eight years old, stating that I wanted to become a chemist to make new medicines to cure diseases. Over my study, I got more and more interested by organic chemistry and its application to create molecules of biological interest.
Where and when did you obtain your PhD diploma?
For my PhD, I moved really far away from my home country, France. After spending 4 years in the beautiful country of New Zealand, I completed my PhD diploma from the University of Auckland in November 2010.
What was the topic of your PhD project?
During my PhD in the research group of Prof. Brimble, I studied the synthesis of natural products and focused on the synthesis of the spiroimine unit of the spirolide family of shellfish toxins.
Where did you carry out your postdoctoral training?
After my stay in New Zealand, I returned to the Northern Hemisphere and performed an industrial postdoc at the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel in Switzerland. During my time at Novartis, I developed a new class of cyclic peptidomimetics and started my career in the pharmaceutical industry.
Where are you currently working and what is your current position?
Since 2015, I am working for AstraZeneca as part of the Medicinal Chemistry Department of Research and Early Development, Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolic. During this time, I have been working in two different set-ups and locations. First, I was located in Dortmund in Germany in the AZ-MPI Satellite Unit, which was fully integrated in the research group of Prof. Waldmann. We were three AstraZeneca scientists embedded in the MPI with a focus on assessing New Modalities to address challenging targets such as PPIs and Transcription Factors. Then, I moved to Sweden to work in the AstraZeneca site in Gothenburg as a Research Scientist in Medicinal Chemistry focusing on small molecule drug discovery programs for liver diseases. After a part time rotation of a few months in the DMPK department working as a DMPK Design Leader, I have recently been promoted to Associate Principal Scientist.
What are your current research interests?
My current research interests are focused toward integrating small molecules and New Modalities to address challenging targets. Further, I have a strong interest for synthetic and medicinal chemistry with broadening towards chemical biology to solve key questions on how to move forward novel chemical entities towards drug-like compounds. In the bottom of my heart, I still have a strong interest in natural products and the total synthesis of complex molecules which I found very fascinating.
What do you like best about your work?
Teamwork is a critical part of how new medicines are discovered. Bringing together scientists with different expertise to work in close collaboration on a drug discovery project is the part of my job that I truly enjoy the most. Exchanging knowledge, making things progress, and solving problems are what wakes me up in the morning and motivates me.
What kind of tasks does your work involve?
My work concerns designing new molecules with better properties to reach their targets. I work simultaneously in the laboratory performing the synthesis of novel chemical entities as well as in the design and analysis of data generated by the research project. Overall, my daily tasks are quite diverse from lab work, to brainstorming and project meetings which is something that I really enjoy.
What kind of skills does your work require?
In general, a medicinal chemist working in industry needs to have a strong background in organic chemistry while over the years broadening his/her expertise in chemical biology, disease-understanding, and DMPK. From a soft skill perspective, it is very important to be creative, have good problem-solving skills, and a strong motivation and commitment to advance drug discovery programs within the required timelines.
Which of your papers are you most proud of and why?
I am proud of my publications record from my PhD which gave a good overview of the work I performed during my PhD study, including the first review on the “Spiroimine shellfish poisoning (SSP) and the Spirolide family of shellfish toxins” published in Natural Product Report. More recently, I am very proud of our last JACS publication on “Macrocyclic Modalities Combining Peptide Epitopes and Natural Product Fragments”. It is a project that I lead and work on from the very beginning with a great team of postdoc and master students in the AZ-MPI Satellite Unit. We had to solve many challenges, performed a tremendous amount of work in the lab and collaborate with different scientific experts to achieve this research and access new class of modalities to address challenging targets.
What is the most embarrassing thing you have done in the lab while doing experiments, e.g. explosions?
When I was in New Zealand, I used to perform multiple Birch Reductive Alkylation with potassium metal, a highly flammable metal! Unfortunately, New Zealand is a very humid country, especially Auckland which is located on a narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. One day while I was quenching leftover potassium metal, I used a pissette of isopropanol which unfortunately had slowly sucked water from the air over time, and this started a fire. My colleagues and I were able to contain the fire but it was a truly impressive experience for the young PhD student that I was, at that time. Since then, I am a master of working under anhydrous and dry conditions.
What would you expect to be the next major breakthrough in medicinal chemistry?
I think Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a critical role in Medicinal Chemistry allowing for the quicker design of new molecules for a given target, to answer key questions and to advance drug discovery. It would allow analysis and extraction of trends from large datasets in order to learn and help evolve our design and understanding of the DMPK challenges.
The silo between small molecules and larger New Modalities will slowly fade to allow access to the right modality for the right target. A better understanding on how to solve key challenges of larger molecules would allow medicinal chemists to advance these new modalities toward drug-like compounds with the required properties to reach and influence their target of interest in human.