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#ChemCoach Carnival: From Big Pharma to Non-Profit

We’re almost at the end of National Chemistry week, folks, and the Haystack is finally kicking in to blogger SeeArrOh’s now rampant #ChemCoach carnival. The goal of any carnival is to get a lot of different bloggers to post on the same topic–in this case, to write about how they got to where they are today as a way of educating young chemists on their career options. Round-ups of the dozens of posts this week can be found here, here, and here. Since the science writing field has been well covered here and by our own Carmen Drahl, and because the Haystack is focused on all things pharma, I thought I’d enlist the help of someone with a much more illustrious career than my own. Without further ado, I give you some words of career wisdom from TB Alliance‘s chemistry guru Christopher Cooper:

Your current job.
 
I’m Senior Director of Chemistry at the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development (TB Alliance), a non-profit, product development partnership headquartered in New York City.  My job encompasses all chemistry activities for the Alliance from early-, mid-, and late-stage drug discovery right through drug substance/API manufacturing for clinical trials.  The TB Alliance is dedicated to identifying safe, novel chemical entities for the rapid treatment of tuberculosis worldwide, and my job is to oversee the Alliance’s chemistry needs to achieve our goals (seewww.tballiance.org for more details).


What you do in a standard “work day.”
 
Define “standard” … oh, and define “work day,” as well, please? All kidding aside, working for a small (~45 employees), entrepreneurial, research and development organization means that every day is truly different, whether it’s engaged in project team discussions with collaborators in Chicago and Belgium, or proposing new analogues/chemical series to pursue with chemists in Auckland or Seoul!  In fact, as we engage chemists (medicinal, process, manufacturing) on TB Alliance projects around the globe, my work “day” doesn’t really begin or end.  After all, if it’s 9:00 P.M. on the East Coast, it’s already 9:00 A.M. in Beijing!  Fortunately, the virtual nature of our business model translates into my own flexibility in addressing issues wherever and whenever they occur … and I don’t have to wash my glassware anymore (yey!).


What kind of schooling / training / experience helped you get there?
 
In many ways, my background would appear fairly conventional, despite the more unconventional nature of my current position.  I received my B.S. from Clemson University in 1980, and my M.S. (1982) and Ph.D.’s (1988) from Stanford.  Having worked briefly in the pharmaceutical industry (CIBA-Geigy from 1982-1984), I was eager to return so I accepted a position at Pfizer Central Research in 1988.  From 1988 to 1998, I enjoyed a varied career at PFE, working in both veterinary medicine and “conventional” human drug discovery.  I was also a strong proponent/practitioner of combinatorial chemistry, and solution-phase array approaches for the rapid interrogation of lead chemical series and the development of program-specific SAR/SLR. This interest in combichem provided me with an opportunity to “take a risk” and join Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1998, in a newly created position within their Early Discovery Chemistry department.  As head of the Lead Synthesis group, our small, dedicated team of chemists helped to shape the BMS corporate screening collection, and, more importantly, to rapidly “explode” attractive hit series for a host of therapeutic targets.  In late 2008, I was approached about “taking a risk” with another newly created position, this time working with a small, dedicated team of seasoned drug hunters striving to find safe and effective cures for an infectious disease which kills one person every 20 seconds.  I had no idea what I was getting myself in for … but having now been at the TB Alliance for just under 4 years, I see this as one of my greatest life adventures (… thus far)!  So, what helped me get here? I suppose it was a mix of hard work, personal energy, a bit of risk taking, and scientific – not just chemistry – curiosity which helped provide me with the breadth of experiences necessary for tackling the breadth of challenges I face every day.  

How does chemistry inform your work?
 
Without hyperbole, chemistry is truly the lifeblood of our efforts to identify novel, safe, and effective treatments for tuberculosis.  Consider the following: the youngest component of the standard four drug regimen for drug-sensitive TB (e.g., rifampin, pyrazinamide, isoniazid, and ethambutol) will celebrate its 50th “birthday” in 2013.  That’s fifty years old.  This is completely unacceptable.  Wehave to change this, and we ARE changing this, and we are changing this through the use of 21stcentury chemistry approaches to both optimize antimicrobial chemical series, and to produce such materials safely and efficiently on large scale.  Whether I’m challenged with scaffold “hopping” to a new lead series, or looking to decrease the cost of goods (COG’s) for a 120 kg GMP API campaign, chemistry remains front and center.

Finally, a unique, interesting, or funny anecdote about your career*
 
About two years’ ago, I was on a business trip with the TB Alliance in northern France.  Our hosts graciously invited us to visit the famous cathedral city of Rouen for a bit of site-seeing before dinner.  While crossing one cobblestoned street intersection, I heard someone call my name from behind.  It turned out to be an old friend and fellow chemistry colleague from Stanford whom I had not seen in ~25 years!! The moral of the story is to make, develop, and appreciate the chemistry friendships which you “acquire” over time – it is truly a small (chemistry) world, after all!

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