The drug discovery industry is at a point of unprecedented innovation. With enabling technologies like CRISPR, AI, and recent Nobel-award-winning technology cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) opening new doors, there is a feeling that we have an opportunity and an obligation to really push boundaries. Although Christopher Hill and Ian Waddell, the new Executive Directors of Chemistry/DMPK and Biology at our Cambridge, UK, research center, each bring perspectives shaped by different scientific disciplines, it becomes clear in speaking with them that they share a passion for drug discovery that is driven not only by innate curiosity, but also by a sense of responsibility to patients and the scientific community to fulfill that obligation.
Christopher Hill, PhD, Executive Director, Chemistry/DMPK
In a career spanning over 30 years, Dr. Hill has led drug discovery teams at some of the most storied pharmaceutical companies in the world, including Roche, Organon, Schering-Plough, and Merck. When Dr. Hill left his position as vice president and head of discovery chemistry at Merck, he was responsible for a global team of more than 500 chemists, as well as a significant number of outsourced projects. His experience reflects the professional challenges faced by so many of our partners who are managing increasingly diverse R&D teams comprising internal and external contributors. He has a strong appreciation for the factors influencing decisions on both sides of the table.
“Companies need CRO partners for their Discovery work for a variety of reasons,” says Dr. Hill. “Capacity and capability are two of those, of course. But the third reason, equally important, is about injecting diversity of thought into an organization’s programs. Pursuing a problem from a different angle can make a significant difference to the outcomes of a program, and this can be an important driver of the choices you make when selecting your CRO partners.”
That diversity of thought, argues Dr. Hill, often comes with the perspective borne of years of practicing the drug discovery craft. “The education of medicinal chemists,” he reminds us, “has a significant practical component, and much of that education can only be gained by experience.”
CROs are important training and proving grounds for the drug hunters of tomorrow. As pharma consolidates their discovery organizations, it is entities like Charles River where that duty increasingly resides. Here, medicinal chemistry and biology intersect in a real way, as targets must be well-understood and thoroughly validated before they can be successfully prosecuted.
“Integrating these disciplines,” says Dr. Hill, “and applying enabling technologies and automation in a smart way – in a way that will let us be more predictive of translational success – is one way the industry can improve productivity.”
Ian Waddell, PhD, Executive Director, Biology
Ian Waddell is similarly passionate about raising visibility of the reproducibility issue in drug discovery and science in general. After obtaining his PhD in molecular medicine at the University of Dundee in Scotland and completing postdoctoral fellowships in the US, Dr. Waddell started his career at Dundee, spending 5 years engaged in diabetes and obesity research before joining AstraZeneca’s cardiovascular and metabolic disease drug discovery unit. He eventually transitioned to the oncology group at AstraZeneca, and ultimately became the director of discovery medicine for oncology, responsible for the translational science on projects in the US, UK, and China.
When Dr. Waddell left AstraZeneca in 2011, he returned to academia as the head of biology drug discovery with the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Manchester Institute. As he has built his career in both academic and industry settings, he saw the impact of poor reproducibility through both lenses. He is committed to the smart application of new technologies, like CRISPR, to revolutionize the way the industry deals with this issue.
One could argue that the heart of the reproducibility issue is really a question of efficiency; the industry is moving toward leaner, more efficient discovery processes, which put further emphasis on the need for reproducible science. In his role with CRUK, Dr. Waddell was responsible for building and managing collaborations to advance various drug discovery projects, and, as a scientific advisory panel member for two companies, was immersed in the challenges faced by early stage biotech start-ups.
“Speed and quality are vitally important for these emerging companies,” Dr. Waddell reminds us. “They need to get it right the first time, as they will rarely get a second chance. Since they rely on their CRO partners for the data that will determine their companies' futures, the quality and credibility of that data is paramount.”
We are very pleased to welcome these dedicated and passionate drug hunters to the Charles River team; our partners’ programs will certainly benefit from the application of their skills and talents.