When people think about pharmacy to go research and development, they think about drug discovery, but really, I think that’s a bit of a misnomer, because drugs are not simply found. Drugs are invented. Creating a medicine is like solving a very complex jigsaw puzzle. There are these moments acceleration, when you get a string of pieces, that actually do fit together, but you then quickly run into problems.
Drug discovery really starts with a hypothesis. I believe that this protein is involved in this disease, so we take that protein, we then screen thousands to millions of compounds to find chemical starting points, that bind to the protein in changes function. The last ist to complicated. Every compound that we test is a potential drug. As drug discovery chemists, we change that molecule using a rational design process. When you think about chemistry, you can’t see any of the stuff with your naked eye.
One technique that we use is called protein crystallography. We grow a crystal of the protein and if we shoot X-rays through the crystal they detract into a unique pattern. We use a 3D visualisation, just like a 3D movie. Ultimately we need to understand, how these potential drug compounds are interacting with the protein, so that we know what to change. There is a whole team of scientists, who study that compound contently asking the question “Is it good enough to be a new medicine?”.
If you find out your initial hypothesis was wrong, it’s like taking that entire jigsaw puzzle, dumping it out again and saying, now you have to start all over again and by the way, this time it’s a different puzzle. What keeps us going is, the fact that we have a very noble mission. It’s an incredible feeling when you know, you’ve made a difference in people’s lifes.