Interview with Dr. Abou Gharbia, Sr. VP at Wyeth – Part 1


Advancing Your Career in Pharma: Part I

The recent launch of the ACS Careers Industry Forum was a success with over four hundred registrants from all over the world calling in to listen to our guest speaker, Dr. Abou Gharbia, Senior Vice President at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and head of its chemistry and screening discovery research program.  He joined Wyeth in 1982 and rose through the ranks, eventually overseeing a group that included some 500 scientists at four research sites in the United States, as well as an additional 150 chemists at GBK bio in Hyderabad, India.  For a full biography of Dr. Abou Gharbia please go to our website.

Dr. Abou Gharbia discussed trends that can affect your career path in the pharmaceutical industry. He provided a brief overview of Wyeth as a company outlining the organizational structure, mission and goals.  The organization has about 45,000 employees world wide, and ranks in the top 10 global companies.  Wyeth discovers and markets innovative pharmaceuticals in various platforms, such as small molecules, vaccines and proteins.  Research is conducted mainly on the east coast of the U.S., with recent partnerships and collaborations with companies in Dublin, Ireland, and Scotland Chemists at Wyeth are involved in all stages of discovery from initial synthesis to clinical evaluation.  Therefore, they must have a comprehensive view of the process approach utilizing various multidisciplinary skill sets.  For example, medicinal chemists must work with other scientists to design the best possible drug candidate taking into account predictions from computational chemists, results from biological pharmacokinetic and metabolic studies.

Dr. Abou Gharbia suggests “… when try to  treat any illness you try to find out…what causes the disease (called target), and make molecules which actually alleviate or modulate those targets…”

Molecules will have an effect on the human body and vise versa.  Therefore, it is not enough to make a molecule to act on a disease agent.  A chemist must also be aware of what other effects the drug may have on the body, and what alterations to structure of physical properties the body may make on the drug candidate (metabolic pathway).  The daily job of a medicinal chemist is multifaceted.  They not only synthesize molecules but also , interact with colleagues on the team, attend meetings and give presentations.

“That is why you’ll find communication skills, even though we’re talking about just the chemist, it is important.

At Wyeth, approximately 50% of Chemical sciences organization  work on the synthesis of target molecules, and the remainder of the staff vary in their role from those in testing and assay development, to screening, structural elucidation, and purification, to computational chemistry.

There is a high attrition rate for drug candidates in the clinic where almost 100,000 molecules are initially screened.  The list of viable candidates is quickly winnowed to a few hundred through initial testing, and subsequently down to 1-2 of the candidates will make it to the market.  This is a very tedious process, but it ensures that only the best drug candidates make it into the marketplace.

To help reduce attrition,  a chemist will conduct pharmaceutical profiling.  An analytical chemist will look at the drug-like properties and see if the molecule is soluble and whether it will reach the appropriate biological target so that the molecules can reach the target and produce the desired effect.

“If you treat patients with depression, it [is] no good for the patient, [if] you give them a molecule which cannot reach the brain because [it can not] cross blood-brain barrier.  So when we work in the lab, we make sure that the molecule we make will have the properties to reach the brain to treat the patient.”

There are a multitude of job opportunities for chemists in the pharmaceutical sciences.  They can work in drug discovery as medicinal chemists , performing analytical analysis, computational analysis, or biochemistry.  We will continue our discussion with Dr. Abou Gharbia in Part II of our series on our blog.

One Response to Interview with Dr. Abou Gharbia, Sr. VP at Wyeth – Part 1

  1. rockwell says:

    I feel a lot more men and women need to read this, extremely beneficial info.

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