Thursday, July 6, 2017

How best to evaluate a medicinal chemist?

From the inbox, an interesting request from a small company as to how best to evaluate potential medicinal chemists. They're looking for an experience chemist to perform lead development.

I'm not a medicinal chemist, so I don't feel qualified to answer this. I presume that more than 5-10 years experience in medicinal chemistry is important, as well as a track record of successfully shepherding compounds from hit-to-lead and from lead to pre-clinical candidate.

That's about all I have. Readers, surely you have some better advice than mine? 

14 comments:

  1. I've always thought hiring was like advertising, "I know half my ads work, I just don't know which half".

    My take, having hired a few med chemists, is to short through the inevitable stack of CVs. The ones from schools I've never hear of, < 5 publications in decent journals, < 3 years at several different companies, or > 6 years in grad school are put in the circular file. Quick phone screen to see if we can communicate, and if good a personal interview evaluated as much on ability to reason (i.e. answer questions, present data, be engaged and personable). It's not a perfect system, but I am pretty convinced it works about half the time....

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    1. Your criteria ask nothing about research skills or experience, and entirely relate to assumptions and elitism. I speak out because you have the typical attitude that plagues HR, and it's very disheartening you'd be the first to chime in and push that agenda to someone looking for genuine advice. Feel free to inquire "why did you stay for over six years at grad school" in an interview, or learn why they might have moved companies after only a brief stay... but don't cast them aside before learning why.

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    2. I wish this attitude plagued HR! I doubt many HR drones have any idea which chemistry journals are decent. The way it is now, your resume will get tossed in the circular file because the HR person doesn't know that the word you used on your resume is a synonym for the word on the job description.

      Seriously though, the problem with requiring a minimum number of journal articles is that it leads to "let's change the isopropyl group to a t-butyl group and write another communication!"

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    3. "Feel free to inquire "why did you stay for over six years at grad school" in an interview, or learn why they might have moved companies after only a brief stay... but don't cast them aside before learning why."

      Sure, in an ideal non-time constrained world that would be great, but even 25 half day interviews for 1 position to my mind is impractical.

      I agree # publications a very imperfect metric (is that Science paper worth 2 JACS' or 3 JOC papers? Is being 4th author worth 0.75 of being 1st author?), but at least it's a clear way to demonstrate a capability to finish a discrete project. Ditto time in grad school, but taking longer than average to finish projects isn't a good way to generate revenue, which is the only reason anyone ever gets hired at a profit seeking company.

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    4. "The way it is now, your resume will get tossed in the circular file because the HR person doesn't know that the word you used on your resume is a synonym for the word on the job description."

      KT, that's your fault for not making it clear. If the company wants somebody with high-performance liquid chromatography experience don't assume that putting HPLC on your resume is the same thing.

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    5. I try to connect the dots for non-scientists when I can. Unfortunately, this problem applies the most at big companies, so a tailored resume for one job posting may shoot you in the foot with others.

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  2. Not enough info IMO to focus on what factors to evaluate: Lead discovery implies potentially have an established target and biology and possibly a decent "hit" therefore slightly different criteria leaning more to synthesis and analog assessment skills vs earlier discovery effort where greater biochem awareness of value. Of course trust either type would be able to immediately distinguish a hit that might be worth anything from more promising molecule or scaffold to explore. Any computer modeling or other aids supporting effort and if so put higher priority on having that experience. Certainly strong technical ability paramount but as drug development is team activity need adequate personal and interdepartmental interaction skills to lead projects plus hopefully present/sell to Management who may or may not have a clue to what things mean.

    BTR I understand where you are coming from to narrow candidate but such elitist sorting of CV probaly would overlook a few viable candidates more than 50% of the time IMO

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  3. if they want an experienced medicinal chemist for lead development, they should hire an experienced medicinal chemist with a record of accomplishment, preferably at a larger established biotech/pharma company, who participated in a project that made it to clinic. His proves in lab synthesizing compounds is important but not the most important thing, understanding of structure-activity relationship, drug-like properties of small molecules, metabolic liabilities, to know which groups can be replaced by what isosters is also important. History of collaborating closely with biologists/crystallographers/computer modelers/DMPK people and some understanding of process chemistry also important.

    It is not required that she/he was the principal scientist - these are are often senior management positions - but rather that (s)he has her/his name on the patents, and made identifiable contribution which can be presented in a coherent way.

    In addition, if it is just a small startup about to start building medchem group and lab, it would be helpful to hire someone with hands-on experience with setting up a medchem lab (you can waste lots of time and money if you don't know what to do and what instruments to buy). It is obvious that the person needs to be a self-starter, with a strong motivation, and should not be a jerk.

    [I can write down this stuff in more detail if you shoot me email]

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    1. Great concise response milkshake plus appreciate your tempered response below, probably on target, regarded why the question was even asked. I have seen that very situation more than once, even a couple times after academic types had already thought could learn/do the medchem on their own after spending much time and money without progress (or worse taking a "candidate" forward without sufficient awareness of fundamental properties) were seeking partners to "develop their drug".

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    2. Hi milkshake,

      Thanks for the reply. I'd really like to send you an email, but to my great embarrassment I can't seem to find your email address anywhere. Could you perhaps reach me at richard.keats.ii@gmail.com?

      Thanks again!

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  4. Am I the only one that finds this a bit odd? A small company, presumably, doing drug discovery/development, but has no idea how to go about hiring the people they need for their business to be successful?

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    1. I would not be so harsh, imagine you are licensing some university research and about to start a company, and your background is in business and finances, or maybe biology. Building a medchem group is fairly technical process and it does not hurt to ask

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    2. " A small company, presumably, doing drug discovery/development, but has no idea how to go about hiring the people they need for their business to be successful?"

      Big companies don't know either, so the small ones are in good company....

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    3. Then I would do some homework and get people in the field that know what they are doing to find these people. If you have know idea what you are doing, you shouldn't be doing it. Sorry, it should be harsh. If you don't know how to find the appropriate people, how in the world did you know what to license (going with your line of thought). It's like me going into the software business because I like the idea of it - but I have no clue where to start.

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