Interview with John Wai, PhD

Meet Dr. John Wai, PhD  Vice President of Medicinal Chemistry

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Prior to WuXi, John spent over 20 years at Merck Research Laboratories, contributing to the discovery efforts of many programs, from target validation & lead identification to lead optimization & early development. This includes HIV-1 non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, ras-farnesyl protein transferase inhibitors, fibrinogen receptor antagonists, HIV integrase strand transfer inhibitors, HIV RNase H inhibitors, gamma secretase inhibitors, etc.  John received the Distinguished Scientific Award from the inaugural Merck West Point Basic Research Reward and Recognition Forum for his work on HIV integrase inhibitors, and recently, John received the “Heroes of Chemistry” Award from the American Chemical Society (September 2013) for his contribution to the discovery and development of Isentress, the first HIV integrase inhibitors approved for treatment of AIDS (2007).  This week we sat down with John to discuss his career and thoughts on the industry.

 

How did you get started as a medicinal chemist?

John: After my post-doc I joined the Merck unit at West Point. It was a great, varied introduction to life as medicinal chemist. My role involved everything from target validation through to early development of HIV-1 non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, ras-farnesyl protein transferase inhibitors, fibrinogen receptor antagonists and other targets.

What attracted you to working at WuXi?

John: The commitment to chemistry. Having spent the formative years of my career at Merck I’m used to working in a science-driven culture. This is how I like to work and fortunately I found the same culture at WuXi. Once I saw WuXi shared my belief in the importance of cutting-edge medicinal chemistry it was an easy decision to join the company.

What is the proudest achievement of your career so far?

John: It was an honor to be part of the Merck team that developed the first integrase inhibitor approved for use in HIV infected patients. Many thought the target was undruggable, but after more than a decade of work we showed it was! Being named the 2013 ACS Heroes of Chemistry was a nice coda to a very rewarding project.

What does the future hold for medicinal chemistry?

John: It’s an exciting time. The industry is pursuing challenging therapeutic targets, but, as we showed with the integrase inhibitor, hard work and expertise can make what seems impossible today, achievable. WuXi’s investment in new technologies and processes is really helping in this regard.