Dr. Tao Guo serves as Vice President of Medicinal Chemistry, International Discovery Service Unit (IDSU). Dr. Guo joined WuXi AppTec in December 2008, bringing with him a wealth of experience in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery. He is an inventor of 10 preclinical candidate compounds with 2 advanced to Phase III and 1 advanced to Phase II. He is the recipient of 37 issued U.S. patents and the author of over 50 peer-reviewed papers. He has served on the NIH Expert Review Panels, the Princeton ACS Fall Organic Chemistry Symposium Organizing Committee, the Editorial Board of ChemTracts – Organic Chemistry, and as the President and CEO of the CGP-Doering Foundation. In 2011, Dr. Guo received the Shanghai inaugural “Thousands Plan” award. We sat down with Dr. Guo to learn more about his background in medicinal chemistry and his insights on IDSU.
Dr. Guo, you are an experienced medicinal chemist, a veteran in the field. Can you tell us more about your background before joining WuXi?
Tao: I have known Dr. Ge Li for many years from our time together at Columbia University and Pharmacopeia. I greatly admire his courage and vision in founding WuXi. At Pharmacopeia, I worked with WuXi’s FTE teams for a number of programs that I led and was extremely impressed by the high quality work and the impact that WuXi had on my projects. I ultimately decided to join WuXi in 2008 because I was inspired by Dr. Li’s vision in transforming drug discovery through an open access platform. I am excited to be here and to contribute to WuXi’s growth.
After years of working in biotech in the U.S., you are now working with our IDSU teams in China. How is working in China different from working in the U.S.?
Tao: The teams in China are young and energetic. The average age of WuXi employees in China is 29. We offer numerous training programs at WuXi for young scientists. For young chemists, we have a range of chemistry and management training including synthetic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, and program management. Coming to work every day, I feel the strong enthusiasm and energy from our young scientists. I am very proud to see the rapid growth of our young employees and their impactful contributions to our partners’ programs.
What sort of results and impact have you seen with our IDSU teams in China?
Tao: IDSU teams in China have demonstrated strong capabilities in synthetic and medicinal chemistry. Over the last year, the teams have delivered over 70,000 compounds for over 100 clients from pharma, biotech, and non-profit organizations. The teams have discovered over 25 preclinical candidate compounds, including compounds that have received breakthrough therapy designations from FDA, serving as examples of our vision, “invented in China, for the world”. The teams’ efforts have made positive contributions to the successful IPO/partnering of 5 biotech companies.
IDSU has achieved a lot in the past decade. What do you see as future directions for IDSU?
Tao: We are building IDSU to be the best solutions provider in synthetic and medicinal chemistry to clients around the globe. As IDSU has become the largest capability and technology platform for discovery chemistry service in pharmaceutical and biotech industry, the insights gained from our many years of deep experience help us develop a range of tailored solutions to best meet the different needs of our diverse customers. We also continue to strengthen our technology capabilities to keep our leadership position in discovery chemistry.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. To finish, would you like to share an inspiring experience or event in the field that has impacted you?
Tao: The Nobel Prize Committee awarding William C. Campbell, Satoshi Omura, and Youyou Tu with the 2015 Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine for their discovery of ivermectin and (+)-artminsinin was very inspirational to me this year. Ivermectin and Artminsin are used to cure diseases caused by parasitic roundworms and malaria, respectively. William C. Campbell was a chemist at Merck when he made his discovery of ivermectin; his recognition was encouraging to all in the drug discovery industry. Youyou Tu’s recognition was especially impactful for all Chinese scientists and chemists here in WuXi, as she was the first Chinese scientist to earn the Nobel Prize.
An Interview with the New Head of IDSU: Dr. Steve Yang, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of WuXi AppTec
WuXi’s EVP & COO Steve Yang was recently appointed as the new head of WuXi’s International Discovery Services Unit (IDSU). He brings with him years of industry experience and expertise. This summer, Steve has been visiting colleagues in the newly opened WuXi Boston office. We had the opportunity to sit down with him to learn more about him and the future of IDSU.
What inspired you to join WuXi?
Steve: I am inspired by the vision of Dr. Ge Li, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of WuXi. He wants to build an open access capability and technology platform to enable anyone and any company to discover and develop healthcare products to benefit patients. I believe that my prior experience in managing global R&D portfolio, operation, and networks in Asia and Emerging Markets could contribute to WuXi’s future growth.
What are your roles at WuXi?
Steve: I am Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of WuXi. I have multiple responsibilities including operation support across sites in China, accountability for US Business Unit, and leadership of International Discovery Service Unit (IDSU).
What is the scope of services that International Discovery Services Unit (IDSU) provides to customers?
Steve: The mission of International Discovery Services Unit (IDSU) is to build capable teams and deliver comprehensive solutions in synthetic chemistry, medicinal chemistry design, and development candidate to clients around the globe. Our services include synthetic chemistry execution, synthetic chemistry design, medicinal chemistry design, and program delivery.
What is unique about IDSU’s service platform?
Steve: We are proud to be the global leader in discovery chemistry outsourcing service in terms of our size, scale, depth, and breadth of chemistry expertise.
Can you provide us any insight into IDSU’s future directions for technology development and service offerings?
Steve: IDSU has evolved to become the largest capability and technology platform for discovery chemistry service in pharmaceutical and biotech industry. We serve both major pharmaceutical companies as well as young and small biotech start-ups. We realize that one size does not fit all. Therefore, we are developing a range of tailored solutions to address different needs of our customers. We also continue to strengthen our technology capabilities to respond to the new challenges of discovery chemistry.
You recently visited the newly opened Boston office. How was your visit?
Steve: I really like our new office in Cambridge! It is conveniently located within walking distance of Kendall Square, close to many of our customers, partners, and stakeholders. We have a strong and diverse team based in Boston area, representing WuXi’s major business units to engage and service our customers. It is a great opportunity to be a member of Boston’s innovation community so more entrepreneurs, scientists can benefit from WuXi’s open access capability and technology platform.
Meet Dr. John Wai, PhD Vice President of Medicinal Chemistry
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.
Meet Dr. Takao Suzuki
Director of Medicinal Chemistry
Interview with Dr. Rich Soll
Head of IDSU