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Accelerating the Medicinal Chemistry Design Cycle

MedChemNet and Future Medicinal Chemistry editors Jasmine Harris and Ben Walden interviewed Emma Parmee from Merck & Co at the Global Medicinal Chemistry and GPCR Summit.

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your institution?

My name is Emma Parmee and I work for MSD in the US. We’re a large pharmaceutical company and I’ve been working there almost 25 years. I’ve been involved in a number of projects over the years, some related to obesity and diabetes; for example, I worked on the discovery of our product sitagliptin a number of years ago. Currently I lead a chemistry capabilities and screening organisation. We do computational chemistry, structural chemistry and chemical biotechnologies, high-throughput screening and high-throughput chemistry.

Can you tell us a bit about your current research?

One of the things that’s really exciting to us at the moment is looking at how we can expand the way we’re looking at chemical space to try to find new drug molecules. We’re developing new technologies to enable us to synthesise molecules using high throughput experimentation in very small amounts and then test them directly in our biology assays. This can help us find new hits, leads and new directions for our medicinal chemistry programs.

One of the other really interesting things we’re doing is bringing together our capabilities so we can get some synergies between them. What we have done is put high throughput screening and high throughput chemistry under the same roof. This really enables us to screen for hits and leads and then evaluate them much more quickly. We’ve also brought together our structural chemistry group with our protein engineering group, which had been working in the bio-catalysis space, so we can utilise their expertise to try to accelerate our ability to get structural information on proteins that are more difficult to crystallise.

It’s really fun bringing together the different groups who may not usually have the opportunity to work together and I’ve been building cross-functional teams with leaders from each of the groups.

Where is your research heading in the future?

What we would really like to be able to do is accelerate the medicinal chemistry design cycle with our capabilities. Chemistry is a really important component of drug discovery but can still be a bottleneck. We want to bring together all of the different disciplines that can help us to make and deliver drugs faster.

Ideally we would be able to be more efficient and we would have fewer failures. I think one of the things you need to be careful of in drug discovery is the failure of a single series of molecules. If you get all the way to end of the drug discovery pipeline and you find an issue that means you can’t go forward with the drug, you have to go all the way back to the beginning and start again. We would like to be able to use our resources to work on more things concurrently, so if you find an issue there are other series to work on.


Emma Parmee is Associate VP, Head of Chemistry Capability and Screening at Merck Sharpe & Dohme.


The next Medicinal Chemistry Summit will take place September 17 – 18 in Boston. Take a look at the agenda.

Medicinal Chemistry Summit: USA

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