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Oct 08
Katelyn Snider, U.S. Communications and Public Affairs
UCB Researchers Virtually Advocate for Innovation

Last week, UCB researchers from across the country gathered virtually for the PhRMA Researcher Fly-In where more than 70 industry researchers engaged with Members of Congress. An event typically held in person, our team was honored to still have the opportunity to share their personal stories by phone with Representatives Derek Kilmer (WA-06) and David Price (NC-04), as well as staff from the offices of Senators Patty Murray (WA), Maria Cantwell (WA), and Kelly Loeffler (GA). Despite representing different aspects of the drug discovery and development pipeline, the UCB researchers focused on a common story: how their work will ultimately improve the lives of patients. Read their stories below. 

At UCB, we are constantly looking for new ways to leverage technology and scientific advances to make new discoveries. For Teresa Soucy, PhD, (UCB Boston - Bedford, MA) her work at UCB is part of a 20+ year career as a scientist working in the earliest stages of drug discovery. With two successful projects that are, or will be available soon, as new medicines in the market for patients, she recognizes how rare such achievements are. Drug development is complex, and failure is common. To overcome the daily challenges, Teresa sources her motivation from patients. “It’s frustrating to work in science sometimes but also inspiring. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the patients who have benefitted from our medicines, which can be very emotional but also gives you a recharge to keep going,” Teresa told legislators. In her work at UCB, she is focused on neurogenerative diseases and is studying how proteins in key pathways that were previously considered undruggable by old methods, might be druggable through new techniques. Her work in targeted protein degradation (TPD) is a continuation of the work she’s done throughout her career, but in a completely new and innovative way to tackle disease.     

Similarly, Kate Sherry, PhD, (UCB Boston - Cambridge, MA) also works in early stage drug discovery. Her work focuses on leveraging UCB’s proprietary platform to quickly identify peptides that have the potential to be used in therapeutics. With a focus on often rare autoimmune diseases, Kate finds her work rewarding despite the challenges because of the impact she sees in lives of patients. For many of the autoimmune diseases she studies, patients have limited treatment options which may only partially address their disease. “However, the work we do at UCB, allows us to develop therapies that specifically target the mechanisms of diseases, allowing patients to better manage their disease and live better lives,” shared Kate. In her opportunities to speak with patients, she has learned that they are also looking for answers about their rare disease, just like Kate is every day at the lab bench. Patients living with rare disease often struggle for a long time to be diagnosed because of limited awareness of the disease, and once they’re diagnosed, they have few options for treatment. The lack of information is also a challenge Kate must overcome in her studies, often digging and putting together information from a variety of sources, such as patient case studies published in medical journals, like pieces to a puzzle, to inform her research. 

Joining from across the country, Stephen Mayclin, PhD, (UCB Seattle – Bainbridge, WA) spoke about how he and his team leverage UCB’s strength in structural biology to advance drug discovery. His work in structural biology typically comes into play in the drug discovery pipeline after there is a hypothesis from UCB teams, like Teresa’s and Kate’s, and once we’ve generated some initial molecules that seem to be able to affect a key biological pathway in some way. Using techniques, such as x-ray crystallography and cryoelectron microscopy, Stephen studies how a drug is interacting with its target. Often testing up to 20,000 different experimental conditions for a particularly challenging hypothesis, failure is common. “Being a scientist in pharmaceutical research means learning to be resilient, having a thick skin, and having our eyes ultimately on the prize – helping patients that are struggling with severe diseases,” said Stephen. “Beyond just resiliency though, it is also important for pharmaceutical researchers to be actively looking for ways to poke holes in our hypotheses or find problems with our potential drug molecules so that those resources can be devoted to another project that might have a better chance of positively impacting a patient’s life one day.”

Once bench researchers, like Teresa, Kate, and Stephen, have successfully developed the best potential drug molecule in the lab, then it moves into clinical trials where we study how – hopefully – the molecule also successfully impacts patients. Over her 17-year career at UCB, Kim Doggett (UCB RTP - Raleigh, North Carolina) works with doctors, nurses, patient advocacy groups, and other health care professionals to support enrollment and engagement in UCB’s clinical trials. Inspired by family members and the patients she’s met living with severe disease, she works to help UCB achieve diverse trials that are reflective of the country UCB is recruiting in. Across the industry, it is a challenge, in general, to recruit for clinical trials due to issues around awareness and access, and it can be even more difficult to be diverse and inclusive of underrepresented populations for these reasons. And although the pandemic has brought more attention to clinical trial participation, it is important to not forget about ongoing trials for patients living with other diseases, besides COVID-19. To better meet patients where they are, UCB is undergoing a digital business transformation where we are leveraging technology, such as telemedicine and wearable devices, to bring studies to a patient’s home. “I am excited about the future of UCB. Prior to COVID-19, we were always asking ourselves: ‘How can we meet patients where they are?’ Now we know for sure, we can do this through leveraging technological capabilities and tools,” expressed Kim. We believe this will allow UCB to bring about more access to clinical trials and create the diverse patient population within our trials that we strive to have. 

Thank you to the Members of Congress who welcomed us to share what we’re most passionate about – innovating for the patients who are at the heart of everything we do. We look forward to continuing to engage with Congress and other healthcare stakeholders to ensure the important work of innovation is recognized, and ultimately, that the patient voice and their experience is heard.