Dr. Carey Hwang, executive director, clinical research, Merck Research Laboratories, and Dr. Sushma Kumar, director, global regulatory affairs & clinical safety, Merck Research Laboratories, work at Merck as leaders in HIV drug development. Read more to learn why they think working in HIV is rewarding, and what it takes to invent in their field.
Carey: It takes a vision and a passion to invent in HIV. At Merck, we are very passionate about wanting to improve patients’ lives. It requires a strong scientific background and working with teams that bring different skills and expertise to the table. Teamwork, commitment, perseverance and resilience are key qualities that drive invention. I try to empower people to think differently and challenge the old ways of doing things. Giving scientists the freedom to push the boundaries while learning from failed experiments often makes the difference and leads to the next innovation.
Sushma: For all our inventions in HIV, it starts with a belief in our work and the science behind it. This belief will drive the team’s passion, dedication and commitment and allow us to stay focused on what matters most: the opportunity to help people living with HIV. As a team leader, one of my most important jobs has been to impart that belief, passion and dedication to my team. They are the key contributors and collaborators who are driving invention.
Carey: Despite amazing progress in HIV science over the last 30 years, significant unmet medical needs remain. Treatment options that may improve adherence to medication, maintain antiretroviral suppression for missed doses, or restore viral suppression in patients with multidrug-resistant HIV are needed. People living with HIV and their physicians are also seeking treatment regimens that are more tolerable and have fewer toxicities compared to today’s medicines. We also need to consider that people living with HIV are aging, and their risk of developing chronic diseases is higher compared to people not living with the virus. At Merck, we continuously engage with external physicians, scientific leaders and HIV advocates to learn about unmet medical needs in HIV to guide our research and development.
Sushma: Although HIV is no longer a death sentence, it’s still a chronic condition that needs to be managed from medical and social perspectives. Today, people living with HIV need to take their HIV medication every day. That’s not easy! Every day when a person living with HIV opens their pill bottle, they’re reminded that they have HIV. Also, life is busy and complicated. To-do lists are long. People living with HIV, like everyone, don’t want interruptions in their lives. They’re looking for treatment options that more seamlessly fit into their lives.
Carey: For me, success is bringing new innovations in HIV treatment that have the potential to improve the lives of people living with HIV. Drug development is a difficult and long process. It takes many years of hard work and perseverance by many people, and there are many points in the drug development process where a new drug can fail. It is a privilege to lead a team whose goal is to develop the next generation of therapies for HIV. We are excited about our opportunity to help people living with HIV, in our own communities and around the world.
Sushma: Success for me is an end to the HIV epidemic. Merck supports the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS 90-90-90 initiative to help end the global epidemic. Its goals are to get 90% of people living with HIV diagnosed, 90% of diagnosed people on antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of people who are receiving antiretroviral treatment to have fully suppressed viral loads, all by 2020. If every country makes progress against those goals, the global community will be that much closer to eradicating HIV. There could be no greater success than eradication.