As scientists, we have the flexibility to ask the big questions, the important ones that will come into play 5 to 10 years from now. These are the kind of questions that will drive innovation.”
One of the biggest catalysts right now in biotech and biopharmaceuticals is immuno-oncology. And one of the biggest regions for this research is the Bay Area.
Merck’s Dan Cua is in the middle of it all.
As a senior principal scientist in Immuno-Oncology Discovery, Dan currently works at Merck Research Laboratories' Palo Alto site (which will be relocated to South San Francisco in 2019) and is an expert in the field of immunology, an area that will help to advance Merck’s world-class immuno-oncology research.
“We are studying ways to harness the power of the immune system to go after various diseases,” he says regarding how his research in the field is advancing our immuno-oncology program. “This includes autoimmunity as well as cancer. It turns out that a fundamental denominator among many diseases is inflammation. For cancer, you want to turn inflammation on, and harness the immune system to go after the disease. In autoimmunity, you want to turn inflammation off to dampen the immune system that is mediating the pathology.”
Another big part of Dan’s work in the field is mentoring several postdoctoral research fellows and five research scientists in Merck’s immuno-oncology early research.
“I think the secret to success, really, is to work with scientists that are slightly different than you. It’s the marriage of different ideas that ultimately drives science,” he says. “I run a group of really talented scientists from around the world. We work hard to understand the process of developing medicine and how it can make a difference in patients' lives. I’m inspired by my interactions with other scientists. I think that's what keeps me going.”
Dan is especially looking forward to moving into the new Merck Research Laboratories South San Francisco facility, which will be an active participant in the local biomedical ecosystem and an integral part of Merck's world-class research and development network.
“Some of the best minds in the country are based in the Bay Area from information technology to computer science to biotechnology,” he notes. “Merck has a presence here. This kind of vitality has really driven the way we do science.”
The new nine-story, multi-disciplinary discovery research facility will accommodate more than 300 scientists and support research spanning exploratory biology through early clinical development.
“Being at the forefront of the immuno-oncology field, we have found many opportunities for collaboration with academia and industry. The cross pollination between industry and academia is really important. And being in the San Francisco Bay area, close to so many leading researchers, we have the opportunity to do so much more.”
It’s all part of what Dan sees as Merck’s investment in early-discovery research.
“Pharmaceutical companies are not all alike,” he says. “To me, Merck stands out from the crowd because of its foundational support of basic research. I think in this day and age, that’s rare. As scientists, we have the flexibility to ask the big questions, the important ones that will come into play 5 to 10 years from now. These are the kind of questions that will drive innovation.”