What’s most exciting to me is having the flexibility to explore completely new areas of disease biology, knowing that we have Merck’s proven discovery and development capabilities at hand to drive our discoveries and inventions forward.”
There is no secret formula for a successful career in drug discovery, but creativity and the willingness to adapt to a rapidly-changing scientific landscape plays a big role. For Dr. Daria Hazuda, Vice President of Infectious Diseases Discovery, Merck Research Laboratories, the most valuable trait is tenacity, as most researchers are considered fortunate if they create just one new molecule that makes it through the complex process it takes to become a product.
“When I joined Merck over 20 years ago, it was a big eye-opener to see the magnitude of the effort that goes into drug discovery and development,” she notes. “There are so many different disciplines required to move something from an idea in discovery into development, and then there is so much effort required along the path to approval.”
Daria’s research in infectious disease biology has led to the discovery and development of multiple novel medicines to treat HIV and Hepatitis C. But don’t call her success in this field lucky. “Luck may be a factor, sure, but more importantly, you must also learn from the things that don’t work,” she says as she reflects on her experience. “If you are working on a program, inevitably a lot of the things you try don’t succeed. Instead of chalking those up to failure, use those lessons and apply them to the next iteration of what you are trying to do. It’s a missed opportunity if you don’t learn from what doesn’t work.”
Daria’s advice: “Maintain focus and have flexibility to adapt your research as science and data unfolds.”
With Daria’s extensive experience in the labs (and more than 180 publications focused primarily on antiviral research in the fields of HIV and Hepatitis C), Daria will now apply her expertise as Chief Scientific Officer of the new Merck Research Laboratories Cambridge exploratory science center in Cambridge, Mass. The center will focus on the earliest stages of discovery research to better understand the underlying biology of human disease.
“Our new Cambridge labs present a unique opportunity to tap into the cutting-edge science coming out of the area’s rich biomedical research,” she says of the new exploratory science center. Designed as an entrepreneurial and intimate environment of roughly 40 scientists, the labs do not focus on tackling a set roster of diseases. Here, the emphasis will be on exploring the most promising areas of emerging disease biology, including host-pathogen biology and the role of the microbiome in disease, and gaining new insights to inform Merck’s ongoing drug discovery.”
Merck’s new labs are located in Cambridge’s Kendall Square neighborhood, home to one of the largest concentrations of biotech and academia in the U.S. In addition, the space is shared with Merck’s East Coast Business Development team to support the lab’s focus on early biology and technology collaborations with local academic and biotech groups.
For Daria, expanding our early research capabilities is an exciting and necessary shift for Merck, and a demonstration of our commitment to being “research driven.”
In a landscape where many large biopharmaceutical companies are exiting the discovery space, she sees these new capabilities as a necessary and vital addition for the company. “There’s a reason for the ‘and’ in Research and Development,” Daria notes. “You need to have both; you need to have people exploring new areas of biology to uncover new opportunities to interrogate a disease, as well as those who recognize what a good molecule looks like in order to make and successfully deliver a medicine to the market.”
Looking ahead, she adds, “What’s most exciting to me is having the flexibility to explore completely new areas of disease biology, knowing that we have Merck’s proven discovery and development capabilities at hand to drive our discoveries and inventions forward.”