What’s so cool about working at Merck is that the problem solving we do, using cutting-edge research and science, results in positive impact to people's lives and their quality of life.”
When you or I think about medicine, we may just think about what lines our bathroom cabinet.
But, medicines actually come in a variety of forms and can be administered in a variety of ways. And, while these medicines are very powerful in their ability to heal people from devastating illnesses, they are also sometimes very fragile in their chemical stability, impacting their ability to be transported to remote locations while still maintaining potency. In order to remain effective, they may require refrigeration or smooth transport -- meaning, they must travel to a clinic or a hospital or a doctor’s office on paved roads in the safety of an enclosed, cool truck and not, say, days through dusty, hot terrain in a third world country.
As a director of Merck’s Biophysical and Biochemical Characterization Group, Jason Cheung plays an important role in making sure our biologic medicines are formulated for maximum stability so that they can get to the patients who need them, wherever in the world they might be.
“Essentially, what we try to do is develop a formulation for our medicines so that they can reach people, no matter where they are, no matter what infrastructure is present, and still remain effective,” he says.
Jason and his group work at stabilizing the proteins in our medicines that are very sensitive to the environment. “If you shake them a lot, if you expose them to extreme temperatures either hot or cold, they might end up going from a very active and well-behaved state to an ‘unfolded structure’ that may not be as well-behaved and could cause adverse events,” he explains.
Their work begins in the early stages of the research and development journey -- long before our biologic candidates are tested as potential medicines in clinical trials -- and continues until they have a formulation that is suitable for large-scale manufacturing. “When medicines finally become available to patients, they’ve already undergone a challenging journey,” he says. “By the time our medicines get to patients, they’ve already undergone large scale manufacturing. And you have to remember that for proteins, all of this starts with a shake flask of cells expressing your drug -- a very small volume. We’re talking about going from 100ML to 10,000 Liters – and figuring out how to keep the product consistent”
In addition to quantity increases, another challenge for Jason and his team is figuring out how to maintain quality and stability throughout the physical journey of our medicines. “We transport these from one lab to another and from our manufacturing facilities to clinics all over the world during different moments in testing and trials. And they have to be able to withstand that kind of movement.”
When asked if he got into this line of work because he likes to solve problems, Jason doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, I think all scientists get into this because they like to solve problems,” he said, resolutely. “And what’s so cool about working at Merck is that the problem solving we do, our research using cutting-edge technology and science, results in positive impact to people's lives and their quality of life. It’s a very rewarding experience.”