As a scientist, there's nowhere else like Merck to work. I can do basic research, apply it to an important problem, and see the results. How can you get better than that?

John Howe, Principal Scientist, Infectious Diseases & Vaccines

Although RNA is equally as important as DNA in building life, we haven't always given it equal billing. RNA has historically been thought of as a messenger, whose main job is to carry genetic information back and forth (an important job, sure, but not a very glamorous one.)

But what if RNA is way more than a carrier pigeon?

‘It's becoming an RNA world’

Enter John Howe, a Merck scientist who is targeting RNA as a means to possibly develop antibiotics.

"It's becoming an RNA world," he notes. "People understand now more and more that RNA is not just a passive messenger. It actually plays an active role in regulating cell function."

In 2015, John and team made big waves in the scientific community when they published a cover story in the leading scientific journal Nature regarding a breakthrough they made in identifying a new type of synthetic molecule with antibacterial properties. They found that by targeting an RNA structural element in bacteria it was possible to block cell growth in a manner similar to antibiotics.

What the team has shown is the potential to use small molecules to impact an entirely new class of targets.

Considering that evidence has shown that bacteria are able to acquire resistance to antibiotics, finding a different way to create antibiotics is promising news.

"We think there's potentially a whole new field of RNA targets available that we can research as a potential way to treat bacterial infections," John says.

"I can't wait to get to the lab each morning"

John has had a pretty storied career while at Merck. A 22-year veteran of the company, he first made his mark in HCV research. In 2014, he was picked to lead a project to discover new molecules with the potential for activity against disease-causing bacteria.

"Going from project to project is not unusual at Merck; it's part of our career development. The leadership here has always been very supportive and helped me to broaden my skill set and open up new career opportunities."

"There's rarely a day when I don't look forward to going to work. I can't wait to get in the lab each morning and see if my experiment from the night before worked," John says. "Moving around to different areas of research at Merck has allowed me to learn and grow, while giving me the opportunity to contribute to some really valuable new treatments that ultimately improve people’s lives. That’s what keeps things fresh and exciting, and makes going to work each day so satisfying for me."



Name: John Howe

Title: Principal Scientist, Infectious Diseases & Vaccines

Education: B.Sc., Ph.D. McMaster University; Postdoc, University of California, San Diego

Favorite Downtime Activity: Hiking, Biking and Seeing the Great Outdoors

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