I came here because science and innovation drive this company. I believe that my best day at work — the day my team makes a potentially life-changing discovery — is still ahead of me. It’s the reason why I stay.

Rob Garbaccio, associate vice president, Chemistry Capabilities for Accelerating Therapeutics (CCAT)

Chemistry has been central to our business of Inventing for Life since our earliest days as a company.

Historically, our drug discovery process primarily centered around small molecules. Then, the birth of biotechnology in the late 1970s/early 1980s added biologics, or engineered proteins, to the mix.

Today, new modalities are emerging that show a strong potential to target complex diseases that have not yet been reachable with either small molecules or biologics.

Rob Garbaccio is leading a talented team of chemists who are helping guide Merck’s entry into this exciting new field of medicine.

Introducing and discovering new ways forward

Rob is the associate vice president, Chemistry Capabilities for Accelerating Therapeutics (CCAT), a discovery chemistry team that is looking at how to go beyond the traditional methods of discovering and developing medicines.

"There are certain disease targets that are really hard to 'reach' and impact using traditional methods," he notes. "So part of the group I oversee tries to figure out how we can employ newer modalities, such as peptides, bioconjugates, and oligonucleotides, to address the challenging targets that are increasingly emerging from biological research."

Rob's group is not focused on any specific therapeutic area -- they are seeking new ways to address the most difficult disease targets. "In oncology, infectious diseases, and neuroscience, for example, we’re looking for those targets that our colleagues say, 'If only we could modulate this target, we believe we might be able to potentially interrupt the disease process and help patients,'" he notes.

Using ‘creative chemistry’ to treat disease

It's complex work, to be sure, but that's what makes it so intriguing and inspiring for Rob and his team.

"The thing that I like the most about my work is the belief that there may be a path forward for the treatment of each and every one of these diseases. We just can't see it yet because the biology is so complex," says Rob. "As researchers continue to improve our understanding of disease biology, I believe that combining that knowledge with creative chemistry will help lead us down new roads to treating disease and helping patients."

Rob joined the company after completing graduate school and a postdoctoral fellowship focusing on organic chemistry. "I came here because science and innovation drive this company. I'm passionate about our mission to save and improve lives, and I believe that my best day at work, the day my team makes a potentially life-changing discovery, is still ahead of me, and it's the reason that I stay."


Inventing for life

At Merck, we say we are Inventing for Life. And Rob definitely sees himself as an inventor. "Chemists have this unique ability to combine atoms and bonds between atoms in a unique way. Every day chemists are inventing hundreds of molecules that have never existed before. So, yes, we are inventing," he says.

"We are inventing to solve problems."

 

 

Name: Rob Garbaccio

Title: Associate Vice President, Chemistry Capabilities for Accelerating Therapeutics (CCAT)

Education: B.A., Chemistry, Boston University; Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, The Scripps Research Institute; Postdoctoral, Organic Chemistry, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Favorite Downtime Activity: Traveling with his family

Did You Know?

Peptides are small protein chains comprised of 40 or fewer amino acids. Natural peptides include endorphins and growth hormones. Peptide-based medicines can be used to replace or mimic the ability of natural peptides to selectively engage targets.

Oligonucleotides, “Oligos,” are short, synthesized single-stranded sequences of nucleic acids, designed to bind to a complementary sequence of DNA or RNA. Potential applications in drug discovery include modulating or interrupting gene expression.

Bioconjugates are formed when two molecules, such as a biologic and a small molecule, are joined together, with the intention of enhancing drug delivery and targeting.

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