Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Transitioning from process to medicinal chemistry?

A very good friend of mine transitioned from medicinal to process chemistry relatively early in their career, but has anyone ever heard of people going from the plant to the bench (loosely speaking)? From the inbox:
Do you have advice, experience, or anecdotes of chemists who switch from process to discovery/medicinal chemistry?  I am a process chemist [redacted] and want to switch to the discovery/development side of the field.
I've not heard too much about this. It seems to me that you'd have to demonstrate some knowledge, comfort or willingness to learn about the more biological aspects of medicinal chemistry.

Readers, what say you? Got any stories to tell? 


  1. Dr. Sander Mills, who was R nd D head at Merck (rahway?) started of as a process chemist. His claim to fame is that he along with his colleague Dr. Todd Jones synthesized FK-506 @ process department! He transitioned very nicely to a Medicinal chemist and then some! I believe that you need the support of your peers and other managers. More importantly, you need an attitude that you could get job done that he displayed to every ones's amazement. Yes, it is possible!

  2. I'm sure all is possible as long as you make the hiring manager for the new position believe in you somehow.

  3. Speaking from experience -- a hard part of the transition is accepting that 2-5% yield may be enough to make the compound and get it tested. The elegance of synthesis sometimes gets lost where cranking out more compounds is the name of the game.

    Good luck

  4. It seems there used to be a prevailing attitude that process chemists were mostly second raters that could not hack doing medchem (hoping no longer the case?) therefore this type of transition was very rare due to barriers from that prejudice. Regardless I have seen a couple instances: in one an individual at a small biotech got drafted to help churn out analogs of a hot series for a month or two and ultimately granted a request to remain with the med chem side (they were fairly junior BS or MS with only a few years out of school so still learning process but did good work under guidance). I also knew a guy at a larger pharma who after several years of high level and innovative contributions with strong group leadership in initial scale-up development where he had constant interactions with discovery projects and such people was able to move over to head a new target discovery group (I vaguely recall he may have been a medchem at a previous company before switching to process). To me reflects advantages of Network/Connections and proven performance to get noticed by the right people. Hence would offer that should reach out to those you know in medchem, either internally or externally, expressing the desire. More generally perhaps taking a medchem short course could round out CV and as CJ points out help show interest in diving into biology aspects that tend to drive discovery efforts.

    In the end, having working in both areas, it involves quite different mindsets (exemplified by anon 2:52) and focus of efforts so must be able to articulate why believe you would be more suitable in medchem role. (statement makes me wonder if maybe not in appropriate process job? To me medchem fits in R category entirely at most places thus if being part of D truly desired should stay with process but seek another area or company that expectation and desires would align better?)

  5. I'd be interested in going the other direction, med chem to process, if anybody has any advice on that.

    1. I see no way out! Where I worked (the pharma within top 3) the process dudes think they are the best (recruited from MIT and where you make another catalyst/ligand to make C-C, C-N, C-O bond) and medicinal chemist are fast and sloppy. Yield is their cup of tea. Sometime you need to set up parallel reaction. I like to think that once you are a medicinal chemist always a medicinal chemist. Other way not true. Good luck for your move