April 2019 – A leading research scientist speaking at Drew University reflected on the arc of her life—from growing up in Oshkosh, Wis. and earning at PhD at Harvard to developing a groundbreaking drug at Merck and leading drug discovery at a biotech startup in New York City.
The scientist, Ann Weber, also answered questions from students and talked to them individually after the talk, which was presented by Drew’s Research Institute of Scientists Emeriti, which connects undergraduates with retired scientists in a laboratory setting.
RISE also recognized the work of Weber and Nancy Thornberry in the development of Januvia— which treats type 2 diabetes—at Merck. For that, RISE Director Vincent Gullo presented the first Heroes in Drug Discovery Award, thanks to a grant from the Independent College Fund of New Jersey that was funded by Pfizer.
Using a series of slides, Weber, who’s now senior vice president of drug discovery at Kallyope after 28 years at Merck, detailed the twists and turns of drug development and offered a bevvy of practical advice. Here are five key points.
1. Define your mission. This will shape the choices you make—be it picking a graduate school or a place to work. “Understanding your purpose helps you find out what’s important to you, which enables you to chose wisely,” Weber explained. Her mission? “To use my talents to make the world a better place while being challenged to learn and grow.”
2. Seek mentors and supporters. Weber cited nearly a dozen people, including a high school chemistry teacher, college professors and work colleagues, who enabled her to find her passion, hone her craft and make career decisions.
3. Ask questions. This helped Weber when she was at a crossroads. In 2000, Merck ended research into a potential drug to treat obesity despite 10 years of work. Weber was part of the research team and thought about taking a break. But after polling four female peers, including Thornberry, she instead changed her hours and started working with Thornberry on Januvia. Today, they’re both at Kallyope, where Thornberry is CEO.
4. It’s okay to make mistakes. “Somebody pointed out to me that if you are always doing everything right, then you’re really not learning anything new,” Weber said. “So, you have to get in there, put yourself out there and try new things. You’re going to fail. But it’s okay because that’s how you learn.”
5. Trust your gut. As Weber succinctly put it, “Figure out what’s important to you and go after it.” As for everything else—either just say no or hire someone to do it!