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Someone who strives to establish new ways to make new drug-candidate compounds by mastering synthetic reactions

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  • # APIProcessDevelopment

Kotaro Iwasaki

Pharmaceutical Technology Div.
API Process Development Dept.
Since 2017

  • University

    Majored in organic synthesis at graduate school and obtained Ph.D. in research of synthesis of natural marine organic compounds.
    (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2012,51,9160)

  • 1st year

    Worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the United States. Researched the development of useful reactions for the synthesis of natural products.
    (J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2014,136,1300)

  • 2nd year

    Returned to Japan and was employed by a Japanese university as an assistant professor. Engaged in research and teaching activities focusing on research of synthesis of substances that cause food poisoning.
    (J. Org. Chem., 2017,82,13204)

  • 6th year

    Joined Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. Worked on the development of methods for producing peptides.

  • 10th year to present

    Team leader of a project to develop methods for the production of small molecule compounds as candidates for clinical studies.

On an industrial scale, not lab scale.

Kotaro Iwasaki is one of a number of researchers at Chugai Pharmaceutical who changed direction after a career in academia. After obtaining his Ph.D. in research on the synthesis of natural marine organic compounds, Iwasaki worked as a postdoctoral fellow in a research lab in California, where he conducted research on the development of useful reactions for the synthesis of natural products. After returning to Japan, he was employed by a Japanese university as an assistant professor, where his main research was of the synthesis of substances that cause food poisoning. ‘I never originally intended to stay in academia, and I wanted eventually to work in drug development in the private sector. I happened to be presented with an opportunity to conduct research at a university, but my desire to engage in synthesis techniques that could contribute to the real world on an industrial scale instead of lab scale grew, so in my early thirties, I decided to apply for a job at a pharmaceutical company.’

With these intentions, Iwasaki was drawn to Chugai Pharmaceutical when it was recommended to him by his former university lecturer, who described the company as having extremely outstanding researchers. When he looked at the company’s Mid-career Recruitment site, he found recruitment information for a position in drug manufacturing that focused on peptide synthesis. He was greatly attracted to this position, which he felt would allow him to take on new themes in targets of synthesis. ‘At the research lab I worked for in the United States, I saw researchers of my generation boldly taking on ambitious themes and generating outcomes without fear of failure, which really inspired me. That’s why I applied to join Chugai Pharmaceutical, to take on such challenges at the real coal face of drug development and to achieve results.’ After joining the company, Iwasaki was assigned to peptide synthesis as he requested.

Ability to identify issues to be solved is key.

Although he had no experience of peptide synthesis, the basis theory of synthesis reactions could be applied to any target, so Iwasaki proceeded with the development of manufacturing methods by applying the knowledge he had accumulated in his career to date. ‘I was quite sure that I would be able to solve issues regarding synthesis reactions. On the other hand, it was difficult for me to identify what issues I should solve to reach the desired goal, as unlike academia, private-sector companies set clear goals to be reached. I struggled in that regard at the beginning, but I had many excellent senior colleagues around me who showed me the way, so I have honed my ability to identify issues following their approaches.’ Even while struggling in this way, Iwasaki brought new perspectives and succeeded in establishing a manufacturing method for peptide synthesis. It was adopted for new drug candidates in the clinical development phase, which gave him a great sense of achievement.

In his fifth year at the company, Iwasaki was given a new mission. He was asked to develop methods for the production of small molecule compounds as candidates for clinical studies. ‘Rather than conducting experiments myself, my role is to lead the development through active discussion with other members. In addition to my expertise as a researcher, I am required to demonstrate leadership to move the project forward on behalf of the department, and this has led to new growth for me. Just the other day, my team developed a new manufacturing method and succeeded in manufacturing at scale for the first time. We are now moving into the clinical development phase. Combining our collective strengths as a team to move a project forward leads to the development of new drugs, which, in turn, ultimately enables us to contribute to patients. That true sense of making a contribution is highly rewarding.’

Ultimate goal is to become an influential presence in the industry.

Iwasaki says that Chugai Pharmaceutical has a corporate culture that encourages employees to try new things. While leading the project, he is also enthusiastically working on the exploration of a new synthesis technique. ‘After properly completing my daily work and the tasks I have been assigned in my project, I reward myself with time to think about new things. At the moment, I am interested in statistics and machine learning. I want to be able to use these things well and combine them with traditional approaches to solve manufacturing issues. I am planning expand this idea within the department and to bring upper management into the loop in a bid to make this happen. Chugai Pharmaceutical welcomes these kinds of ideas and proposals, which is another point of appeal of the company.’

Iwasaki wants to keep pursuing new things and approach new areas, without standing in the same place. In doing so, he hopes to stretch himself greatly through collaboration with various people. ‘Some of my friends and acquaintances in my days as a postdoctoral fellow and assistant professor have already become well-known worldwide for their outstanding achievements. Their performance really inspires me, and I hope to generate research outcomes in the future that will have an impact on the industry by continuously trying new things.’ Iwasaki’s aspirations continue to expand as he builds his career at Chugai Pharmaceutical.

* The contents of this article are correct as of the time of interview.


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