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Someone who speeds up the creation of innovative new drugs through the free manipulation of proteins.

Miki Kamioka

Research Div. Protein Science Dept.
Since 2017

Attracted by Chugai Pharmaceutical’s advanced research capabilities.

As a child, Miki Kamioka was often ill and had many stays in hospital. These experiences led to an interest in medicine from a very young age. Later, as a student, she became captivated by the fun of scientific research, and she threw herself into research in areas where she could contribute to the field of medicine, right up to her doctoral studies. ‘The specialist area I focused on in graduate school was protein functional analysis (PFA). I was involved in niche research that explored the disease-related functions of a certain protein. After finishing my doctoral course, I had the option of continuing on with basic research in academia. However, I decided to work for a pharmaceutical company because I wanted to contribute to medicine in a more direct way by conducting research in an industry that is closer to medical settings and patients, specifically in the area of drug discovery, which is an area that focuses on creating products that will reach the hands of patients. In particular, I was attracted by Chugai Pharmaceutical because it leads the industry in antibody drugs, and it seemed to be a company that focuses significantly on research, given the many patents it has obtained for its proprietary technologies and the research papers it has published.’

Kamioka was also impressed by the high standard of Chugai Pharmaceutical during her recruitment interview. ‘I was interviewed by head of the department where I now work. When I talked about my graduate-school research topic, the questions he asked me were of an extremely advanced level. I was quite surprised that someone in a managerial position at department head level was so knowledgeable about science, and it gave me a glimpse of Chugai Pharmaceutical’s advanced research capabilities.’ The large number of female researchers thriving there was another factor that prompted her to apply to the company. ‘I had met female researchers from Chugai Pharmaceutical when attending academic conferences overseas. When I was looking for post-graduation employment, I also heard from employees about how many female researchers there were balancing work and family life. I gained the impression that this was a company where I could achieve my dream of engaging in research activity on the front lines for many years, and that is why I applied to Chugai Pharmaceutical.’

A work environment that allows junior researchers to conduct research at their own discretion

After joining the Company, Kataoka was assigned to research into the creation of proteins that would become drug targets. These proteins are used for screening of molecules that provide the seeds of new drugs and for analyzing drug actions. ‘The company has many drug discovery projects currently in progress, and one researcher is assigned to each of those projects for the preparation of proteins. Chugai Pharmaceutical has a corporate culture in which young employees are given responsibility for important tasks. I also participated in a project under a senior colleague’s guidance in the first year, and from my second year, I was assigned to all of the protein preparation work for that project. More than I had ever imagined, the environment allows me to conduct research at my own discretion from a young age. This is another huge part of the appeal of Chugai Pharmaceutical.

In particular, target proteins are indispensable for mid-sized molecule drugs, which are the next-generation drugs that are the focus of much of Chugai Pharmaceutical’s work. The responsibility placed on the shoulders of Kamioka and her fellow researchers has become greater than ever. ‘Target proteins are prepared by inserting the genes of the proteins we want to make into cells. In many cases, even though, at first glance, the target protein seems to have been perfectly formed, we aren’t able to analyze the protein structure. It feels wonderful when we are able to overcome problems like that. When a project is struggling to obtain candidate molecules, the people who handle the target proteins will give them some ideas about where the problem might lie. It always makes me happy when those suggestions are accepted and ultimately help solve the problem.’ Kamioka says that she needs to deepen her knowledge of pharmacology and compounds even further for her to make beneficial proposals to the people creating drug molecules. The Research Division often holds workshops delivered by experts in various fields. Kamioka actively participates in those workshops in an effort to increase her knowledge.

A desire to help patients by creating new proteins used for drugs

Kamioka says that Chugai Pharmaceutical is investing aggressively in the establishment of its research environment, and that this has also boosted her motivation toward research significantly. ‘In particular, we have made a great deal of progress in the introduction of automation technology. Previously, protein preparation had been done manually, so at most, we could only process 10 to 20 proteins at one time. Now, thanks to automation, we are able to prepare 500 to 1,000 proteins a week, which allows us to try things that, previously, we had physically been unable to do. On the other hand, the volume of data to be analyzed has also grown enormously, so we will work in collaboration with the data science group to develop efficient analysis tools using machine learning and other technologies.’

At Chugai Pharmaceutical, Kamioka is enjoying to the full the fun of research work that she had savored as a student. She says that she will be able to contribute to drug discovery by delving more deeply into her current work, the creation of target proteins. ‘Quite often, even though we might be able to disrupt the function of the target protein, testing in mice during non-clinical development does not go well. If we can bridge that gap, we will be able to speed up the pace of drug discovery. I am currently engaged in the production of target proteins for drugs, but in the future, I hope to create new proteins other than antibody drugs myself that will help for patients as therapeutics themselves. That is my great ambition.’

*The contents of this article, and the divisions that the people featured in this article belonged to and the names of those divisions are current as of the time of the interview.


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