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Someone who wants to shed light on pathology and deliver new drugs to patients as soon as possible

  • # career
  • # research
  • # safetyassessment

Atsuko Murai

Translational Research Div.
Safety Assessment Dept.
Since 2018

  • University

    Entered the veterinary department of the Faculty of Agriculture with the aim of becoming a veterinarian. Joined a pathology research lab, where she researched grouse kidneys. Experienced the enjoyment of pathology research.

  • 1st year

    After graduating from university, worked as a clinical veterinarian in a veterinary hospital. While working as a vet, gave presentations at academic conference and wrote articles.

  • 4th year

    Resigned from the veterinary hospital and enrolled in graduate school. Researched the pathology of canine tumors and colitis in mice. Decided to pursue a career in research.

  • 8th year

    Joined a Japanese pharmaceutical company. Assigned to the pathological examination of drug safety studies.

  • 13th year to present

    Joined Chugai Pharmaceutical. Mainly works on kidney disease projects as a pathologist, engaging in safety and efficacy studies in animals and expression evaluation of targets using human tissue.

Culture shock at Chugai Pharmaceutical

Atsuko Murai has forged a very unique career path. After graduating from university, where she engaged in veterinary pathology research, she became a clinical veterinarian, which had been her dream since childhood. As she has always been a research-oriented person, after working at a veterinary hospital for three years, she returned to university to delve more deeply into pathology. After completing her doctoral program, she then joined a pharmaceutical company in Japan. ‘At my previous company, I worked on toxicity testing as a pathologist, conducting research into drug safety. However, as I gained more experience, I was growing dissatisfied that I was only involved in the limited field of toxicity pathology. It was around that time that I had an opportunity to meet a pathologist from Chugai Pharmaceutical at an academic conference. From that meeting, I learned that at Chugai Pharmaceutical, pathologists are involved in a wide variety of pathological studies, and that they can also conduct research using human pathologic specimens as well as animal pathologic specimens. That strongly piqued my interest.’

Hoping to advance her career, Murai applied for a job at Chugai Pharmaceutical. Her past track record was recognized, and she became a member of the Chugai Pharmaceutical team. Assigned to the Non-clinical Safety Assessment Department, she initially experienced culture shock. ‘I thought it was the norm for researchers to wear white lab coats, so I was surprised to learn that we were allowed to work in casual, everyday clothes. It is a very free atmosphere, with many young researchers as well as specialists in various fields working there. It was completely different from the image I had of a research laboratory, and being able to work in such an environment was very motivating for me.’ Murai was immediately assigned to the pathology aspects of a project for the development of a kidney disease drug, and she started her career at Chugai Pharmaceutical.

Making digital technologies a powerful weapon for pathological evaluation.

As soon as she joined the company, Murai found herself on the front lines of drug development, but in that project, unknown challenges awaited her. ‘Once I joined the project, I would be in charge of all aspects of pathological evaluation. In addition to the toxicity testing that I had specialized in at my previous job, I also had to work on efficacy testing. As I had no experience in efficacy testing, while I was excited by the challenge of working in a new field, I was also worried about whether I would be able to achieve results properly. However, thanks to my wonderful senior colleagues in the group who gave me various ideas, I had no trouble getting up to speed. In my position, I have many opportunities to work with staff from other divisions, such as pharmacology. I also worried about whether my opinion as a mid-career hire would be accepted, but those concerns turned out to be groundless. If I express a substantive opinion during a discussion, it will be acknowledged, and I can contribute to the progress of the project. At such times, I feel a great sense of reward in my job.’

Murai says that Chugai Pharmaceutical is investing aggressively in the establishment of a research environment that uses digital technology, and that digital transformation (DX) is making inroads on the ground in pathological evaluation settings. This is also boosting her motivation. ‘AI-based analysis of pathological specimens is currently underway, and we intend to conduct quantitative evaluation of the results. If pathological data can be presented with quantitative figures, it will make it easier to compare these data with non-pathological data and to predict effects on humans as well. This means that the speed at which new drugs can be delivered to patients will be increased, so I want to focus on the utilization of digital technologies even further.’

The goal is to discover new therapeutic drugs.

Since joining Chugai Pharmaceutical, Murai has specialized in pathological evaluation of kidney disease. She has already gained abundant knowledge about toxicity evaluation with animal models and has made presentations at academic conferences every year. Murai is enthusiastic about understanding human kidney disease based on that knowledge. ‘Chugai Pharmaceutical offers an environment where I can work with human pathologic specimens so I can learn about human pathology more deeply. It is important to identify efficacy and safety on humans based on knowledge obtained from animal testing, so I want to upgrade my skills even further to contribute to drug development.’ Murai’s current goal is to delve into the pathology of kidney disease deeply to become a specialist in this field.

She has made great progress as a pathologist by gaining new experiences one after the other at Chugai Pharmaceutical, but her underlying aspiration has never changed. ‘Ever since I started working as a veterinarian at an animal hospital, I have felt strongly that there are many incurable diseases in this world, and I witnessed many animals die despite our best efforts. I was heartbroken every time, and I have always wanted to change the situation in which precious lives are lost. That is why, now, I could not be happier to be discovering new therapeutic drugs at Chugai Pharmaceutical. I want to keep contributing to this significant work long into the future.’

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


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