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Someone who keeps challenging incurable diseases by making breakthroughs in “mid-size molecule drugs”

Yuma Wakamiya

Research Div.
Discovery Chemistry Dept.
Since 2020

In search of a place to delve deeply into “mid-size molecules”

After finishing his doctoral program, where he researched synthetic organic chemistry, Yuma Wakamiya joined Chugai Pharmaceutical and is now working very hard on the front lines of drug discovery research. At university, Wakamiya joined the badminton club and played it feverishly every day. ‘I first fell in love with badminton when I was in elementary school. I later became absorbed in the sport in junior high and high school, and at university, I became vice-captain of the official badminton club of my university. I am the kind of person who becomes totally obsessed in the things that I want to accomplish, and I think this character trait also applies to my current work.’ After retiring from the university badminton club, Wakamiya decided to turn his passion for badminton toward research work. With aspirations toward drug discovery, which he sees as a way of being able to help many people by go deep into chemistry, the field that he loves, Wakamiya decided to study organic synthesis technology, which is necessary for drug discovery research. In graduate school, he researched the total synthesis of natural products that come under the category of "mid-sized molecules," that is, molecules with a molecular weight of over 1000.

‘I thought about finding a job in academia after completing my doctoral program, but I later decided that I wanted to demonstrate my abilities in a field where I could help others more directly, so I decided to look for work at a pharmaceutical company. I was particularly attracted to Chugai Pharmaceutical because it appeared to have a greater focus than any other companies on research and development of “mid-size molecule” drugs, my major at graduate school. The company’s president at the time strongly promoted the notion that research and development of mid-size molecule drugs is one of Chugai Pharmaceutical’s important strategies for the future. I decided that this was a place where I could fully demonstrate the abilities that I had accumulated through research, so I applied to the company.’ After joining the company, Wakamiya was assigned to the mid-size molecule drugs project as he had requested, and he started his career as a drug discovery researcher at Chugai Pharmaceutical.

The contents of the latest articles are already common knowledge at Chugai Pharmaceutical

The mid-size molecule drugs that Wakamiya is working on are attracting the attention of the pharmaceutical industry as next-generation drugs. Chugai Pharmaceutical’s aim is to grow mid-size molecule drugs as a third pillar of its business alongside its two existing pillars of small-molecule drugs made by traditional chemical synthesis and antibody drugs made by biotechnology. ‘Mid-size molecule drugs have a mechanism of action that can only be achieved with mid-size molecules. This enables us to target areas that, until now, we have been unable to approach with either small-molecule drugs or antibody drugs. That means that they will bring about new treatments for diseases that do not yet have effective treatments. As a researcher, I am fascinated by this, and I sense great potential. At present, I am in charge of the design and synthesis of compounds for mid-size molecule drugs in the oncology field, and am working hard to refine them for the development of candidate drugs for clinical study.’

Something that surprised Wakamiya after joining the Chugai Pharmaceutical team was the high standard of research taking place in the company. ‘Mid-size molecule drugs are a hot research topic at the moment, so many papers are being published about it in prominent academic journals. Often, however, the contents of these articles are already common knowledge in Chugai Pharmaceutical. For example, a major characteristic of mid-size molecule drugs is that they allow molecules to attack specific targets when they enter cells, but the larger molecular weight of these drugs makes it difficult for them to enter the cells. This is still a difficult technical hurdle in the industry. However, Chugai Pharmaceutical has already solved these problems with years of its research and has established a system for making drug discovery possible. It's really exciting to be able to make relatively unknown, cutting-edge knowledge your own and conduct research on that basis.’

Taking on challenges for the sake of patients, not for immediate benefit

Wakamiya says that his current project is progressing smoothly, and he can see the goal up ahead. He has many world-class researchers around him, such as specialists in synthesis and analysis, and he finds the opportunity to be engaged in drug discovery in collaboration with such senior colleagues every day very appealing. ‘Chugai Pharmaceutical treats everyone, from juniors to veterans, equally as individual researchers, regardless of the length of their career in the company. In situations where important decisions need to be made, everybody is allowed to express their own opinion, and as long as their opinions makes sense, they will be accepted. I think that Chugai Pharmaceutical is leading the world in mid-size molecule drugs, and I enjoy a very fulfilling life as a researcher here.’

Wakamiya says that he has a strong, renewed sense of the spirit of challenge that has taken root in this company. ‘This company is brimming with a strong spirit of wanting to create the world's cutting edge with our own hands. Chugai Pharmaceutical focused on the value of mid-size molecule drugs earlier than other companies and has been engaged in research and development for over 10 years, investing immense time and human resources. Those efforts are now about to blossom. In recent times, the company has also been forging ahead with digital transformation (DX) in drug discovery, and we are boldly taking on ambitious themes that are seemingly impossible to realize. As long as a research theme is sure to bring great value to patients in the future, the company will give us the opportunity to take on the challenge of bringing that theme to fruition, without being bound by concerns about immediate benefit. I personally also really want to create mid-size molecule drugs that will bring new treatments to patients suffering from intractable diseases.’

*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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