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Someone who enjoys adversity, enjoys debating, and finds solutions to even the most intractable problems.

Kazuki Yamaguchi

Research Div.
Discovery Pharmacology Dept.
Since 2014

We understand the mechanisms.
And yet, there are diseases that we cannot cure.

When he first enrolled in university, Kazuki Yamaguchi could not choose which field of science he wanted to study, so he chose pharmacy without any particular intentions. In the university laboratory, he happened to be involved in a study of Alzheimer's disease, which inspired him to pursue a career in drug discovery. ‘Research was being conducted to explore the basic mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease, and the various mechanisms themselves were becoming clearer, but when it came to the question of whether the disease could actually be cured, that was another dimension entirely. In the laboratory, I had some opportunities to interact with medical doctors, and I could sense their extreme frustration with the situation. As I continued with my research, I myself began to feel strongly that I also wanted to be a force to find a solution, and I decided that I wanted to contribute to the creation of drugs that would actually save patients.’

I gained the impression that Chugai Pharmaceutical suited my stance, which is why I chose it to apply for a career there after university. ‘In my interview, I met with people of department head level from the drug discovery division. I could really tell that the people at Chugai Pharmaceutical truly enjoy research, so I definitely wanted to work there.’ ‘Enjoying’ research is Yamaguchi’s motto. ‘It can take an extremely long time, something like 10 or 20 years, to create a new drug and deliver it into the hands of patients. That moment of exultation does not come quickly. It is for this very reason that I think it is important to enjoy one’s day-to-day research.’ After joining the company, Yamaguchi was assigned to the pharmacological research division and began his career as a researcher at Chugai Pharmaceutical.

Heated debate leads to the best answer from vast options.

A major mission of pharmacological research is to evaluate the efficacy of compounds and antibodies that will become the seeds of new drugs at the cellular and animal levels and to narrow down the most suitable candidates for clinical development. Teams are formed for each project and drug discovery is pursued in cooperation with teams that are responsible for compound synthesis and antibody production, as well as with teams that assess pharmacokinetics in living organisms. ‘Pharmacological research is the first position where you can see the effects of compounds and antibodies that will lead to new drugs. It can be quite exciting when we encounter candidates that look like they might be effective.’ A project that Yamaguchi's team was involved in has already identified a new drug candidate that looks promising for the treatment of blood diseases, and the project has now moved to clinical development. ‘I have been steadily continuing with the evaluation for about four years since my second year, and it makes me very happy to see that the antibody whose pharmacological evaluation I worked on has begun to move toward the realization of new drugs.’

In this project, Yamaguchi and other pharmacologists worked diligently to evaluate a large number of antibodies produced as new drug candidates to determine their efficacy. This is a huge effort, akin to finding the best answer to a problem that does not have one absolute right answer from a vast range of options. ‘Each antibody has different characteristics. For example, there may be an antibody that has promising beneficial effects but there are problems with its stability in the body. Different researchers will have different opinions about what to emphasize and, in some cases, those opinions may clash. Amid those clashing opinions, you have to narrow down candidates to come up with one final selection. Even now, I cannot forget the exhilaration I felt when, after repeated debate, we all came full-heartedly to the decision that “This is the one we’ll go with”.’

At Chugai Pharmaceutical,
even rookies can lead drug discovery.

Drug discovery research is a long and hard road. Unexpected problems are confronted one after another. The researchers often struggle when they are unable to produce the expected results. However, according to Yamaguchi, it is those situations that he actually finds more enjoyable. ‘When we do an evaluation and get negative data results, I actually get quite excited (laughs). I find it fun to explore the causes, to find out why that happened. All my team members love to debate, so when I raise a question, they fire off their opinions. The members of other research teams in the same project are also all passionate, and there have been many cases where I would meet someone in the corridor and casually ask their advice, only for that to suddenly turn into a meeting.’ Yamaguchi himself also loves this debate-loving culture and says it is one of Chugai Pharmaceutical’s greatest charms.

Despite his youth, Yamaguchi has been given the job of leader of the pharmacology themes for a newly launched drug discovery project. He says that Chugai Pharmaceutical is a company that offers truly many opportunities. ‘Even first-year employees can propose a fundamental idea, such as, “Could we develop this kind of drug to target this kind of disease?” The company offers a forum for this kind of thing, and opportunities are given equally, regardless of career. If you suggest an innovative idea there and it is accepted, you can play a leading role in the project even if you are still young.’ In the future, Yamaguchi wants to launch a project from scratch himself and send a revolutionary new drug out into the world. With this vision in his head, Yamaguchi continues to find great enjoyment in drug discovery research at Chugai Pharmaceutical today.

*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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