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Meet the Scientist: Margaret Chu-Moyer’s Unexpected Path to Biotech

Written by Margaret Chu-Moyer

This profile is a part of the Amgen Foundation’s “Meet the Scientists” series, where we invite students and teachers to learn more about a scientist at Amgen and the work they do to create lifesaving medicines. Join the conversation by sharing your own experiences with @AmgenFoundation and @Amgen.

What made you want to pursue your career?
I have a passion for molecules, their structures and properties. That passion was sparked by reading the ingredient labels on shampoo bottles and toothpaste tubes as a pre-teen, wondering what those long words were and why each might matter. Later, I started to become interested in how medicine worked – how could a tiny pill reduce fever or clear an infection – what’s up with that? This curiosity led me to volunteer in the pharmacy at the UC Berkeley student health center. However, that wasn’t what I was really after. Luckily, at about the same time, I was taking an organic chemistry course, and eventually learned that those long words on the ingredient labels and the medicines in the pills were molecules, with structures that I could draw and synthesize. And more importantly, I could create new molecules with the appropriate training. Thus began my graduate training at Yale in synthetic organic chemistry. Upon completion, I began to apply these skills as a medicinal chemist in the pharmaceutical industry, first in the lab at Pfizer and then leading medicinal chemistry groups there and, in time, at Amgen.

What does your job entail?
Today, I am privileged to partner every day with talented, motivated scientists to work through a myriad of scientific challenges to discover and develop high-quality clinical candidates that have the potential to one day become life-changing medicines for patients, including molecules focused on cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and more. Drug discovery, including medicinal chemistry, is not black and white. There is a lot of judgment that goes into defining the target clinical candidate profile and finding the “right” molecule for the job. In addition, translation to the clinic is still relatively inexact…there remains significant human biology that we still do not understand. So, a key challenge for medicinal chemistry has been to make the appropriate tradeoffs of certain molecule properties relative to others to achieve the best chance of clinical success, well before there is any concrete evidence favoring one profile over any other.

What are some exciting things you’ve done/are doing at Amgen?
A small molecule optimization program, that is essentially a “campaign” to screen small molecule compound libraries to identify one or two pre-clinical candidates, typically requires the synthesis and testing of thousands of molecules over the course of several years to achieve the target candidate profile. Recently we have completed our first small molecule optimization project under the FASTLANE paradigm, reducing the cycle time for this portion of the drug discovery process by half. This highly orchestrated cross-functional effort required creative, but disciplined, risk-taking and strong teamwork to achieve a common goal using several guiding concepts that I particularly favor: (1) align across functions from early discovery through clinical and commercial on the target candidate/product profile, (2) acknowledge that science is complex, with our understanding still evolving, so take a stand, try out a plausible hypothesis – if it doesn’t work out, learn from it and move on to the next one, and finally, (3) keep your eye on the goal, try hard not to succumb to false precision, challenge convention when needed and push a molecule forward until it fails.

What motivates you each day?
I have the best job in the world! My favorite part is hearing about the projects. A key trait of mine is curiosity. I ask a lot of questions because I am truly interested and want to understand the scientific results that teams are generating, especially those that are unexpected. Learning new things motivates me. Solving problems motivates me. Helping to discover something that could improve the lives of patients motivates me. My definition of success is to leave the world a better place as a result of my actions. Mostly I think about this in terms of helping people. Whether that be through my professional career in drug discovery or through my personal interactions with family, friends, colleagues or acquaintances, I would hope to have had a positive impact on people’s lives. Work hard, appreciate others, enjoy life!

To learn how the Amgen Foundation brings biotechnology to students, visit the Amgen Biotech Experience website. Follow @AmgenFoundation to stay up to date with all STEM-related news from the Amgen Foundation.

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