It is often said that an organisation is only as strong as the people who work within it. But what does “strong” mean in this context? To me, “strong” means empowered, passionate, dedicated and extraordinary. And you will certainly find a lot of empowered, passionate, dedicated and extraordinary people at Evotec.
Running through the veins of our company is a commitment, both from the scientists and others within our key support services, to deliver on the projects they are tasked with, and not just because it is their job. Ultimately, what we hope to deliver are healthcare solutions that have the potential to be hugely beneficial to humankind, that could make a massive difference to people’s lives. It could be freeing them from chronic pain, the nightmare of insomnia, the agonies of endometriosis, or providing them with more cancer-free years to spend with loved ones. It is certainly this motivation that drives me as a Group Leader in Discovery Chemistry at Evotec in Abingdon, UK.
In this article, I will hopefully provide an insight into what it is like working as a chemist at Evotec, both at the bench and also as a people and project leader, as well as providing further details on what makes our colleagues empowered, how we invest in them as individuals and how we unfold their potential toward delivering new therapeutics while providing opportunities for career growth.
LIFE AS A CHEMIST AT EVOTEC
At Evotec, there are two chemistry-focused departments: Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Discovery. In Medicinal Chemistry we are looking for drug hunters who are able to deliver potential therapeutics in a highly efficient manner. This requires excellent synthetic chemistry skills in order to access assigned molecular targets. There is no requirement that chemists join this department with a medicinal chemistry background; while advantageous, it is our expectation that we will bring into our organisation promising, skilled synthetic chemists and provide the necessary training to enable these chemists to become fluent in medicinal chemistry principles and compound design.
Within Molecular Discovery exist the key chemistry sub-departments Synthetic Chemistry and Molecular Architecture. Synthetic Chemistry focuses on efficient molecular delivery, with chemists having the flexibility to work across different chemical series and projects. For this department, we are looking for chemists with an underlying curiosity in how reactions work and why they fail, innovative thinkers that can provide solutions to chemistry-related problems. Ideally, you would also have a desire to explore and implement novel synthetic approaches and technologies in your daily chemistry. Our Molecular Architects focus more on molecular design, utilising computational tools, cutting-edge AI and machine learning approaches to deliver high quality drug targets. Ideally, we are seeking people for this role who have expertise in this field; creative and innovative thinkers with a passion for harnessing the combined power of human and machine-learning approaches.
You can start at Evotec with different levels of expertise and education in and out of the lab. Most chemists join after completing a degree (either Bachelors or Masters), PhD or post-doc in synthetic organic chemistry or medicinal chemistry. Others join from Biotech companies or CROs, seeking development opportunities to advance their careers. Our Scientist roles are predominantly lab-based, with primary duties being the synthesis of assigned molecular targets. Good team-working skills are a must, as well as a good synthetic chemistry knowledgebase. As you develop in this role, there are opportunities to contribute to route construction and, if desired, the design of new targets. Tutoring sessions are available to foster theoretical skills; synthetic routes are presented for the group to suggest reagents and conditions for, and retrosynthetic analyses of drug-like molecules are practised. To aid the interpretation of project data, training sessions are provided on our data analysis software as well as our bespoke data review and molecular design tool.
In-lab training is also offered via our recently-established Practical Chemistry Training (PCT) programme. The objective of this programme is to provide a structured schedule of practical demonstrations to expose our new Scientists to a wide range of experiments and practical techniques commonly used at Evotec. This also ensures that any skills or knowledge gaps that joining graduate scientists may have in these areas are closed. It also offers a chance for new scientists to meet our very experienced Principal Scientist group and provides a relaxed environment in which to ask any and all questions! In addition, a chemistry “buddy” is assigned to provide one-on-one support. Overall, the PCT programme is there to help new scientists get off to a flying start at Evotec and make the transition from probation to permanent staff member an easy one.
Here at our Abingdon site, we also have internal seminars on various aspects of synthetic, medicinal and computational chemistry and external speakers from academia who provide updates on the latest developments in their research groups. Individual project teams also often set up their own literature review meetings, where the latest developments emerging from the literature are highlighted or key historical papers are discussed. Internally, we also have synthetic chemistry and discovery chemistry blogs, which again offer an opportunity for anyone to highlight recent research gleaned from the literature that may be of general interest. These blogs also serve as a method to communicate highlights and reports from external conferences that have been attended by chemists, to ensure that any knowledge gleaned is shared as widely as possible within the Evotec chemistry community.
Of course, chemists do not operate alone at any grade. As well as the numerous and essential support staff (analytical, administration, informatics, logistics, chemical storage, reformatting, HR…), most chemists work on integrated drug discovery (IDD) projects. This means that as well as chemistry, our scientific collaborations often include critical support and contributions from Biology, Computational Chemistry, DMPK (Drug Metabolism and PharmacoKinetics) and Structural Biology. Drug design is a truly collaborative affair, and within the Medicinal Chemistry department chemists may have the opportunity to participate in project design meetings where the latest scientific data are reviewed and new ideas for molecular design, project strategy and paths forward are discussed. I am certainly a firm believer that a good idea can come from anyone, and chemists at all levels and departments are encouraged to submit ideas for new target molecules and gain feedback on their ideas and suggestions (this also serves as a method to challenge any biases of the lead compound designers!). From a personal perspective, there is a great deal of satisfaction in designing a promising new target molecule, constructing and successfully implementing a well-researched synthetic route and seeing that compound enter the testing cascade. Of course, ideas for new molecular targets do not just come from the individual; AI and machine learning tools play a crucial role in developing new ideas, especially in the Molecular Discovery department, and there are opportunities to explore these within our bespoke “eApps” software platform.
CAREER AND GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES
Evotec promotes a culture of continuous improvement. Hence there are opportunities to undergo Lean Six Sigma training to help you to identify how to optimise and streamline existing processes. There are also opportunities to contribute to various working groups within the organisation that primarily focus around bringing in and validating new synthetic technologies, emerging trends from the literature, or developing training resources for our chemists.
Training courses are provided in leadership and in Evotec’s appraisal process. Our employee review programme consists of a series of one-to-one meetings with their line manager that take place throughout the year; the first being orientated around expectation and goal setting, the second and third being review meetings to monitor progress towards the goals and expectations set in the beginning of the year, and the last talk focusing on the year in review to celebrate achievements and highlight key learnings that can be taken forward into the next year. We ask the chemists to drive their own development using the plethora of available tools and resources. Evotec have developed resources that can help chemists and their line managers navigate this process and provide a map towards career progression in general.
The first resource is our set of “Expectation Matrices”. As the naming suggests, these matrices were established to help define the standard expectations for each grade within our chemistry department and so therefore provide the basis for expectation setting in the beginning of the year. They also serve to identify skills gaps and areas that staff can develop into and foster growth in. Such skills gaps, once identified, would naturally lead into the setting of development goals to close such gaps – this is where our second resource comes in. To help all chemistry staff identify and craft suitable development goals, over the past three years staff from all levels have helped to create our Synthesis and Medicinal Chemistry Learning Outcomes. Essentially a curriculum which outlines what is expected of a Synthetic or Medicinal Chemist at three skill levels (Fundamental, Intermediate and Advanced), the Learning Outcomes serve as another guide for chemists to identify skills gaps and drive their own development in directions of their choosing and with relevance to the projects on which they are working. The Learning Outcomes also have associated Resource Mapping Tools, which act like a Wiki and highlight the different training resources available (both internally and externally) that can foster growth in the areas of need identified and close skills and knowledge gaps for the chemist. Hopefully, these documents all together make expectation and goal setting at the beginning of the year easier and provide direction and focus for development.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
As you progress in your chemistry career, you may wish to remain predominately lab based, focussing on becoming a technical expert in synthetic chemistry. This would not preclude making other project contributions, such as target design, or indeed leading the chemistry efforts on a project. If this is your focus, then your wide ranging synthetic expertise may be recognised by promotion to Principal Scientist. Within Evotec, the Principal Scientist group are our go-to chemistry trouble-shooters with strength, knowledge and experience in all areas of synthetic chemistry and a strong history of high-impact contributions to the projects they have worked on. Alternatively, chemists with an aptitude for CADD can become Principal Scientists with a focus predominantly upon computational design.
If your favoured career path leans more in the direction of becoming a project and people manager, then you might direct your development into the role of Team Leader (TL). In this role, you would be responsible for and take the lead in the delivery of project chemistry, direct synthesis efforts across a team establishing line management structures and foster a positive working environment. Typically, the TL liaises with their Group Leader (GL) and leads from other disciplines to assist the GL in defining project strategy. TLs also often have a client facing role – we rely on establishing professional and effective relationships with our collaborative partners and as a TL you may play a crucial role in this, presenting chemistry progress, difficulties and solutions to our partners. You may also be the lead molecular designer on the project, helping to cultivate ideas and suggestions within the chemistry team that are directed toward addressing compound optimisation goals.
From TL grade, a good track record of effective project delivery and leadership, with evidence of personal impact on strategy, tactics and influence on project outcome may lead to you becoming a Group Leader. In this role, you would be expected to oversee multiple projects and / or collaborations, acting as the integral hub for the various disciplines and being ultimately responsible for creating and implementing project strategy in collaboration with the clients. As such, you would be the key interface between the Evotec project teams and our collaborative partners.
ARE YOU LOOKING TO WORK WITH AMAZING COLLEAGUES?
Hopefully, this article has provided you with the insights into the way we do chemistry at Evotec, and also served to highlight the many ways in which we provide development opportunities of our chemists. With any luck, it has also helped inspire you towards pursuing your own career in chemistry. So why not consider a career with us? We are always looking for strong synthetic chemists with good team working and time management skills from all educational backgrounds and nationalities. For all our current opportunities, please visit our careers website at https://www.evotec.com/en/career.
It’s the calibre of our people that creates our success.
I’ve always had a keen interest in science, right from when I was a child, but my passion for chemistry was really sparked during my A-levels. This led me toward an MChem course at the University of Southampton, commencing in 1996. As part of that course, I spent six months in the city of Strasbourg in the laboratory of Nobel-Laureate Jean-Marie Lehn, synthesising ligands for the construction of supramolecular lattices, a formative part of my progression towards becoming a synthetic chemist. After my MChem, I completed a PhD in Organic Chemistry between 2000 and 2003 at the University of Southampton in the group of Professor David Harrowven, developing new radical methodology, conducting natural product synthesis and making lifelong friends in the process. Upon completing my PhD, I joined Evotec in 2004 as a Senior Scientist in their Discovery Chemistry Department. My career duly progressed and in my current position as Group Leader I direct teams of medicinal chemists on multiple drug discovery projects.
During my time at Evotec, my research has covered multiple (and endlessly fascinating) therapeutic areas, from anti-infectives (HIV) to anti-thrombotics, chronic pain and inflammatory conditions, women’s health (endometriosis) and oncology. All of this research has entailed working with multiple collaborative partners in multidisciplinary teams, where we strive to employ cutting-edge medicinal chemistry techniques to deliver effective solutions for our partners.