In the world of drug discovery and scientific innovation, every success story is a testament to the individuals whose passion, expertise, and dedication drive research forward. To provide you with an inside look into the minds shaping our journey here at Excellerate, we’re excited to kick off our “Meet the Team” series, offering a glimpse into the professional journeys, unique perspectives, and the passions that fuel their contributions to the world of drug discovery.
In our third “Meet the Team”, we introduce Dr Azim Miah and Jamie McDonald. Azim and Jamie are both Senior Scientists at Excellerate and have a specialist interest in cellular and molecular/protein biology.
“Share a brief overview of your professional background and experience in the research/drug discovery industry:”
AM: “My scientific research experience extends back from an academic setting as a PhD student, utilising various cell and molecular biology techniques to understand the role of a lectin protein amplified in several organ fibrosis, including the lung with a focus on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Post-PhD, my first career job role begun with Excellerate Bioscience; this was my initial encounter into industrial drug discovery-based research.”
JMc: “During my undergraduate degree I carried our breast cancer research demonstrating the over-expression of PI4KB, particularly in triple-negative breast cancer cell lines. I was so inspired by this work that I went on to study a MSc in molecular medicine and cancer research which allowed me to continue where I left off, investigating the effects of novel kinase inhibitors in combination with chemotherapeutic drugs using a variety of cell-based assays.
At the start of my professional career, I worked at PerkinElmer for several years on the purification, characterisation, and conjugation of antibodies along with the design and optimisation of immunoassays for food testing. A highlight of this was being able to deliver continuous improvement to the kits through customer feedback and process development which always kept things interesting. Not so pleasant was isolating bacteria from cultured feta salad food samples.
More recently, while working for Avacta (Diagnostics), I gained experience in high-throughput protein screening using phage-display libraries and the subsequent large-scale production/purification of proteins. This developed my experience in automated lab processes and complex data analysis. I acted as technical lead on an IVD development team, helping to plan and execute the delivery of lateral flow tests.”
“What initially attracted you to join Excellerate?”
AM: “At the time, Excellerate Bioscience was a relatively new CRO, however, I was impressed by the clients Excellerate were collaborating with in such early stages. Additionally, knowing that the company had a CSO with many years of pharmacology experience in both academia and industry made it appealing as an opportunity to be able to learn pharmacology in a drug discovery setting.”
JMc: “I was keen to get back involved in the investigation of therapeutic drugs after my experience on university research projects, and Excellerate, with its excellent reputation as a Pharmacology CRO, seemed the perfect place for me to get on board. It was very exciting to join a company working on multiple client projects with a wide variety of scope and as such a constant opportunity to learn and develop.”
“Describe your role at Excellerate in a few sentences?”
AM: “My role consists of planning, managing, and executing lab work for projects I am involved with. The experimental data is then relayed in a presentation format in a meeting to our clients. We come to agreements on subsequent next steps for the future experimental strategies and offer our expertise to support approaches going forward to give the projects the best opportunity of success. Once the project work order is complete for the client, we collate the generated data into a concise written report format which is peer reviewed by one of the Principal Scientists or CSO of the company and is then signed off.”
JMc: “I am involved in assay development and drug screening, regularly performing assays including, HTRF binding and kinetics, biochemical and whole blood ELISA, along with data analysis which is presented to our clients. I also work on protein modification to allow enzyme study, as well as molecular cloning and tissue culture to produce DNA templates and transfections which allow targeting of receptors on live cells.”
“What excites you the most about working at Excellerate/within drug discovery research?”
AM: “The potential of contributing to research which may have a big impact on people’s health. Constantly knowing the hard work and effort is for a positive impact on society.”
JMc: “I enjoy working at the cutting edge of drug discovery and being able to contribute to the innovative research of companies both large and small. It is exciting to know that your work could be part of the development of a treatment that could potentially go on to help millions of people.”
“What’s your most memorable moment or experience while working at Excellerate?”
AM: “When relocating from our old premises to our state-of-the-art new premises at NG2, it was clearly apparent how well the whole company works as a close-knit team, and how everyone is there to give a helping hand to each other.”
JMc: “It would have to be watching our colleague James M. unleash his inner James Bond at the company day out virtual reality gaming experience, skills that kills.”
“What’s one significant achievement or contribution you’ve made during your time here?”
JMc: “I helped to develop and optimise a kinetic dissociation (competition) assay which can be used to rank both covalent and non-covalent enzyme binding compounds based on their on-rate as well as residence time, for the latter.”
“What do you think sets Excellerate apart from others in the industry?”
AM: “From first-hand experience, our data is heavily scrutinized, and QC checked internally before dispatching out for client evaluation. This is evident from the client feedback we receive on a regular basis where we receive praise for the robust, high-quality data we present.”
JMc: “Excellerate have an experienced and hard-working team that are willing to go the extra mile to deliver results, without having to be asked. There is a close relationship between the relatively small team of scientists and directors meaning that there is the flexibility to delve deeper and give further insight to our clients.”
“Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work? Tell us about them!”
AM: “I have immense passion and love for cars – in my spare time, I trade cars from family SUVs to performance vehicles. (Whilst additional income helps!), my main thrill is gained from the driving experience of different forms of cars from different manufacturers.”
JMc: “I spend most of my free time hanging out with my wife and daughter, we have a particular passion for food and eating out. I enjoy playing guitar and like to jam to the likes of; Metallica, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Tool (much to the disappointment of my neighbours).”
“What’s your favourite quote that motivates you in both your personal and professional life?”
AM: “Success is a journey, not a destination.”
“If you could make one bold prediction about the future of scientific research, what would it be?”
JMc: “We will see increased used of automation and A.I which will further increase throughput and certainly lead to more rapid advances in our ability to treat and manage disease.”
“What advice would you give to aspiring young scientists looking to enter the drug discovery research field?”
AM: “I would advise future scientists to make sure this is exactly what they want to do. If not already too late, I would advise a sandwich/placement year within industry whilst doing their undergraduate degree. This really helps confirm whether the scientific research career path is the correct one for them.”
To learn more about how the team at Excellerate Bioscience can support your drug discovery program, please get in touch here.