Dr Iva Lukac joined Charnwood Molecular as a computational chemistry group leader in June 2021. Iva focuses on supporting clients projects from hit identification, through hit-to-lead and lead optimisation.
Here we explore Iva’s journey to working in the field of computational chemistry.
When did you first think about a career in science?
It was really during my undergraduate study at the Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology in Zagreb, Croatia that I became attracted to the idea of having a career in scientific research. I enjoyed the food technology degree but for my final project I’ve chosen the organic chemistry where I focused on Synthesis and conformational study of ferrocene muropeptide.
How did you go from food technology to computational chemistry?
Ha! Yes, not an obvious path but I’ve always been very passionate about computers and so I decided to combine science and computers with a further degree in ‘IT in a Business Environment‘. This gave me my first experience of drug discovery and how computational chemistry can be used as part of this. I then moved to the UK to pursue my Masters Degree in ‘Drug Discovery and Translational Biology’ at the University of Edinburgh, where I had my first encounter with computer-aided drug design. I quickly realised that my career goal was not only using, but developing computational approaches to help drug design. I would say from this point I’ve never looked back!
What knowledge and experience do you most frequently apply when working on client projects?
It really goes back to my PhD at Liverpool John Moores University where I had the privilege of joining Andrew Leach's group. The project included an industrial placement at AstraZeneca's biophysics group where I had the opportunity to characterise macromolecular interactions myself. This experience made me appreciate the effort and knowledge that goes into obtaining biological data points and is something that I think about a lot when helping chemists design new compounds. I still apply so much of what I learned there in my role at Charnwood Molecular.
Two undergraduate degrees, a Masters and a PhD is already quite an achievement yet you went on to study for a further Masters – what was the main driver behind that?
After completing my PhD, I moved to the Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee, where I was lucky enough to work with some very passionate and motivated scientists on developing new treatments for neglected tropical disease. At the same time Machine Learning and AI in drug discovery was gaining momentum, and it was something I didn't want to miss, so I enrolled with the University of Dundee to study for my MSc in Data Science! I’m pleased (and relieved) to say I was awarded the Msc in March 2022.
Do you have plans for any further study?
Never say never, but I think for now I’m happy not studying for exams and writing coursework in my evenings and weekends. Instead, I attend conferences and relevant industry events to ensure I keep my knowledge up to date. It’s nice to hear from others and connect with like-minded scientists.
What appealed about the role at Charnwood Molecular?
It’s quite simple for me - I’m hugely passionate about finding ways of efficiently visualising scientific data and developing new computational methods to help bring us one step closer to a new medicine. Charnwood Molecular gave me the opportunity to use that passion and apply my knowledge and experience to the early stages of drug discovery. I have some amazing colleagues and am excited about growing the computational chemistry and computer aided drug design team further.