This fascinating interview with Charnwood Molecular’s Head of Process Research and Development, Dr James Morey explores the route James took to his current role, what inspired him to focus on science as a child and his commitment to continuous improvement.
Where did the interest in science start for you?
It was at a relatively young age, around 7 or 8. I clearly remember looking at a pan of boiling water and wondering what would happen to the temperature if I put some ice in it. So I did and I measured it and saw that the temperature decreased. There was a definite curiosity about how things worked which is still true today. My parents bought me a chemistry set and I never looked back!
That’s a young age to be set on a particular field of study and work!
Yes, I guess it was but it always felt right for me. At secondary school I suspect I was a little annoying for the teachers; always asking for more information and going off independently to delve into topics further. I was also fortunate to complete one weeks’ work experience when I was around 15 at an environmental research facility on the south coast. There was lots of chemistry involved and this experience was all I needed to know that chemistry was for me.
Having gained your MChem you didn’t go straight into a PhD, why was that?
After graduating I took a step back to assess what I wanted, and I realised that I had gained a lot of theoretical knowledge that I was keen to apply in an industry rather than academic setting. This led to me working in the discovery research department at GSK for three years. Prior to this I had always favoured inorganic chemistry whereas working at GSK gave me the opportunity to understand and apply organic chemistry. It also gave me my first exposure to early drug discovery and the impact that medicinal chemistry has.
It sounds like you really enjoyed the role so why then go back into academia to study your PhD?
I always enjoyed research, and I wanted to consolidate my knowledge. I felt I had a great mix of theoretical and practical experience that I could apply to research. After a cold call to (now) Professor Andrew Wheatley I was fortunate to be offered a place on his research group. I spent an enjoyable three years in Cambridge focused on organometallic chemistry and how to apply it to organic synthesis.
With a PhD in the bag, you turned again to working in industry but not necessarily as you expected?
That’s right, through a series of events, including a global recession in the late 2000s, I started working at Cambridge Display Technology as a research chemist. This was quite a change from my big pharma experience at GSK but, as you can probably tell, one I enjoyed as I stayed there for nearly six years. It was a formative experience that has contributed to me being where I am now.
What did you take from that experience in particular?
It was my first glimpse into process research and development and why it is so important. The essence of it is ‘it can always be done better’, and it’s a mantra I follow today. It also helped me develop my people skills as I was a line manager as well as having to influence colleagues, understand different processes, points of view and in some cases physics!
What prompted your switch to working for a CRO in a more commercial role?
My interest was piqued when I started to interact with ProSynth as a client and eventually went on to work for them with responsibility for quoting, project management and delivery of custom synthesis projects ranging from mg to kg scales. It was a very different way of working and thinking but one I thoroughly enjoyed and continue to do so. I knew it was something I wanted to continue pursuing in my career.
It was evident that the company was looking to grow – the move to Charnwood Campus really signalled this - and so it was an opportunity to move to a larger organisation and lead the process research and development department. It was also very clear that there was a real commitment to process research and development as a core capability in early drug discovery. I believe that we have the team, knowledge and investment in instrumentation to rival any CRO.
It certainly wasn’t ideal having to do so much remotely, added to which my wife was expecting our second child and we needed to relocate. I’ll be honest it was a lot, but I’m grateful to my colleagues at Charnwood who supported me, often without me asking. I certainly realised my own limitations and that sometimes you have to ask for help – I think it’s a positive message to share.
If we look ahead, what excites you most about being Director of Process Research and Development?
When I look at the strength and depth of the team I know that we are in such a strong position to help clients continue developing their drugs through good PRD. A number of the team used to work for AstraZeneca in chemical development whilst more recent members bring specialisms such as green chemistry, efficiencies and renewables. For someone who is so invested in methods and procedures, I honestly think we have the perfect blend of youth and experience in the team.
Overall, there’s always the excitement of knowing that the work you do can contribute to a viable drug that is suitable for manufacture – that never gets old!