By Samina Azad
WCC Luncheon Key Note Speaker Dr. Ann Weber, currently an independent consultant with biotech and pharma, retired from Merck in 2015 as Vice President, Lead Optiization Chemistry. Ann started her presentation with a definition of diversity and why diversity should be strategically embraced by businesses – this is a data driven approach as companies with more women in their executive committees have better financial success. There are many more organizations today with women on their boards than before but there is still significant progress to be made.
Ann grew up in Oshkosh, WI. She found her first female role model at home – her mom Fran Weber, who would try to fix her own dishwasher before calling a repairman. Ann found another mentor at school, her chemistry teacher who got her interested in chemistry. Early on, Ann came up with her purpose statement for her life, “To use my God‐given talents to the best of my abilities to make the world a better place”.
She went to University of Notre Dame and then to Harvard University with advisor Dave Evans. When it was time to choose a career path, she had to decide between academia and industry. She was impressed by Merck’s mission statement – “to discover, develop and provide innovative products and services that save and improve lives around the world”. It resonated with her own mission in life, so Ann went to work for Merck.
At Merck, Ann started as a Process Chemist and worked on Discovery Chemistry. She was given an opportunity to work on a brand new project – Beta3 Adrenergic Recep‐ tor Agonists – informally called – the “obesity project”.
From 1990 to 2000 she and her team worked on making the new compound, but the project was unsuccessful and ended in 2000. During this time, Ann was raising her three children, Dave, Dan, and Timmy.
Ann highlighted an important change that occurred over time. In her younger days she was afraid of failure – she experienced lots of sleepless nights whenever challenged. Later on she learned how to deal with challenges without being afraid.
Ann joined a new research team initiated by a colleague in 1999, the DPP‐4 Inhibitor Program. The team worked on the new compound and in 2001 it went to market as JANUVIA in just 4 years! The project team worked rapidly without compromising any of the critical back‐ ground work. The work of the Early Development Team led to another program, which developed a novel once weekly oral therapy for Type 2 Diabetes. This was approved in Japan in Sept 2015.
Although they did not get a drug out for obesity in the initial project, Ann looks at it as a "successful failure". Ann was promoted from a Research Fellow to Associate Director and then Director while working on this project. She went from being a medicinal chemist to a drug discovery researcher as her role evolved. Ann acknowledged her manager at Merck for sponsorship and for creating some of these opportunities for her.
Ann shared her “lessons learned”:
- SEEK out mentors and sponsor
- Ask a lot of questions
- Don't be afraid to make mistakes
- If it is not working, try something else
- Figure out what’s important to you and go after it
- For everything else just say no or hire someone
- Mentoring and sponsoring are gifts ... give back!
Ann emphasized that life is about making choices and you can't have it all ‐ you need to decide what is important to you and choose wisely.