Inspired by synthetic chemistry heroes

An interview with Reaxys PhD Prize 2014 winner Dr. Changxia Yuan

Dr. Changxia Yuan is a senior research investigator at Bristol-Myers Squibb, where he works on synthesis routes and manufacturing processes for pharmaceutical substances. He has been with the company for almost 5 years and maintains the same love of synthetic chemistry as he had when he graduated from Peking University in 2008. He went on to do a PhD at the University of Texas in Austin. He was awarded his PhD in 2013 and went on to win the Reaxys PhD Prize in 2014 for his work on metal-free oxidation of aromatic carbon–hydrogen. After two-and-a-half years at the Scripps Research Institute, he moved into the corporate world. We met with Dr. Yuan to hear about his work and how it felt to win the Reaxys PhD Prize.

Dr. Changxia Yuan

What are your primary responsibilities as a senior research investigator at Bristol-Myers Squibb?

I am a process chemist tasked with designing and developing innovative chemical synthesis routes and manufacturing processes for pharmaceutical substances. During each project, I need to understand the critical risks and timelines, communicate with project leaders and cross-functional members, and liaise with global vendors.

Thanks to Reaxys, I could quickly find relevant papers and patents. It also enabled me to assess the commercial availability and cost of key raw materials for our potential routes.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I am learning from and working with a terrific group of respectful colleagues who have different backgrounds and roles to deliver medicines to benefit patients.

Tell us about your webinar Early chemical development on BMS-986095 for the hepatitis C virus. (live presentation on September 23, 2020; recording available thereafter)

The intention is to summarize our early process development using the example of a nucleotide prodrug for hepatitis C. The content consists of three areas as route scouting, process invention and reaction science. I highlight how the team leveraged a multidisciplinary approach to rapidly develop a significantly greener and more robust manufacturing route.

How was Reaxys used in that project?

Thanks to Reaxys, I could quickly find relevant papers and patents. It also enabled me to assess the commercial availability and cost of key raw materials for our potential routes.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted your work this year?

This has definitely been a unique year! Early on, I had to learn how to balance management of our portfolio of projects and “management” of my three-year old daughter, all while getting used to working from home. It was challenging. However, with the support of my wife, colleagues, managers and the whole Bristol-Myers Squibb organization, I successfully adapted to this new way of working. I still miss the face-to-face communication with my colleagues though!

You were selected as a winner of the Reaxys PhD Prize in 2014. What do you recall of this experience and can you tell us why it was important to you?

Being a winner of the Reaxys PhD Prize was definitely one of the highlights of my career! I was so humbled to know that one of my synthesis heroes, Professor Barry Trost, chose me as one of the winners, and I remain so appreciative of the entire advisory committee who evaluated my work.

Being a winner of the Reaxys PhD Prize was definitely one of the highlights of my career!

The Reaxys PhD Prize is important to me because it recognized my dedication to organic synthesis, which began during my sophomore year at Peking University. Research involving organic synthesis can have its highs and lows — I faced both during my five years in Professor Dio Siegel’s lab. To me, being awarded this prize represented both my perseverance and ability to learn from my supervisor and peers. It also strengthened my confidence as I was about to embark on my postdoctoral adventures in the lab of Professor Phil Baran, another of my heroes in synthetic organic chemistry.

Additionally, having a Reaxys life membership is one of the best gifts in my life: knowing that I can access chemical knowledge and assess my ideas anywhere and at any time!

Have you stayed connected to people you met at the event and built connections through the Reaxys Prize Club?

Yes, I have. I am fortunate to work with many talented colleagues who were finalists of the Reaxys PhD Prize over the years. Through both the Reaxys Prize Club and participating as a reviewer for research proposals, I have continued to get to know younger scientists and see their amazing chemistry.

Will you be attending the virtual Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium 2020 (September 30 to October 2)?

Yes. I am very excited to attend the virtual Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium this year. I am looking forward to reconnecting with my Reaxys Prize Club friends and eager to hear about the innovative new chemistry. The keynote presentation and the former finalist presentations will be the cherry on the top!

Dr. Yuan at the Ascend National Convention
Above: Dr. Yuan at the Ascend National Convention, an important meeting for cultivating Pan-Asian leadership in 2019

Connect with Dr. Changxia Yuan on LinkedIn

Register for the webinar/catch-up here: Early chemical development on BMS-986095 for the hepatitis C virus