Playing a part in impactful medicinal chemistry

An interview with Dr. Marie-Gabrielle Braun

Dr. Marie-Gabrielle Braun is a Chemistry Leader at Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, and a biotechnology company dedicated to discovering and developing medicines for people with serious and life-threatening diseases. Her PhD work was recognized with the PhD Prize of the École Polytechnique and she was a finalist of the Reaxys PhD Prize in 2012. After a 2-year post-doctoral position at Princeton University, she joined the team at Genentech, going on to win the 2018 Young Investigator Award of the American Chemical Society’s Division of Organic Chemistry Merit. She met with us to talk about her work at Genentech and her memories of the 2012 Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium.

Dr. Marie-Gabrielle Braun portrait

What does your position at Genentech involve?

I lead an international chemistry team focused on developing small molecule drugs targeting novel biological pathways. As a medicinal chemist, I use my knowledge of physical properties, reactivity, molecular conformation and interaction energies to design inhibitors for a variety of therapeutic targets.

What was the biggest challenge when you transitioned from your academic career at Princeton to an industry career at Genentech?

Moving to Genentech gave me the opportunity to work closely with world-class biologists and to interact with multidisciplinary teams. However, it also came with the challenges of mastering new technologies with cross-applicability and learning to make decisions for the team rather than just for myself.

Does Publish or Perish apply to researchers working in industry?

Not really, but it’s important to point out that Genentech scientists are encouraged to publish key discoveries and to be active members of the scientific community. We had 400 publications in 2019, including articles in Cell, Nature and Science. Our annual output consistently rivals top academic institutions and thus attracts partners for collaborations.

I’m really excited to have played a role in the discovery of GDC-0077, which is a molecule that could potentially have incredible impact in breast cancer.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career to date?

I’m really excited to have played a role in the discovery of GDC-0077, which is a molecule that could potentially have incredible impact in breast cancer. With best in-class molecular properties, it has the potential for clinical differentiation between HER2-positive, triple-negative and hormone receptor-positive breast tumors. After showing encouraging activities in combination with palbociclib and estrogen therapy, GDC-0077 is now progressing into a phase III study.

Marie Gabrielle poster
Above photo taken at the European Federation for Medicinal Chemistry 2018 in Ljubljana.

We use Reaxys on a daily basis as a retrosynthesis tool to ensure we’re designing efficient and straightforward synthetic routes as well as to identify prior art on a scaffold.

What tools does your team use to support drug development research?

In medicinal chemistry, we use a number of tools to accelerate the process of drug discovery. One key tool predicts the physicochemical properties and metabolic stability of the targets before synthesis. We also use a platform that integrates visualization and modeling of ligands to enable structure-based design. We use Reaxys on a daily basis as a retrosynthesis tool to ensure we’re designing efficient and straightforward synthetic routes as well as to identify prior art on a scaffold.

What do you recall of your Reaxys PhD Prize experience in 2012?

The Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium in 2012 was an amazing opportunity to connect with PhD students from all over the world and to learn about their science. It was also a great opportunity to connect with top academic and industry researchers. I also enjoyed the 2013 Symposium in Grindelwald, where I had the opportunity to present my post-doctoral research to an audience of my peers.

The Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium in 2012 was an amazing opportunity to connect with PhD students from all over the world and to learn about their science.

Why was the Reaxys PhD Prize important to you?

The Reaxys PhD Prize gave me a lot of visibility when I was applying for jobs in 2013. It is very well recognized in the pharmaceutical industry as evidenced by the fact that a large majority of our recent hires at Genentech are finalists of the Reaxys Prize.

Connect with Dr. Marie-Gabrielle Braun on LinkedIn