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Career Profile

Luke Humphries

Director, Process Development
Gilead Sciences
Luke Humphries working with biological sample in his lab.

Luke Humphries working with biological sample in his lab.

Luke Humphries working with biological sample in his lab.

Luke Humphries working with biological sample in his lab.

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I lead teams of scientists to discover and develop the best ways of making drug molecules for clinical trials.

About me

I was born/grew up in: Shrewsbury, Shropshire, United Kingdom

I now live in: Edmonton, Alberta

I completed my training/education at:  Masters in Chemistry, University of Oxford, PhD in Chemistry, Nottingham University

What I do at work

I do a number of roles at work. Usually, I am leading a team of chemists to find the best way of making a drug molecule. We do this so that we can make large amounts of the drug for clinical trials. Through these trials, we find out if the drug will help make patients better, and improve their lives. Without these drug supplies, the clinical trials would not take place.

Discovering and developing the best way to make a drug is very challenging. There are many complex problems to solve. For example, we need to figure out how to make a reaction to give more of the product we want, and less of the impurities we don't want.

Another part of my job is to help the Process Development department make use of a method called biocatalysis. Normally, I don't get time to do much lab work. But this initiative means I get to go into the lab! Biocatalysis is the use of an enzyme, or protein, to catalyze a chemical reaction. It is often a more sustainable, greener alternative to typical chemical reactions.

We make our enzymes by growing bacteria. Then we get them to make the enzyme we want to use in the chemical reaction. By using molecular biology and DNA synthesis, we can use our lab bacteria to make enzymes from other microorganisms, plants or animals.

My career path is

I have always enjoyed science. In the UK equivalent of high school though, I preferred biology and thought of becoming a doctor. This changed with a great chemistry teacher I had. I went to study chemistry at university instead. I really enjoyed the practical research aspects of chemistry, and being in a lab. I continued on to complete a PhD.

Then, I decided I wanted a change from academia. I was fortunate to get a job in the pharmaceutical industry in the UK. I worked with GSK in process development.

After 5 years in this role, I had the opportunity to learn something new. I joined the biocatalysis team at GSK. I moved into the biology department to learn about molecular biology and making enzymes. Then I returned to chemistry and gradually took on more responsibility. Eventually I started leading the biocatalysis team. At this point, I had the exciting opportunity to work for Gilead Alberta. After a lot of thought, we decided as a family to take it.

I'd say my career has always taken unexpected twists. But, I am always interested in new challenges, and learning new things. This has led to many opportunities. Like many people, I have also been unsuccessful applying for jobs. I try to use those setbacks as learning experiences. I try to understand how I can improve myself in future.

I am motivated by

My current role is a great fit for me as it is very varied and no two days are the same. It has a mixture of different scientific aspects. This is something I find really stimulating and exciting. From basic research, to mentoring more junior members of staff, to applied chemical knowledge. It's very satisfying to synthesize a drug molecule quickly to supply clinical trials. Knowing what we do may help patients, is a great feeling.

I enjoy many things about my job. Two of the biggest are solving technical problems, and sharing my knowledge with others. Watching staff members grow, develop, and learn new skills is really rewarding. I feel privileged to be able to contribute to this in a small way.

How I affect peoples’ lives

My career in the pharmaceutical industry is very fulfilling. I work as part of an organization to help improve the lives of patients around the world.

By making new drug molecules, Gilead is able to provide new treatments or improve current medicines. For example, new medicines may have fewer side effects.

Outside of work I

Outside of work, I like to spend time with my family. I help take care of our two children who are one and four-years-old. I also like to run or cycle. It's a great way to clear your head after a day at work. I used to run competitively, but right now, I prefer to prioritize my time with family. In any other free time I have, I enjoy gardening, reading and listening to music.

My advice to others

Follow what interests you most. Be prepared to take opportunities that come your way. Most importantly, always keep learning and having fun.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Geography
  • History
  • Math
  • Physical Education/Health
  • Science
  • Music
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Enjoyed doing things on my own
  • Liked helping people
  • Played on a sports team
  • Enjoyed working with my hands
  • Liked reading
  • Played video games
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • Learned best “by doing”
  • Engaged in activities such as fishing and berry picking

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