Dr. Stephen Buckley, Director and Head of Discovery ADME, Novo Nordisk
Class of 2006
Alumnus Dr. Stephen Buckley is the Director and Head of Discovery ADME for the multinational pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. In February I spoke with Stephen from his office in Denmark about his time in Trinity and his career path since leaving the university. It was an informative conversation, where the practice of collaboration came up again and again. It is a practice that runs through Stephen’s time here in Trinity and an important element of his current responsibilities.
I started by asking Stephen where his love of pharmacy came from. His parents came from a science background, and he had developed a love for chemistry in secondary school. His sister had studied pharmacy (at Trinity) and was finishing up at the time Stephen was starting his undergraduate studies. Reflecting on his undergraduate days he remarked he never had a fixed idea of where his career path would take him, but research was to be the path he would take.
Having completed the BSc in Pharmacy in 2006, a degree he describes as covering a broad spectrum of areas and providing a lot of opportunities, Stephen completed the pre-reg year but ultimately decided research was where his interests lay. He secured IRC funding and started a PhD under the supervision of Dr. Carsten Ehrhardt in 2007. Part of his postgraduate studies included spending time at the University of Southern California in a lab which he describes as a very productive environment.
Stephen finished his PhD in the autumn of 2010 and spent the latter months of 2010 wrapping up various projects via a brief stint as a postdoc in the same lab. At the beginning of 2011, Stephen moved to Denmark, a country with a strong indigenous pharmaceutical industry. Here, Stephen took a postdoctoral position at the University of Southern Denmark and joined Novo Nordisk later that same year.
Here again Stephen highlights the importance of building relationships, as some of his new colleagues were familiar with the work his former supervisor had carried out. He started as a research scientist with the company in an interdisciplinary and collaborative environment, and since then has risen to the position of director of the area he started in, Discovery ADME (the department is part of the Global Research Technologies area in Novo Nordisk’s R&D unit, and is responsible for bioanalysis, ADME, and proteomics-based studies in the early discovery phase of research projects). The area comprises 20 researchers supporting a research portfolio covering diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, NASH and rare endocrine and blood disorders. With growing levels of responsibilities his work no longer takes place in the lab, but he is still involved in the science at a strategic level.
What’s next for Stephen? He says the opportunities at Novo Nordisk are great, and he enjoys working alongside a wealth of talented people. He is involved in external collaborations across the globe, including work with MIT in Boston. He feels fortunate to be involved in the discovery and development of drugs which can transform the treatment possibilities for patients suffering with serious chronic diseases. Last year, his (and many colleagues) efforts in developing a peptide drug (semaglutide) in a tablet, thereby avoiding the need for diabetic patients to use an injection, culminated in regulatory approval being received both in the US and EU. Notably, this represents the very first example of a peptide drug delivered via the oral route – a so-called “holy grail” within the world of drug delivery. Building on this success, Stephen and his colleagues continue their efforts in developing more ground-breaking drug delivery technologies, as demonstrated by recent advances in the creation of a tiny “tortoise” capsule that self-orientates and injects insulin once it lands in the stomach – the research of which was published in the prestigious Science journal last year. Importantly, he emphasises that not all research leads to success, but in his work within research and development at Novo Nordisk he feels a great motivation to do good science which has a meaningful purpose.
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