Daily Discoveries. Darryle Schoepp has been involved in drug research for over 30 years, and wears many hats at Merck. Sometimes he spends time on the phone with Bloomberg or The New York Times, talking about his favorite topic — the brain. He spends most of his days working with his teams of scientists that think of new approaches and the best targets to test molecules for early signs of their potential to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s, ALS, Pain, and Alzheimer’s Disease.
The Driving Force. “I picked out my career in high school when I was 16 years old. Later, in pharmacy school they said that there would be no jobs in neuroscience. But I decided to take a chance anyway.” That chance paid off; Dr. Schoepp’s publications have been cited over 15,000 times, he holds 15 U.S. patents, and he developed many new approaches to treat psychiatric and neurological diseases along the way. At Merck, his group developed a treatment option for insomnia. He’s won numerous honors for his research studying glutamate receptors.
Challenges, Chances and Looking Forward. “The biggest challenge is the brain and the science itself. We wonder if we even know one percent about the brain and these diseases.” Schoepp notes that treating such diseases means lots of failure and therefore high attrition rates of candidate molecules. “If that’s not humbling, I don’t know what is. But every time we try something new we learn something along the way that points us in a better direction and helps to keep us motivated to achieve the ultimate success of a new treatment option.
It goes without saying that attempting to find treatments for such devastating diseases requires high dedication and resilience. “We had some remarkable studies that didn’t make it all the way,” says Schoepp. “One of the compounds that I was most proud of failed in the last stage of phase III. That was probably the most devastating moment of my career, since it was something that I discovered with my own two hands.”
Nevertheless, Dr. Schoepp remains hopeful. “I’m proud of the many good people I have worked with over the years and thankful to participate in so many great projects with them. I’m also proud of my science, which has contributed to fundamental knowledge of the brain and brain disease that provides a larger foundation for the field of neuroscience research. Our industry can do things that others are not really positioned to do and in this way greatly impact human health.”