Dr. Marie-Claire Peakman always knew she wanted to make a difference in the world. Her aptitude for science was apparent from an early age, and her interest in medicine evolved from her experience volunteering at a local hospital. Initially, this interest led to a path toward medical school; however, Peakman soon found herself more intrigued by the medicines and therapies used to treat patients, and she wanted to understand how these life-saving tools worked at the molecular level.
From that point forward, Dr. Peakman’s goal shifted from practicing medicine to researching and developing new medicines. Today, she is an executive director in the department of Discovery Sciences at Pfizer.
In her role at Pfizer, Dr. Peakman leads a team of scientists who pursue advances at the earliest stages of drug discovery and development. She and her team operate at the ground floor of innovation, running models and lab experiments to test the millions, and even billions, of compounds in Pfizer’s arsenal for their ability to impact a specific disease. Once they find a promising candidate(s), the team works with Pfizer’s chemists to further optimize the compound with the goal of improving its safety and potency.
“We are the beginning of the journey,” says Dr. Peakman. “Our department works on all the small molecules that come through Pfizer’s pipeline, and after we pass them off to other teams, we excitedly follow their progress all the way, especially if the molecule is actually used to treat patients. It’s often a very long time with many disappointments, but many of us in Groton have been at Pfizer long enough to see a candidate molecule become a drug that is now helping patients. It’s incredibly rewarding.”
The Driving Force
With 20 years of experience pushing the boundaries of science at Pfizer, Dr. Peakman says she attributes her lengthy career at the company to the commitment, passion and integrity of her colleagues.
“You couldn’t work with a better group of people,” she says.
Additionally, Dr. Peakman says she is continually motivated by the vast unmet medical needs of patients that exist throughout the world, as well as the accelerating rate of scientific advancement.
“The fast pace of scientific change means there’s always something new to learn,” Dr. Peakman says. “There’s always something that we could be doing more of or something that we can be doing better and faster.”
Challenges and Collaboration
When looking ahead, Dr. Peakman says it’s the pace of discovery that excites her for the future. Changes to the ways in which scientists can access and test potential medicines in human cells have generated immense possibility for developing new therapies, due to a better understanding of how they will impact patients from the beginning. Additionally, researchers’ ability to generate more relevant cellular models and to image changes in the cells has produced vast amounts of information that is furthering the next set of big questions about medicine.
“To people who are suffering, please believe in the promise of the future and keep the hope alive that there will ultimately be a cure,” says Dr. Peakman. “Getting the right medicine to the right patient is ultimately our goal, and we work to understand what patients really want so that we can work to incorporate that into the very beginning of our discovery process.”
Throughout the highs and lows of her role, the drive to be better today than the day before pushes Dr. Peakman each day.
“If I can see we’re further ahead than we were yesterday, I have to believe we’re heading in the right direction,” she says. “There’s always a chance that tomorrow’s step could be the one that saves a life.”
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