Interview with Brian Shoichet

Q: What do you do in your work?

A: We’re interested in structure-based ligand discovery, discovering new molecules to modulate drug targets, and trying to "de-orphanize" receptors in the body. There are a lot of receptors that we know exist and where they exist, but we don’t know what they do. So we’re trying to discover molecules that will help us understand what they do.

Q: What’s your favorite part about being a scientist?

A: Working with other scientist. I like talking with them about ideas and hanging out. 

Q: What have you created or discovered that you are most proud of?

A: I think one of the most surprising things that we worked on was this phenomenon among drugs and other molecules where they form these fat droplets and solution, and everyone thinks of molecules as floating free in solution, but many of them will clump together to form these oil droplets. And when they do that their properties change completely. They do that because there are molecular forces that drive them together. No one knew about it; we discovered it, and it’s now called the fourth state of matter: it changes the properties of drugs. So it was very surprising, we didn’t even know what we were looking for but we knew there was something weird going on. 

Q: At the end of the day, why does your work matter?

A: We are discovering molecules that are changing drug molecules to treat pain, depression, behavioral disorders and states of mind.

Q: Outside of work, what do you do to relax?

A: I like to ski. The best skiing in the world is four hours away...well maybe not best in the world, but pretty good. And I’m a city boy, so I like to go to big cities and traveling around. 

Q: What situation do you think you’d feel the most out-of-place in?

A: If I’m at a conference with a lot of salespeople. I don’t like people that much. 

Q: In 100 years, what do you want to be remembered for?

A: For the scientific discoveries. I’m like any scientist in some respect; we’re most excited about what we're working on right now. We’re only as well thought of/ famous as our last experiment, paper or grant. The half life of scientific notoriety is very short. And the half life of a scientist’s attention span is very short. So I think I’m very excited about what I’m working on right now: a big effort to expand the number of molecules that we have access to. Right now it’s limited to about 3 and a half million that people start drug discovery projects with, and we’re trying to expand it to over 4 billion. So it’s an idea we’re working very actively on.