Drs. Eirum Chaudhri and Eliav Barr have worked together at MSD for many years in drug discovery. Learn more about why they find working on chronic hepatitis C so exciting, and what it takes to innovate.

Q. What led you to a career in medical science?

ELIAV: I come from a medical family; my father was a physician and my mother a nurse. I always liked the science of medicine and imagined I would be working in cardiovascular clinical medicine. A phone call, 20 years ago, from a leader in MSD Research Laboratories changed that. He offered an opportunity to work in pharmaceutical drug development. At a company like MSD -- with a critical mass of scientific knowledge, financial resources and logistics know-how -- we're able to develop and test new compounds, and build a pipeline of medicines that can really make a difference in many people's lives around the world.

EIRUM: I was attracted to gastroenterology and hepatology because each is a great combination of "doing" and "thinking." You do endoscopic procedures to treat bleeding ulcers or remove polyps, but you're also presented with complex conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or autoimmune hepatitis that require you to put on your thinking cap to make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. As a physician, you help one patient at a time. If you can remove a pre-cancerous polyp, you may be saving that person from developing colon cancer. In pharma, you don't have that direct physician-patient interaction, but you have the ability to make a difference on a much larger scale. I find it incredibly gratifying.

Q. INNOVATION IS THE CORNERSTONE OF DRUG DISCOVERY. WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO INNOVATE?

ELIAV: Innovation requires a strong scientific base, a clear understanding of the problem. There has to be a feeling of restlessness to recognize that the status quo is unacceptable, and then some arrogance that you can do something about the problem. It requires a willingness to tackle entrenched opinion, think in new ways, confront your own fears about what's comfortable and what's uncomfortable. Innovation happens in an environment that fosters those feelings in team members; real innovation happens when we will not be satisfied with small improvements to the status quo. Throughout my career, I have met peers who share a fundamental unwillingness to accept that what we have is as good as it's going to get.

EIRUM: Beyond the compound, it's the people and their passion that actually drive progress and innovation. Whether they are working in R&D, medical affairs, marketing or any other area, there is a culture of focus and commitment to literally making lives better. It is a collective vision, working closely together to cross the finish line, to bring new medicines to market, to make them a reality.

Q. ACCORDING TO THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, CHRONIC HEPATITIS IS A MAJOR HEALTH THREAT. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY?

ELIAV: HCV [hepatitis C virus] infection is a blood-borne disease. People become infected when exposed to contaminated blood products or contaminated syringes or injection equipment. The incidence of HCV infection (then known as non-A/non-B hepatitis) prior to 1965 was low; however, the rate increased steadily into the 1980s. In 1988, HCV was identified and blood supply screening for HCV became available in 1992. People got infected and usually didn't know it because the acute infection is typically asymptomatic. After prolonged infection, 20 to 25 years, or so, people were presenting with advanced liver damage, which can lead to cirrhosis and eventually even liver failure or liver cancer. A huge cohort of baby boomers got infected, didn't know it, are gradually getting diagnosed and finding their disease is so advanced that they are approaching a crisis point. The clock is ticking on this problem.

EIRUM: Chronic HCV infection tends to progress slowly. It may take as many as 3 decades for a person to manifest the symptoms of end-stage liver disease. As Eliav explained, there are large numbers of people just now getting a diagnosis.

Q. WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU PERSONALLY?

ELIAV: I have a real passionate desire to improve international public health – working with scientific leaders, countries and governments, patient groups and politicians to understand health problems. MSD as a company addresses major health needs. We may be able to fundamentally impact human health by applying science to develop new therapies and treatment approaches.

EIRUM: I can imagine a time when chronic hepatitis C may be a curable illness for the majority of patients around the world. In the 1980s, the disease was only defined as non-A/non-B hepatitis. Since then, there have been tremendous advances in both the diagnosis and treatment of chronic hepatitis C. It is the pace of innovation that makes working on chronic hepatitis C so exciting for me.

Facts about Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by chronic hepatitis C virus infection.

Liver

When symptoms are present, the disease can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong condition that can lead to liver damage including cirrhosis of the liver.

Blood

The hepatitis C virus is transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person.

Globe

Approximately 130-170 million people globally have been infected with the hepatitis C virus, generally with a chronic form of the disease. Most don’t know it.

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