Peter Kim joins the Board of Scientific Advisors

July 30, 2015

The JCC welcomes Peter Kim to the BSA this year. “I have thought very highly of the Jane Coffin Childs organization for many years, and certainly believe in its mission to identify and support the best scientists,” says Kim, who recently joined the Stanford University faculty, where he earned his PhD.

Before returning to Stanford, Kim spent a decade as president of Merck Research Laboratories. In this role, he was responsible for Merck’s research and devel- opment activities and led a large number of teams consisting of chemists, biologists, engineers, statisticians and physicians. Several major products were approved by the FDA under his leadership, including Januvia, the first DPP4 inhibitor for type- 2 diabetes; Isentress, the first integrase inhibitor for HIV infec- tion; and Gardasil, the first HPV vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer, a disease affect- ing more than 500,000 women worldwide annually.

Now at Stanford as a professor of Biochemistry and member of the new Chemistry, Engineering, and Medicine for Human Health (ChEM-H) Institute, Kim is pursuing the creation of an HIV vaccine, a project he started at MIT, where he was formerly a Whitehead Fellow and faculty member. To infect a cell, HIV’s envelope must fuse with the target cell’s membrane. Kim’s plan is to elicit antibodies with
a vaccine that interfere with a vulnerable, intermediate state (called the pre-hairpin intermedi- ate) just prior to membrane fusion. An approved drug (Fuzeon) targets this same intermediate and provides human validation
for the molecular target of Kim’s approach.

“There are scientific and techni- cal issues we must solve, but we have a foothold,” he says.

Kim says he’s often asked how a postdoc should prepare for a career in industry as opposed to academia. For senior positions at Merck, he says, management and leadership skills are key. “Making a drug requires teamwork and expertise in wide and diverse areas,” he says. “It’s important to be able to work with a team.” But for scientific positions, he says, the criteria for candidates are no different from academia: a strong publication track record, training with quality mentors, and outstanding communication skills. These skills are required in industry, as they are in academia.