Jeff Sachs | Distinguished Scientist
Merck & Co., Inc.
Rahway, New Jersey, U.S. (hybrid/remote)
Department: Quantitative Pharmacology and Pharmacometrics, a.k.a. “QP2”
Education: B.S. Applied Mathematics, Brown University, M.S. Applied Mathematics, Brown University, Ph.D. Mathematics, MIT, American Course on Drug Development and Regulatory Sciences (ACDRS) Certification, University of California, San Francisco
Career stage: Mid
What do you do?
I am responsible for modeling and simulation for discovery and development of vaccines. We have a team of project leads who are also modelers from a variety of backgrounds including econometrics, chemical engineering, pharmacometrics, statistics, and math.
We collaborate with scientists across basic (discovery or “in vivo”) and clinical (human) biology, infectious disease, virology, and immunology; with statisticians, epidemiologists, toxicologists; and with experts on clinical operations, regulations, and manufacturing. Our work involves designing experiments (test-tube, animal, and clinical trials), analyzing the data, helping interpret the results, and supporting resulting decisions on dose, regimen, and whether or not to move a program forward to the next phase. We all need to know enough of the biology, clinical science and strategy, and regulatory requirements to allow fluid, two-way communication—devoid of math-speak or equations—with all our colleagues and with senior leadership in the organization.
What types of skills do you use?
We need communication, computational, mathematical, statistical, and scientific skills to do our jobs! We do a lot of modeling with differential equations coupled to stochastic modeling, comparing simulated experiment designs, and collaborative interpretation of results.
What are the pros and/or cons of your profession/job?
Pros: For many of us, the most rewarding thing is having a substantial impact on human health. Our simulations have helped decisions to go forward with programs that are protecting people’s health; made prophylaxis (prevention of an infectious disease) even easier and more widely available; enabled clinical trials that advanced science toward protecting against other diseases; and driven “no-go” decisions that have saved the company over $1 billion, enabling those resources to be routed to other projects.
I also find it very rewarding to publish, as this helps understand what is high quality/novel and provides other valuable feedback. It also helps get our results and methods into the hands of others who can build on them to improve the lives of people and animals.
It is also a great and pleasurable privilege to mentor. It gives me such a great feeling to help someone succeed by supporting their decisions on what to prioritize and which skills to develop. career path.
What career path did you take to your current position?
My childhood love of math, science, and biology has, through great luck, made me employable doing something fulfilling and useful. My career path was planned with certainty from college (or before), but then changed, without plan or anticipation: academic → government → technical consulting → pharmaceutical IT research → pharmacometrician in infectious diseases, oncology, and then vaccines.
What advice would you give to someone pursuing a similar degree or profession?
Study everything that interests you (and some pragmatic things that don’t). Demonstrate that you are really interested in these things through your actions (courses taken, publications, certificates, knowledge displayed). Examples of “pragmatic things” include data visualization principles, how to give a presentation valuable to technical and non-technical audiences, basics of at least one interpreted procedural language and at least one object-oriented language, at least basic probability and stats, and at least one application domain: engineering, biology, materials, animation, computer science, economics/finance, AI, natural language processing, etc.
Was there anything that surprised you when you started out in your career?
Intellect, for example quantitative or other technical skills, is only table stakes. True success requires deep human interaction, empathy to understand what people/teams really need, and a sincere caring about people. Quality and speed of results come only after that.
Has SIAM played a role in helping you build your career?
I have gotten at least two of my jobs (including my current one) through SIAM conferences.
Starting positions for individuals with a Ph.D. can have compensation above $100K.
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