For 40 Under Forty honoree Christopher am Ende ’08, ’13, a career at Pfizer began in the labs at Stony Brook.
Working alongside faculty, am Ende developed an early interest in the research related to drug discovery. So, when the Department of Chemistry provided students with the opportunity to interview for a Pfizer position, it set him on a path of discovery. Today, he works as an associate research fellow for Pfizer and has over 55 scientific publications and patents.
Tell us about your journey from Stony Brook to your current role at Pfizer.
I began my research at Stony Brook in Professor Peter Tonge’s lab, developing long residence time inhibitors of InhA, a target for the treatment of M. tuberculosis. Professor Tonge’s lab sparked my interest in understanding how small molecules can perturb biological systems and how this can be applied to drug discovery. So, when the Department of Chemistry organized a recruiting trip for a Pfizer scientist to interview Stony Brook chemistry students, I jumped on the opportunity. Long story short, they offered me a position. After completing my master’s degree in Professor Tonge’s lab, I joined the neuroscience department at Pfizer in 2008 and began work on an Alzheimer’s disease target. In this position, I got to see firsthand how the drug discovery process works and the various paths and opportunities to grow a career.
It was at this point that I decided to return to Stony Brook to further my scientific education. I joined Professor Kathlyn Parker’s lab and pursued my PhD in a non-traditional manner, remaining an employee at Pfizer, and completing my research in the Pfizer labs in Groton, Connecticut. This was a great experience, as I was able to learn about drug discovery while also building my synthetic chemistry knowledge. During my time in Professor Parker’s group, I was able to complete the total synthesis of the natural product, bisabosqual A. The combination of experiences that I gained in Tonge and Parker’s labs, set me up well for my current role at Pfizer. I now lead a team focused on chemical biology and medicinal chemistry within their internal medicine department.
You were honored at Stony Brook’s Class of 2020 40 Under Forty. What did it mean for you to receive this award?
To be included in a group of awardees that have such amazing accomplishments is an honor! The fact that so many alumni are doing great things is a testament to the benefits of a Stony Brook education.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Sharing our science is one of the main ways that scientists learn from each other. It has been great working at Pfizer, where we value the importance of this and are encouraged to publish our findings. One recent publication that I was excited to share describes a new chemical reagent that we call, AISF. It is used to build sulfur(VI) fluorides, a class of chemicals with applications ranging from chemical biology to drug discovery and polymer science. The best part about this reagent is it’s a user-friendly, easy to handle solid that replaces the need for sulfuryl fluoride, a toxic gas that requires specialized equipment and training for chemists to use. AISF is now commercially available, making it possible for other researchers across academia and industry to have easy access. It has been fun seeing other scientists adopt this new reagent and use it in their chemistry. Also, knowing they are able to make these molecules more safely is very rewarding.
Your work also includes contributing to the development of a γ-secretase modulator clinical candidate for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Can you tell us more about this?
I spent the first 10 years of my career in the neuroscience department at Pfizer, working to develop new therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. My first project, right after graduating from Stony Brook in 2008, was to develop modulators of γ-secretase, a potential approach to prevent the formation of the toxic amyloid β peptides associated with the plaques that form in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. It was exciting to be part of a team that discovered a compound to potentially test one of many therapeutic hypotheses to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Also, as I have been helping the team-lead for this project, Dr. Martin Pettersson, to put together the publication describing this work, it has reminded me how many people contribute to creating a potential new drug. It really is a team effort!
Do you have an overarching goal that you’re working toward in your research?
My current position is in the internal medicine department, where we focus on developing new therapies to treat cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. I have been in this role for about two years now. Unfortunately, I can’t go into details on ongoing projects. One of my labs focuses is on chemical biology, where we are developing chemical tools to help answer questions about biology. For example, we synthesize chemical tool compounds to explore target identification and engagement, selectivity and imaging experiments. In other words, we use chemistry to determine if our compounds are interacting with the desired protein target, what proteins they may interact with to cause undesired side effects and imaging to explore the location of our molecules and proteins in a cell. What makes chemical biology interesting is that you are working at the interface of chemistry and biology and need to have a firm foundation in both disciplines to be effective. My time at Stony Brook prepared me for this since my work in Professor Tonge’s lab had a strong chemical biology focus and then in Professor Parker’s group, where I gained further experience in synthetic chemistry.
What advice would you give to a student looking to follow in your footsteps?
My biggest advice is to talk to as many people as possible with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Each person has a different path to how they got to their position, and sometimes those paths aren’t as obvious as you would think. You might also find that for your desired job, it may take a different educational experience than you realize, or you could even discover a new direction that you didn’t know existed. While it may take you out of your comfort zone to reach out to someone you may not know, you’ll find a lot of people enjoy sharing their experiences and talking about their backgrounds.