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Gene Therapy Research and Technical Operations Yukari Koya

The important thing is not what I do, but who I work with.

I want to change tomorrow for more patients through drug discovery. I have been familiar with medicine since my childhood because my father was a scientist working for a pharmaceutical company and my mother was a pharmacist. I still remember my admiration and pride for my father who worked passionately on drug research with his colleagues.

When I was in high school, genetic recombination technology was featured in the news, and I took a keen interest in genes and biotechnology. After joining the laboratory for genomics-driven drug discovery at university, I was able to do research and learn about drug development every day under the supervision of a professor with pharmaceutical company experience. In my university days, my desire to develop drugs and contribute to people around the world was getting stronger day by day, so I decided to work for a pharmaceutical company as a researcher.

I talked with employees of pharmaceutical companies during my job hunting, and a very comfortable conversation with Astellas researchers stayed in my mind. The Astellas researchers were friendly, intellectual, and cool, with a passion inside them. They also humbly talked with students, giving me confidence that I would develop my ability and enjoy working at this company.

I agree with you in thinking that you should think a lot about the size of the company, the accomplishments, and laboratory facilities during the job-hunting process, but the most important thing for me is “who I work with,” which was the clincher for me to join Astellas.

After joining Astellas, I was assigned to an antibody therapeutic research team. Since I had studied antibodies at university, and Astellas had just started research on antibodies at that time, I was appointed a theme leader during my first year at Astellas. My senior colleagues in the department listened closely to new employees and respected them as members of the team. Under these circumstances, I could work every day feeling as if I was contributing to the team. On the other hand, I fully realized the differences between research in universities and in companies early on in my career when I made a presentation on my theme in a monthly progress report meeting.

I just shared the current status as I had done when presenting study results at university, and my superior at the time said, “From your report, I cannot understand what kind of progress you have made and what you are going to do.” Firstly, the sense of speed required for research conducted by companies was faster than I expected at the time. Secondly, I had a shortsighted view of things and was unable to do research with the future in mind. What kind of value do I want to provide and what type of patient should I consider when providing such value? What kind of drug do I want to create to this end? I could learn the importance of properly building up a hypothesis, conducting evaluations, and presenting results by trying to answer these questions.

Although drug research takes much time and effort, researchers always need to steadily accumulate study results with a sense of speed with the future in mind. This research stance is still important to me.

Then I participated in several projects, and in one of these projects, the antibody I identified was investigated in a clinical study. The antibody was not commercialized and not delivered to patients around the world; however, it convinced me that I would come closer to my goal little by little while working for Astellas. Gene therapy research started by a group of people with the same aspirations has become one of the core research programs at Astellas.

We have game changers and persons who translate small changes into big opportunities at Astellas. I will promote new approaches with these people and continue to take the initiative to become a game changer with the aim of changing the future for patients someday.

Open research will change the future

Research Engine that I participate in removes the barriers between laboratories at Astellas and also encourages us to do research with external researchers and companies. This collaboration helps deepen our research knowledge, expand knowledge, and provide a multifaceted and fresh perspective. In addition, working hard together with researchers every day will offer a sense of speed in research and make the organization a place that generates change. Astellas provides a scheme and environment for people from different fields to do research positively.

Astellas provides an open research environment with varying values with its corporate vision: “On the forefront of healthcare change to turn innovative science into VALUE for patients.” Astellas researchers can witness advances in advanced science among curious researchers from inside and outside Astellas, which gives them a sense of satisfaction in that they are involved in the development of new drugs, and motivates them to grow and take on the next challenge. I think doing research with such people will make Astellas researchers enjoy their work, leading to new innovations.

Giving regard to various values and a pleasant working environment

There is change in the organization, and also change in personal circumstances. I took maternity and childcare leave in 2018. In the early days of my career, I had a one-sided and vague idea that changes in life stage would not have a positive impact on career development. I thought that I would have to decide which to choose: my job or daily life including child rearing. However, my idea changed completely after I talked with my senior colleagues and teammates.
You should not interpret the changes you experience only by yourself. Astellas has many people who are flexible in their thinking about potential changes that an individual may experience, and offers an environment in which you can share and discuss the changes with your superior, senior colleagues, and teammates.

If you tell them your “ideal,” they will always listen to you and provide support. As I wished, I returned to work in the same research field that I was engaged in before maternity leave, and I work under a discretionary system; I can get my work-life balance right and lead a fulfilling life with the support of my superior, colleagues, and family. I feel gratitude for my superior, colleagues, and teammates, and always make an effort to meet their expectations.
Astellas offers a worker-friendly system. Moreover, the company deeply understands changes in circumstances surrounding workers, and this may form the basis of the organization respecting diversity. I think you will find a pleasant working environment that can help people in various circumstances to take on challenges.

Research department introduction