Sitting down with… Jerome Guillemont, NovAliX

Lu Rahman speaks to Dr Jerome Guillemont, Head of Drug Discovery at NovAliX, a drug discovery contract research organisation. Guillemont brings a wealth of experience in drug discovery to this role, having spent more than thirty years in pharmaceutical companies, working on numerous drug candidates. He is in charge of leading new research projects with the drug discovery team.

Guillemont  is a medicinal chemist with over 30 years’ experience in the design of biologically active novel molecules. He received his PhD in organic chemistry at the University of Rouen (France) in 1989, joining Janssen-Cilag France as a medicinal chemist. Guillemont rose to senior scientific director in the Janssen-Cilag European research teams. Previously, he oversaw the medicinal chemistry teams of the Val-de-Reuil Research Center in France. Working on GI, antibacterial and antiviral projects, he and his team delivered many new molecular entities (NMEs).

Guillemont cites his main achievements as project leader, together with his team, were the discoveries of Edurant (rilpivirine) as a new nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor for HIV, and Sirturo (bedaquiline) as a new antituberculosis agent – both of which are now available for patients and the medical community.

LR: You will be in charge of leading new research projects – can you elaborate on this please?

JG: NovAliX is a premium contract research organisation with expertise in biophysics and chemistry. The addition of a dedicated drug discovery group with very experienced scientists is a great opportunity for NovAliX to combine all this expertise and technology. This group – along with the chemoinformatic platform, will reinforce the strength of NovAliX in drug-design and will offer new scientific approaches for partners.

NovAliX is a perfect example of teamwork and perseverance; over time its group of enthusiastic individuals has assembled a sound collection of technologies.

With the integration of innovative technologies, including its DNA-encoded library platform, combined with its advanced structural biology capabilities, such as cryo-EM; all the pieces of the puzzle required to succeed in drug discovery are now available.

LR: What are you looking forward to in your new role in particular? 

JG: My role will consist of levering my pharmaceutical experience within the NovAliX environment; building synergies and developing interactions between the discovery team that I lead and other scientific departments at NovAliX.

Another objective is to accelerate the implementation of AI tools in our process – to improve the speed of execution and efficiency in decision making for medicinal chemists during discovery phases (hit finding, hit to lead and lead optimisation).

Ultimately, my ambition is to guide and mentor a group of talented scientists, propose novel projects, support internal discovery teams and above all, contribute to the success of partners’ therapeutic research programs.

LR: What interests and excites you about the CRO sector and NovAliX in particular?

JG: NovAliX is an agile, productive and innovative research organisation serving start-ups and pharmaceutical companies in the fields of biophysics, biology and chemistry. Based on these three pillars, its portfolio of platforms is available for our clients, including cryo-EM, DNA-encoded libraries, fragment screening and chemoinformatics.

CROs have played an increasing role in research for the pharmaceutical industry; as such, my objective and that of NovAliX is to form a group of world-class experts in medicinal chemistry, to strengthen all the skills and knowledge collectively acquired over more than 20 years.

With its integration of this medicinal chemistry team, NovAliX is now ready to provide new collaborative offers, notably in its development of drug discovery projects from hit finding to lead optimisation. This is a fantastic opportunity for the medicinal chemistry team and me to build and be part of this adventure in an entrepreneurial setting.

LR: You mention combining the biophysical with chemobiological – can you tell us more about this and why you are interested in this area of science? How can it be put to its best potential use in drug discovery?

JG: First and foremost, over the last 20 years, I have witnessed within the pharma sector the tremendous impact on the drug discovery workflow of biophysics, structural biology and chemobiology. They have really enabled the advent of new drugs.

As an academic spin-off from a structural biology group, NovAliX has been, from its inception, very familiar with the field, and it has nurtured this heritage resulting in its current outstanding platform.

I am a ‘small molecule’ scientist; biophysics and structural biology are providing key information for the design of better compounds. DEL, for instance, is allowing us to build larger libraries and to explore a wider chemical space.

Drug discovery research certainly has a circular loop component. Therefore, co-locations, combinations and coordination of all these capabilities and their teams, are critical to the success of our programs. This makes things both challenging and interesting.

LR: How has the CRO market been affected by the pandemic?

JG: There is a strong appetite – even more than ever – for outsourced research capacities. There is also an obvious need for further therapeutic innovation. The pandemic did not affect the fundamental drivers behind the industry, but restrictions certainly affected the operational capacity of research centres and it did slow down research projects.

The pandemic may also have a more long-term impact on the sourcing landscape, as management may redesign supply chains to build more resilient organisations.

LR: Where do you see the challenges and opportunities for the CRO market in the coming years?

JG: Within a research landscape of ever-increasing scientific and technological complexity, CROs such as NovAliX have a growing role in the innovation process. We have to take the helm in certain areas, maturing our new technologies which improve drug discovery outcomes i.e., lower attrition. That is a great opportunity for us, although it carries the challenge of having to make the appropriate choices.

Another challenging aspect could be managing the flexibility that is required by the industry, with readily available capacities to respond to a volatile demand.

About the author

Jerome Guillemont is a medicinal chemist with over 30 years’ experience in pharmaceutical companies, working on numerous drug candidates. He oversaw the medicinal chemistry teams of the Val-de-Reuil Research Center in France where he and his team delivered many NMEs. In December 2020, Dr. Guillemont joined NovAliX as head of drug discovery.

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