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Episode 3:
Lily Liou, Kyowa Hakko Kirin California *1

The name of Kyowa Hakko Kirin California, Inc. changed to Kyowa Kirin Pharmaceutical Research, Inc. in April 2016.

After obtaining my Ph.D., I pursued my interest in viral immunology at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) investigating host defense to viruses, and other virus-related host factors. My desire to join a pharmaceutical company stemmed from my aspiration to apply my research in developing drugs to cure diseases, and I was attracted to Kyowa Hakko Kirin California (KKC) by the strong historical collaboration with La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LJI), and its unique translational research environment. The LJI faculty members contribute a lot of ideas and share enthusiasm for our projects. KKC’s location in the University of California San Diego Science Research Park at La Jolla also allows for fruitful partnerships with the leading hospitals and research centers nearby.

One project I was involved in right after joining KKC was a collaboration study with KHK, where I really felt closeness and a shared culture between the research sites. KKC is a base for global networking on translational research for KHK, and the combination of partnerships with local institutes as well as collaboration with the highly-knowledgeable KHK scientists in Japan gives us a unique advantage. Within KHK, I think there are greater possibilities to work with a wide range of people that brings greater learning opportunities. We have close interaction and know many scientists at different research sites of KHK, which spurs excellent collaboration, and when we need help with something people are always willing to get involved.

After being with the company for a while, the focus of my work shifted to autoimmune diseases, which is a priority area in KHK. In the highly competitive pharmaceutical market there are still unmet needs in immune-related diseases such as autoimmune diseases, where with the existing medications in the market most patients respond only partially or for a limited period of time, and there has been a great deal of investment recently to initiate translational research to better understand the complex pathogenesis of immune system malfunction, such as by investigating clinical samples in collaboration with academic research institutes. There is also a trend toward using a patient-centric approach for the early stages of drug discovery to stratify patient populations through data mining to enable the provision of tailored medication. Foreseeing these developments, KKC has been working with KHK on pioneering translational research into autoimmune diseases, based upon its strong translational research foundations, further strengthening the collaboration with KHK scientists and really bringing together the teams at KKC and KHK.

The data generated by our translational research are analyzed by KKC and KHK bioinformaticians before being entered into a database, which can then be accessed and used by all scientists in KKC and throughout KHK. The comprehensive analysis with multiple parameters in this database accelerates the identification of new therapeutic targets and increases the effectiveness of our drug pipelines. We aim to have a list of hits within this year, from which we will propose stage up of targets by the end of the year that will then enter the development pipeline.

The work we are doing through this research will accelerate the development of effective drugs for autoimmune disease, which will ultimately benefit patients. There are many patients with autoimmune diseases all over the world, so by developing better medicine through our translational research we can bring widespread benefit to society, reducing people’s pain and suffering and also saving lives. The “Commitment to Life” includes the line “Don’t just make medicine. Make people smile, bring light to their lives.” This is what keeps driving me forward every day in my work.

At KKC, I work with a great team that is focused, efficient, and friendly, working hard in a positive environment with a lot of close collaboration. There are regular teleconferences with KHK colleagues to share information and discuss our results, and when KHK scientists come to the US to visit or to attend conferences, we get the opportunity for deeper discussions on the progress of our research. These brainstorming discussions and information sharing with other scientists from groups with different areas of focus bring in alternative ideas that often generate additional seeds for research. Our close collaboration and internal information sharing also catalyzes and accelerates activities to keep up to date with the current trends and literature on novel drug targets and unmet needs in the pharmaceutical market.

The autoimmune drugs we are working on have huge potential to grow KHK’s position in the market in the longer term. It is a long road ahead, but we are starting from a very strong position and I believe we will get very good targets. Our close-knit collaboration throughout KHK globally enables us to achieve great results, so there is much to look forward to in the future.


The name of Kyowa Hakko Kirin California, Inc. changed to Kyowa Kirin Pharmaceutical Research, Inc. in April 2016.

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