Science Policy Career: Combating Antibiotic Resistance

April 17, 2019

Dr. Wes Kim is a senior officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts and leads the innovation work on the Antibiotic Resistance Project. His work involves developing and advancing research and policies to support the discovery and development of urgently needed, new antibiotics. Kim describes his career of intersecting public health and science policy.

Transitioning from Science to Consulting

During his graduate studies in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Kim studied cancer biology. However, Kim’s passion for interdisciplinary learning was stronger than basic science alone. As he describes it, "I wanted to have a real impact in people’s lives." After obtaining his Ph.D., he worked at a small biotech company that focused on cancer research. He gained exposure to product development, and business-related aspects such as strategic partnerships and financial analyses. Then, Kim had a keen interest in exploring the business side of Research & Development. After talking to his mentor, he decided to pursue management consulting. Kim started at a boutique consulting firm where business and science merged, tackling both preparedness for bioterrorism and development of medicines for tropical and neglected infectious diseases. "I was constantly learning new concepts and meeting very smart, highly dedicated people who were passionate about public health. It was infectious! I continued working as a consultant for 10 years," Kim said. Although he enjoyed consulting, he wanted a career shift which led him to his current position at Pew.

A Science Policy Perspective to Combating Antibiotic Resistance

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Antibiotic Resistance Project tackles three key aspects: human stewardship, animal stewardship, and innovation. The latter is led by Kim and focuses on revitalizing the antibiotics pipeline. As an impartial third party, The Pew Charitable Trusts aims to provide high-quality independent research, and advocates for public policies and federal funding for programs that address the economic and scientific obstacles impeding antibiotic discovery and development. Additionally, Kim’s team promotes and facilitates free data-sharing and collaborations among researchers worldwide through Pew’s Shared Platform for Antibiotics Research & Knowledge (SPARK). SPARK gives access to compound libraries with physiochemical properties and biological assay data for Gram-negative pathogens. The computational modeling and trend analyses tools within SPARK allow users to assess cellular entry and target inhibition. Since SPARK’s launch, companies like Achaogen and Novartis have contributed data from their discontinued antibiotics programs, and Pew is continuing to source. To date, nearly 500 users have registered, representing more than 55 countries. "My day-to-day responsibilities are broad in scope and fast-paced. Each day is unique. Although understanding science is important, so is our work convening and connecting people to solve problems underlying the growing threat of antibiotic resistance," Kim described. "One day I could be discussing data contributions to SPARK, and the next day, I’m on Capitol Hill advocating for more antibiotic R&D funding," he said.

The Value of a Ph.D.

"Apart from the scientific knowledge, one of the most useful things I learned during graduate school was how to think critically and to problem-solve efficiently. In every job since then, I go through a thought process that involves a hypothesis and proof points," Kim stated. He also reinforces the value of learning how to manage relationships. "During my graduate work, I had to work collaboratively. This taught me how to manage work relationships, which has been essential for my career," he said.

Advice for a Career Beyond Basic Science

At a high level, Kim recommends building a personal brand that aligns with your career interests. "You have to think how you are going to pitch yourself. And this depends on what career path you want to pursue," Kim said. He strongly advocates for interdisciplinary learning. "To me, professional growth is only possible when you expose yourself to new challenges, and that means moving beyond your comfort zone. I’d urge anyone who wants to shift to science policy to seek new experiences. If you are a scientist, you are probably inquisitive by nature. Use that curiosity to learn from the people around you," he stated. Another skill Kim considers essential is the ability to communicate effectively with a wide range of audiences. "You have to grab people’s attention quickly. This involves delivering information in a way that focuses on the audience’s interests - what do they care about?" Kim emphasized.

Author: Natalia Martin, Ph.D.

Natalia Martin, Ph.D.
Dr. Natalia Martin is a trained microbiologist turned project manager for the American Chemical Society in the Graduate Students & Postdoctoral Scholars Office.