Atomwise is comprised of a world-class team of diverse disciplines internally referred to as "Atoms." In this Atom Spotlight, we sit down for a Q&A session with Benjamin Samudio, PhD, a member of our Computer-Aided Drug Design (CADD) Scientist Team.
Ben joined Atomwise after his extensive background which includes serving as a medic in the U.S. Air Force, obtaining a Ph.D. in computational chemistry at UC Davis, undertaking research at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and teaching as a professor of chemistry.
I am a computer-aided drug design scientist at Atomwise. I use computational methods, such as artificial intelligence (AI), to help design new and better medicines. My team and I work with research scientists all over the world towards finding potential cures for a variety of diseases, including rare and neglected diseases that may have few if any treatment options. It is truly gratifying to help find and advance treatments to address some of the same diseases I saw in patients during my time as a medic.
I have always been a scientist at heart. The adventure of learning and expanding what we know is ever alluring. Growing up my family had to tolerate my constant questions, need to explore and experiments. When I was seven, my father passed away from leukemia. His loss devastated my family. It was then that I began to hone my interest in science towards applications in medicine. As a medic in the Air Force, I cared for military personnel and their dependents. This experience profoundly impressed upon me the need for new and better medicines. Consider for a moment the advances which have been made in so many fields using computers. For example, planes are now routinely tested as models in advanced computer simulations as part of their design. This has arguably helped to make air travel safer and more efficient than ever before. The same paradigm shift is occurring in the discovery of medicines. With incredible advances in data acquisition and the potential to improve patient lives, computers are becoming indispensable to finding promising new cures. At Atomwise, we develop and use powerful computational models to greatly expand and scale the drug discovery process. I am humbled yet brimming with excitement at what we are achieving together.
The biggest surprise for me is how quickly I have come to feel at home at Atomwise. I’ve worked in a variety of jobs, each with their own appealing aspects, but at Atomwise a diverse background and strong drive are most welcomed, valued and applicable. I have the privilege of collaborating with some of the most talented and dedicated professionals in our field towards addressing one of the most difficult challenges of our time. Yet, for all of their achievements, my colleagues are warm, sincere and accessible. I feel that we are united in advancing the leading-edge of drug discovery, and our ultimate vision to benefit patients.
After my father passed away, my mother, being the superhuman that she is, lovingly raised my brother and me in the midst of deep socioeconomic challenges. I was the first in my family to attend a four-year university. Though I wanted very much to be a career scientist, at the start I was intimidated, unsure of myself and struggling. I will forever be grateful to those very kind mentors who invested their time and compassion in helping me. With time, I built confidence and went on to achieve a Ph.D. in computational chemistry at UC Davis. Through my experiences, I have become an advocate for medical accessibility and education. When I was a professor, I created a program in which undergraduate students designed ideas for new medicines that could fight diseases as part of their chemistry curriculum. They shared their ideas through an open access online platform as part of a crowdsourced medical innovation effort. In 2018, I was awarded a fellowship through the Sustainable Horizons Institute and Berkeley Lab. Through this opportunity, I mentored community college students from underrepresented backgrounds to undertake research projects applying AI to drug discovery. We used supercomputers at Berkeley Lab to study a critical protein in coronaviruses and conceive of ways to stop it from working. Even now at Atomwise I continue to mentor students and collaborate with my colleagues and partners to bolster the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Always be full of wonder, challenge your thinking and never quit. The path of applying science to finding medicine can be tough, but I believe that it is very worthwhile and fulfilling. On the technical side, no matter what your specialty, I suggest learning a scripting language such as Python. I can’t tell you the number of times that knowing how to code has come in handy. I also recommend multidisciplinary learning and being involved in a wide variety of activities. On a daily basis, I interact with wonderful colleagues from a diversity of backgrounds. Experience in different settings can give you a rich language from which to broker connections and implement solutions. The ability to think and communicate across specialties is essential as the challenges we face become increasingly interdisciplinary. On the personal side, I advise keeping that which motivates you always near, especially during the inevitable difficulties. For me, having cared for patients - remembering their stories and faces - propels me to do everything that I can to help alleviate suffering. My heroes are those medical researchers and practitioners who are fighting to keep us safe and healthy. I am honored to work at Atomwise towards building more powerful tools for our team. I am also inspired by teachers and students. They will advance science and medicine in ways we can only begin to imagine. Finally, never ever give up. Through perseverance, the world will know and benefit from the gift that is you and your contributions.
Ben was recently invited to participate in a panel discussion through UC Berkeley's Master of Molecular Science and Software Engineering (MSSE) program, a program designed to formally train students in computational science and data science. The Journeys to Data Science event provided their audience with the panelists' own journeys to their careers, while sharing tips on what makes candidates stand out in their respective fields.
View the panel discussion recording:
Our team is comprised of over 40 PhD scientists who contribute to a high-performance academic-like culture that fosters robust scientific and technical excellence. We strongly believe that data wins over opinions, and aim for as little dogma as possible in our decision making. Learn more about our team and opportunities at Atomwise.
Stay up to date on new blog posts.