Fellows: Career Profile

Dr. Matt Breyer - The Nephrologist in Industry

Dr. Matt Breyer

I have had two parts to my career in Nephrology: academia and industry. Following a lab-bench oriented nephrology research fellowship at University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, I moved to Vanderbilt University in 1985 for my first faculty position in the department of medicine and division of nephrology. There is little more exciting than an experimental discovery!

I was on faculty at Vanderbilt for 21 years and had an extremely satisfying career, using molecular techniques and knockout mice to study how prostaglandins, COX1 and COX2 activity regulate kidney function. Also through our experience with mouse models, I became interested in whether we could use them to develop cures for diabetic nephropathy.

In 2006 I had an opportunity to move to Eli Lilly and Company to help develop drugs to treat diabetic kidney disease. Normally I ignored inquires from pharma for job opportunities (because I already loved what I was doing) but this was very appealing to me – one that allowed me to discover novel kidney targets in animals – and also provided the new opportunity of seeing these targets translate into medicines. So much to the surprise of my family and colleagues, I accepted the job. It has been a re-energizing move! However with it came with a sense of loss of my academic lab and the twenty years of developing a very productive and fun group of collaborators at Vanderbilt. However, Life is change, and I'll note that the more one succeeds in any endeavor, the more distant one becomes from "hands on work". I guess twenty years at any job is a good run.

The two cultures of academia and industry are quite different. In academia one strikes out on one's own and is fully able to share ideas, results and excitement with the external world. In industry, everyone works together, but because of the proprietary nature of the discoveries, external sharing is more limited. Still interaction with the rest of the world is critical so I still go to meetings and participate in academic reviews and meet with lots of companies that have novel drugs. The corporation is a microcosm of the academic community; it's like working with all your colleagues, grant and manuscript reviewers under the same roof. Also the teams within the corporate walls are very tight, everyone needs to have a common purpose and when things go well, everyone shares in a common excitement. Especially since the translation of discovery into the clinic is so tangible. I also find that when I make rounds in the hospital (which Lilly graciously allows) that my clinical experience is much more closely linked to the bench-work I supervise than it was in academia. To further compare the two, I'd liken the academic lab to a speedboat – you can't go as far, but you can get to each destination fast. Pharma is an ocean liner and it takes every hand to navigate a new molecule into the clinic. You'd better be persistent, patient and ready for rough seas.

Whatever your career choice, pursue your passion and strive for excellence in everything you do! For me, medical science has been a fantastic career. I have fantastic colleagues, and have made great friends. I wouldn't trade the fun of this of being part of either enterprise for any other career!