Four Questions with Bill Guyer: Supporting Early-Career Independent Researchers to Advance Science

Stories@Gilead - October 02, 2020

During his 19 years at Gilead, Bill Guyer has seen firsthand the importance of trying to address medical and scientific challenges from all angles — internally at Gilead and by working with partners and emerging researchers around the world.

Bill, who serves as Senior Vice President and Global Head of Medical Affairs, and his team coordinate the Research Scholars Program. The program has grown over more than a decade to support researchers early in their careers and focused on unmet medical needs in areas that Gilead is also working to address.

“We believe in embracing scientists of various experiences, backgrounds and perspectives,” says Bill. “I am inspired every day by what is emerging from this program. We see the power of scientific collaboration and the importance of supporting the brightest minds.”

We caught up with Bill to learn more about the program, and where it’s headed in the future.

Q: How is Gilead’s Research Scholars Program making efforts to strategically advance scientific research?
At Gilead, we are focused on treating some of the world’s toughest diseases — and addressing unmet medical needs around the world. The areas we’re focused on require deep exploration, creative approaches and intentional investment to help push science forward at Gilead and beyond.

I’m proud of the sheer quantity and quality of the research we’ve supported. To date, we’ve awarded about $29 million to more than 200 scholars around the world. When we launched the program in 2008, we had initial awards for research on a single disease — pulmonary arterial hypertension. We’ve now grown to cover seven therapeutic areas in 26 countries, aligning with the therapeutic areas that we target here at Gilead.

Q: Why is this program important and what makes it unique?
The program is entirely independent. Each program area is overseen by an independent committee, which reviews applicants and selects the awardees. The scholars themselves own their research — they don’t need to commit anything to Gilead or give us access to their findings. Although the research areas are in line with Gilead’s targeted therapeutic areas, we designed this intentionally, to leave these promising researchers free to build on their progress in whatever way makes the most sense once they’ve completed their term as a Gilead Research Scholar.

It is important to us to create a program that enables independent researchers to explore their hypotheses in ways that benefit the broader scientific and medical communities. By investing through the Research Scholars Program, we have the opportunity to advance and uplift this community.

Q: Looking to the future, what are the priorities of the Research Scholars Program?
From the inception of the Research Scholars Program, we’ve heard from many researchers — including those who work for Gilead — just how difficult it can be to secure funding as early-career scientists. And in today’s landscape, I don’t expect that to change, unless it possibly becomes even more competitive. Our aim is to continue to help bridge this gap to provide opportunities to up-and-coming researchers and help them advance scientific progress.

As our program evolves, we want to increase its reach to more countries and into new areas of unmet medical need. We’re also prioritizing our commitment to supporting researchers from around the world because we believe diversity of thought is critical to help solve some of the toughest medical problems.

Q: What are some of the most inspiring outcomes from the program over the years?
We have seen our scholars publish their results, leading to new innovative research. They have also grown their careers from junior faculty members to professors and Research Scholars Program scientific review committee members. Many of our alumni have shared their stories and what this support early in their careers meant to them.

For example, one scholar has been working for over a decade in Tanzania, researching the connection between a common parasite and HIV and may make a significant impact on that community’s public health, and another scholar shared that the mentor he had in the program was important in his journey to become a research scientist.

We believe early-career researchers are a key piece of the broader puzzle for advancing science because they bring new perspectives to the table. I’m grateful to each and every one of our scholars for their passion and dedication to their work. They are helping shape future health outcomes for people, and transforming the way we understand, treat and possibly even cure diseases.