Developing Discovery

Camille Williams likes the inherent discovery of chemistry.

“I always thought that the interaction between drug and body and body and drug is really fascinating,” said Williams of her inspiration to work in pharmaceuticals.

After graduating in May, Williams joined Eli Lilly & Company, a pharmaceutical company in Indianapolis, as part of a two-year rotational program in their molecular innovation hub. She will be working on drug development and discovery of small and large molecules. Williams first joined Eli Lilly as an intern in the summer of 2019. She worked on small molecule drug discovery for immunology work.

“I really liked learning … how changing one small thing on your molecule has all these different properties that you’re using to achieve an intended biological effect,” she said.

Her interest in the interplay of biology and chemistry further evolved in her classes at Carnegie Mellon.

In the fall of 2019, Williams took an immunoengineering course in the Biomedical Engineering Department. She most enjoyed the application of her organic chemistry background to real-world problems and learning more about the biology side of drug discovery. But she adds that her favorite class at Carnegie Mellon brought another layer to these interests. That same semester, Williams took Professor Bruce Armitage’s Chemistry of Addiction course. The class not only dissects the molecular synthesis of drugs and how they affect the body but also focuses on the societal facets of drug addiction and how that affects society and public policy.

“I remember asking myself how can morphine and heroin be so structurally similar but have such different applications and connotations in society?” Williams said as she recalls having to learn how each drug is synthesized.

“I always joke that my class will ruin your search history,” said Armitage. Through the course, he wants students to gain an understanding not only of addiction from a molecular level but also how chemistry affects our lives in very real ways.

As a Science and Humanities Scholar, Williams agrees. She likes being able to take a step back from her technical knowledge and look at things from a different perspective. “There is a world bigger than being in the lab,” she said.

Wanting to explore that world led Williams to study abroad during her junior year in Nice, France. In lieu of taking chemistry classes, she explored subjects like sociology, business and marketing. “It made me realize that I really like technical classes and learning about chemistry and I really missed that. It was confirmation that I was in the right major doing the things that interest me,” Williams noted.

“There is a world bigger than being in the lab.”

As a dedicated student-athlete at CMU, William’s favorite experience abroad was joining the semi-pro soccer team, AS Monaco FF. “That was my full cultural immersion. I couldn’t always communicate with everyone, but I grew a lot as a person and became more confident in handling the unexpected,” she said.

At CMU, Williams has served as captain for the women’s soccer team for three years, leading them to the 2019 NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer National Semifinal for the first time in school history.

“I learned that I am a leader but also a member of a team. So, I tried to lead in a way where I am an equal but also where I am taking charge,” Williams said. The experience helped her become an effective communicator and someone who wasn’t afraid to challenge herself.

She’s particularly excited to use such skills to tackle large molecule drug development when she returns to Eli Lily. “We don’t know as much about large molecule drug development. It’s a lot newer, but it holds a lot of promise for the future of medicine,” she said. And that open door for discovery is exactly what excites her.


♦ by Emily Payne