Reactions: Peter Shapland


Peter Shapland is in the Second Generation department of Product Development, GlaxoSmithKline and works on developing new approaches to existing and late stage medicines to improve sustainability, minimise waste, and enhance cost of goods. If significant cost of goods reductions can be achieved this could enable greater access to these products.

1. What made you want to be a chemist?

My original intention was to become a veterinary surgeon as I always wanted to use my scientific leaning to help improve the lives of living creatures. Things didn’t work out that way and chemistry was a back up that turned out to suit my way of thinking far better. I’ve always enjoyed solving puzzles and chemistry has always rewarded my efforts to solve the puzzles it poses. Fortunately, working in the pharmaceutical business allows me to satisfy my desire to help people through my work.

2. If you weren’t a chemist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?

I really have no idea but I would like to think it would involve using my hands to create something.

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

The 2nd Generation API group at GSK has been tasked with working on new approaches to medicines to enhance access, increase sustainability and minimise waste through innovation and this is a hugely exciting challenge. Improving the “greenness” of our processes is obviously appealing but, for me, the challenge to get anti-virals to many more HIV/AIDS patients around the world is a real motivation. Millions of people cannot afford these life-extending medicines at present so lowering the costs of production should enable many more people to be successfully treated.

4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?

Lucius Annaeus Seneca. The conversation could include “stoicism versus other philosophical schools” or just back-stabbing gossip about Caligula, Claudius and Nero, whom he advised. He was an astute political mover who thought deeply about what makes people tick.

5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?

Last week: It was a Functional Group Interconversion on a steroid (sorry, can’t be more specific). I really like working with steroids as, for a synthetic chemist, they’re highly satisfying molecules to work with. Their rigid structure that is used to teach stereochemistry to graduate students always seems to throw up some unexpected non-trivial result that is exciting to understand. A tendency to crystallise also gains them significant favour with me.

6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?

I’ve just started reading Eihei Dogen’s “Shobogenzo” so would take that and I’d listen to “The Tired Sounds Of …” by Stars of the Lid.

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

I’m going to nominate a couple. Firstly, I’ll suggest Professor Makoto Fujita. I’ve enjoyed his work for a number of years and, while I’ve never done anything similar, I find it fascinating. He is a wonderful speaker who can communicate his work with exceptional clarity. Secondly, I’ll suggest Derek Lowe whose In The Pipeline blog is essential reading.