Reflections from the Board – An Interview with Outgoing CCDC Inc. Board Member Joseph Donahue
May 11, 2023
Established in September 2013, CCDC Inc. is a wholly owned service-subsidiary of the CCDC, supporting our users across the Americas, with technical, scientific, and customer support.
CCDC Inc. is managed by a 5-member board of directors who drive the strategic direction ensuring continuation of excellent service to US customers and contribute to innovation and scientific advances at the CCDC.
We caught up with outgoing board member Mr. Joseph Donahue, Non-Executive Director CCDC Inc., and Chief Business Officer, AITIA, to discuss his reflections on his 3 years at the CCDC Inc., his thoughts on the future role of the CCDC, the rise of AI and deep learning tools, and advice for his successors.
How Long Have You Been a CCDC Board Member?
“I have been a Board member since April 2020, just over 3 years now. A chemist and computer scientist by education, I have known of the CCDC my entire career.”
How Is the CCDC Different Now Compared to When You First Joined?
“The CCDC’s mission of advancing structural science for the public benefit has been consistent in the 3 years that I have been directly involved with the organization. The team has been on a journey of continuous improvement, the US organization is larger, and is better integrated with the UK team. We are now able to do more with the larger team than when I joined, and we are more of a global organization.”
The CCDC’s Mission Is to Advance Structural Science for the Public Benefit. In What Ways Do You Feel That the CCDC Does This Well? Areas to Improve?
“Being the gold standard repository for structural chemistry data and the relationships that the CCDC has established with structural chemists in the industries we serve – these are core to the mission and done very well. One area I believe is important to improve is the CCDC’s visibility. We need to spread the word more widely about the benefits of the collective knowledge contained in the more than 1.2M crystal structures in the Cambridge Structural Database (CSD) both within and beyond our core markets.”
“We also need to be aware of the changes that the industries that we are partnering with are undergoing. For example, the rise and evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and deep learning technologies – we have so much to offer and become involved in with our data. The first steps are to understand where these industries are going and be ahead of the curve.”
How Well Does the CDDC Serve the Industries That You Have Experience In? What Could We Do Better?
“My experiences are primarily in life sciences including pharma and biotech. The CCDC supports these industries very well. Even these ndustries are undergoing rapid change and trying to figure out new ways to leverage AI technologies, approaches, and data. Particularly in R&D. Increasing our own focus and expertise in AI – and identifying applications we can support – and will help the CCDC identify new opportunities.”
What Relevant Technology Changes Do You See Coming and What Role Will the CCDC Play? What Are Your Thoughts on AI Implications for Our Business?
“To start, chemistry is very much back in vogue, especially with the use of AI and deep learning tools. The tools we use in the life sciences process to go from a biological target to chemical matter, whether it’s in the development of a new medicine or an agrochemical, are undergoing rapid changes because of AI and deep learning technologies. For example, consider what we are learning from a technology such as AlphaFold that has the potential to significantly accelerate the prediction of the 3D shape of drug targets. AI has significant implications for our business going forward and it is evolving very fast. We need to understand it, get involved and be a driver in the use of AI in the communities we support.”
What Strengths Does the CCDC Have Now? In the Future? What Thought Leadership Can the CCDC Provide to the World?
“The CCDC consists of an outstanding and dedicated group of scientists and the best structural chemistry data in the world. Its core strengths are only going to improve and become more focused under its current leadership. My role has been to try and help increase the visibility of the CCDC outside of its core markets and making us a much more visible part of the industries we serve. I hope my successors continue this work and bring awareness to new CCDC capabilities and discoveries made by the CCDC team.”
What New Markets Could the CCDC Take Their Strengths To?
“There is one area I recently learned about that I thought of with this question. It’s an organization that is a Google Ventures startup and they are training a type of AI known as a graph neural network to predict what a compound will smell like to a person, based on the chemical features of the molecules. This organization is on a mission to give computers a sense of smell, improving the health and well-being of human life. I think it’s an interesting area for the CCDC to get involved in.”
What Advice Would You Give to New CCDC Board Members?
“Be a strong partner to the CCDC leadership team and be proactive in leveraging your expertise, people and industry connections, and creativity to help increase the visibility of what the CCDC is today, and support the organization in defining where it will go in the future.”