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Pursuing Challenging Endeavours: Completing My PhD via the Publication Track

01 Nov 2023

Dr Mak Kit-Kay completed her PhD in Medical and Health Sciences (specialising in Medicinal Chemistry) via the publication track. As opposed to the conventional thesis-by-dissertation approach, the PhD by publication pathway mandates the evidence of at least 5 published papers directly related to the doctoral research. Dr Mak has submitted eight papers as part of her PhD work entitled “Integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Computer Aided Drug Discovery (CADD) Techniques for the Development of Novel Drug-like Keap1-Nrf2 Inhibitors/Direct Nrf2 Activator.”


Dr Mak is a distinguished alumna of IMU, commencing her academic journey with a BSc (Hons) in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and subsequently earning a MSc in Medical & Health Sciences. She was then awarded an IMU Scholarship to pursue her doctoral studies while lecturing within the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the School of Pharmacy.


Like many students worldwide, Dr Mak’s doctoral journey was significantly influenced by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. During this challenging period, her research faced uncertainties, with lockdowns and movement controls leading to the expiration of experimental materials and an inability to access collaborator laboratories such as the Malaysia Genomic Institute and the National Institute of Health.


Despite these obstacles, Dr Mak displayed resilience and adaptability by utilising the newfound time for online courses, where she obtained certifications from Elsevier and the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI Program) to improve her research understanding. Her research group was also fortunate to be invited by the editors of high-impact factory journals to write scientific reviews:


A keynote review article on the role of DMPK (Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics) science in improving pharmaceutical research and development efficiency in the ‘Drug Discovery Today’ journal. (; impact factor: 8.37).


Review article discussing success stories of AI in drug discovery for the ‘Expert Opinion on Drug Discovery’ journal. (; Impact factor: 7.05).

Throughout her PhD journey, Dr Mak garnered numerous awards and recognitions, underscoring her exceptional contributions to the field:


She presented part of her PhD work at the University of Cambridge, UK, during the Drug Metabolism Discussion Group Annual Meeting, 2019 (as shown in the photo below).


Awarded the Tien Te Lee Biomedical Y.S.P. SAH Excellent Scientific Paper Award in Taiwan for her research paper titled ‘Synthesis of New Shogaol Analogues as NRF2 Activators and Evaluation of Their Anti-Inflammatory Activity, Modes of Action and Metabolic Stability’ (; impact factor: 7.675).


Emerged as one of the top three winners in the BiosolveIT International Scientific Challenge held in Germany, 2019.


Received the Atomwise Artificial Intelligence Molecular Screening Award (AIMS) in the USA, 2018.


Received a scholarship from the Wellcome Trust for specialised training in drug discovery at the Wellcome Centre for Anti Infectives Research, University of Dundee, 2020.


Finalist in the Young Scientist Network-Academy of Science Malaysia (YSN-ASM) Chrysalis Award, 2021.


Finalist in the British Council’s Fame Lab Competition, Malaysia, 2021.

Reflecting on her academic journey at IMU, Dr Mak says, “I enjoyed my time here at IMU while pursuing my PhD. I appreciated my project supervisors and mentors, especially my main supervisor, Prof Dr Mallikarjuna Rao Pichika, and my co-supervisors, Prof Dr Mohd Zulkefeli bin Mat Jusoh (IMU), Prof Dr Albena Dinkova-Kostova (University of Dundee) and Dr Ola Epemolu (Charles Rivers Laboratories Edinburgh Ltd); my research team members, family and friends (Figure 4). I was very happy when I was encouraged to pursue challenging endeavours, and if I were to offer any advice to the students, it would be”think positively.”


Related article: IMU Lecturer and Researcher Receives Award for her Work on Potential Treatments for Common Brain Diseases

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