Speaker Q&A: Zach Pinner and how VR is being used for pharmaceutical drug discovery

Zach Pinner is an Innovation Specialist at Merck and will be at VRDC 2017 to present his talk Immersive Tech in Merck Labs, which will discuss how immersive technology has successfully found a way into the historically slow-moving pharmaceutical industry. Here, Zach gives us some information about himself and his work.

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Tell us about yourself and your work in VR

I’ve been working with VR since college in 2008 when I was going for a major in Game Development.  I got out of college and made it into a completely different industry, pharmaceuticals. Luckily I’ve been able to keep up with VR and even worked with Mixed Reality on the Hololens.

Without spoiling it too much, tell us what you’ll be talking about at VRDC

I’ll primarily talk about projects we’re working on with the Hololens, but also explain how the technology made its way into Merck.

What excites you most about VR?

I’ve had an Oculus since DK1, seeing the evolution to now having the consumer version with controllers is incredible and extremely fun. This and the Hololens excite me the most, the way applications work on the Hololens is remarkable, the first time I tried Fragments was amazing.

What do you think is the biggest challenge to realizing VR’s potential?

All the peripherals required to be immersed into VR pull you away from the experience. The price will go down and people will find applications and games they like, but being able to really use your hands inside of VR and it not feel clunky will be an amazing hurdle to conquer.

What were some of the issues that Merck had to overcome in order to sell VR technology to pharmaceutical companies? How did you frame the pitch for that?

Actually, Merck is a pharmaceutical company, we don’t sell the devices, but we did have to “sell” the technology internally in order to get teams to allocate budget and be willing to create proof of concepts.

How is VR currently being used for drug discovery? Where do you see that technology in the future?

It’s enabling our scientists to work with chemical structures in a new and more collaborative environment. The next thing I’m waiting for with this use-case is having all of the features from their computer software in the VR application, you can’t do everything in VR that you can do on the computer, and enabling that would be powerful.

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