On Rescue Dogs & Drug Development

Dogs have been dubbed “man’s best friend,” and rightfully so. Many reasons exist for this: They are our playmates and confidants, showing us unconditional loyalty and love even on our worst days. For Lilly scientist Symantha (Sam) Melemed, Ph.D., product team leader in the Lilly Oncology group, her dog Graffiti is more than just a companion – he’s a perfect example of how determination can turn seemingly hopeless situations into success stories.

Melemed easily draws parallels between rescuing dogs, which she has done for several years; teaching them agility, which bolsters their confidence; and how she thinks about cancer research.

“I rescued Graffiti five years ago,” she says. “He came from a place where it was almost impossible for him to succeed. And the odds are, when we develop a medicine, most of them fail, so you have to believe in every medicine that you bring forward, that this could be the one.”

Melemed initially majored in equestrian studies as an undergraduate student in Colorado, studying a wide range of topics from organic chemistry to horse nutrition. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in molecular genetics, and that’s when a strong interest and passion for oncology research emerged. She continued with a fellowship in cancer research at Indiana University School of Medicine. 

Fun fact: In addition to rescuing and training dogs, Melemed owns several horses and also competes in Iron Man triathlons and marathons! “I don’t sit still a lot!” she says.

For Melemed, Graffiti is a symbol of hope in times of adversity. She has taken lessons of persistence and hopefulness, learned from her interactions with Graffiti and the dozens of other dogs she has rescued, and applied them in the lab with her Lilly team as they continue to discover novel oncology treatments for people around the world.  

“The belief and determination that I have for Graffiti is the same philosophy I use when I’m thinking about cancer research,” Melemed says. “As a scientist, cancer is an incredibly motivating challenge to keep pursuing. For us, this is our life’s work.”