Monthly Newsletter May 2019


Have you ever wondered how medicinal chemists work in other companies or in academia? Are there important trends or new technologies that you may have missed?

In the rapidly evolving field of Medicinal Chemistry, there are only few opportunities to share best practices among industry and academic practitioners. We can of course learn from case studies presented at conferences but wouldn’t it be great also to have material covering more general concepts? Following the initiative of Jean Quancard, the EFMC assembled a team of experienced practitioners from industry and academia. We are now addressing this exciting challenge, but we need your help.

We would like to target a broad audience with different levels of expertise in the field. First, PhD students would benefit from training aligned with industry expectations on what they should know after graduating. Then, new practitioners recently joining industry could use early training on drug discovery topics they might not have been exposed to during their academic curriculum. Finally, all of us as industry or academic practitioners could use readily available material to stay up to date in our field. While Medicinal Chemists and Chemical Biologists would be the main audience, we hope some of these could be useful for colleagues in other fields of drug discovery.

As medicinal chemistry is a rather large field, we decided to first focus on the early phase of drug discovery: generating high quality chemical starting points for optimization. This is a critical part of our drug discovery effort since the speed and success of a programme highly depends on the quality of the starting points we find and select. Medicinal chemists have a key role to play in this early phase so the more we know about it, the more we can have an impact. We will cover this through four different topics; Which strategies and technologies should be used to find hits for a particular target? Which compound libraries should be screened and what molecular space should be covered? Once a set of validated hits is identified, how do we select the best ones to follow up for optimization? Finally, we will cover phenotypic hit discovery separately as this complex topic deserves special attention.

In addition to this, we will develop a set of best practices for validating chemical probes. High quality chemical probes are essential to explore of human biology and diseases. We hope we can contribute to increasing the quality of the published probes by spreading best practices through the EFMC community.

The material we will assemble will be spread through various formats: freely accessible webinars to download from the EFMC website, presentations at EFMC meetings, educational slide decks for distribution and teaching. These will be made freely accessible to industry as well as academic professors to use in their course material.

We need your help! Please contact us if you have interesting case studies relevant to the topics we are covering. These would help illustrate these concepts with additional recent examples and spread best practices through the Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology communities.

The EFMC best practices working group:

  • Jean Quancard, Novartis, Switzerland
  • Brian Cox, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
  • Dirk Finsinger, Merck, Germany
  • Hannes Koolman, Boehringer Ingelheim, Germany
  • Stefan Laufer, University of Tübingen, Germany
  • Josef Messinger, Orion Pharma, Finland
  • Gianluca Sbardella, University of Salerno, Italy
  • Stéphanie Guéret, AstraZeneca - Max Planck Institute Satellite Unit, Germany



To celebrate the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements 2019 (IYPT2019), we challenge you to share your best picture representing The Elements of life! #EFMC_PHOTO19

The winner will receive a prize of €200!

There will also be prizes of €100 for two runners-up.

In addition, the best pictures will appear in cover of several issues of the EFMC Newsletter “MedChemWatch” and will be showcased in the annual Yearbook.


We want scientists from any level (eg. students to expert professionals) and affiliation (eg. academia and industry) to take the best shot possible and enter the competition!

Judging Criteria

The pictures will be judged by a two-round public vote. First online and afterwards during the “EFMC-ASMC'19”, where the best shots will be printed out and displayed at the conference for participants to vote live!

Submit your picture!


In this edition, we are delighted to welcome Professor Adam Nelson from the University of Leeds, UK. Adam, a chemist by training, is working at the forefront of Chemical Biology and has pioneered activity-directed synthesis. Read more below!

How did you get interested in Chemical Biology?
My interest in the chemistry/biology interface was sparked as a seventeen year-old when I read James Watson’s “Molecular Biology of the Gene”, and was introduced to some of the molecular mechanisms that underpin life. This, and other books, made me realise that the physical sciences can enable fundamental biological discoveries and understanding.
The UK schools system, however, forces people to specialise early. This meant that I had actually dropped biology at the age of 14, and was only taking chemistry, physics and maths in the final two years of school. Fortunately, a degree in natural sciences at Cambridge enabled me to pursue cell biology and biochemistry at university in parallel with the physical sciences.

Where and when did you obtain your PhD diploma?
University of Cambridge, UK. PhD obtained in 1996

What was the topic of your PhD project?
Synthetic organic chemistry

Where did you have your postdoc position?
University of Manchester, UK

Where do you work at the moment and what is your current position?
I’m Professor of Chemical Biology at the University of Leeds, UK. I work within the Astbury Centre at the University of Leeds that brings together about 400 researchers working at the interfaces between biology, chemistry and physics. It’s a remarkable research environment that has enabled me to collaborate on a huge range of exciting problems!

What are your current research interests?
My main interest is in developing efficient chemical approaches that can enable the identification of novel, distinctive and biologically-relevant regions of chemical space.

What do you like most in your job?
Working with intelligent and enthusiastic early career researchers who are willing to embrace exciting new approaches.

What kind of tasks your job includes?

  • Interacting with end-users of our methods, particularly drug discovery professionals
  • Building multi-organisation partnerships for pre-competitive research, and then securing the resources to realise them
  • Leading and developing research teams
  • Publishing our methods, and finding ways that enable our methods to be taken up within discovery projects

What kind of skills your job requires?

  • Strategic thinking
  • Communication, both within teams and between organisations
  • Scientific writing

What do you consider your biggest achievement in your scientific career?
I’m proud of many things that my research team has achieved. However, our realisation of a new discovery approach, that we call activity-directed synthesis, is a real highlight for me. Here, the idea is to execute arrays of reactions that have many possible outcomes. We screen the products to identify reactions that yield bioactive structures. But the structures are only revealed after they have been optimised. I like the approach because it uses a completely different reaction toolkit to conventional medicinal chemistry, and you tend to discover functional molecules with unexpected structures!

How many PhD and postdoc students do you have at the moment?
Are you currently looking for a new PhD and postdoc students?
I have about 20 or so co-workers, most of whom are co-supervised with colleagues at Leeds with complementary expertise (particularly colleagues within the Astbury Centre). I’m always looking for talented PhD students, and postdocs who are willing to secure a fellowship. Other postdoc opportunities are advertised formally.

What are the features of a successful PhD student or postdoc?

  • Ability to work methodically, and to plan experiments independently
  • A willingness to embrace new experimental approaches
  • Ability to interpret data critically
  • Good scientific communication skills

Which paper of yours you are the proudest of and why?
Probably our paper describing our activity-directed synthesis discovery approach for the first time: Nature Chem. 2014, 6, 872-876

What would you guess to be the next major breakthrough in medicinal chemistry?
The realisation of autonomous discovery platforms in which AI-enabled molecular design, synthesis and evaluation are fully integrated.


The Final Scientific Programme will include:

  • A first-time disclosure by Novartis: The Discovery of LML134, a Histamine H3 Receptor Inverse Agonist for the Clinical Treatment of Excessive Sleep Disorder
  • 3 high quality plenary and 19 keynote speakers, covering the latest advances in the main fields of medicinal chemistry.
  • 6 Oral communications selected from the submitted abstracts
  • A session showcasing Pharma Research Highlights in Poland
  • An extensive social programme to maximise your networking opportunities
  • A Poster session and an exhibition.

Have a look at the programme!


The aim of the EFMC-YSN is to inspire, connect and provide opportunities to early career medicinal chemists and chemical biologists through:

  • Networking activities
    • Open forum
    • “Meet & Greet” events for young people
    • Networking evenings at the EFMC-YMCS
  • Training activities
    • “Soft-skills” workshops
    • Career fairs
    • Mentoring programs
  • Support to young scientists
    • Travel grants to attend EFMC Events
    • YSN Prize for best PhD/Post-doc
    • Job & academic positions portal
  • Events & Meetings
    • YSN-Members assembly

Join the EFMC-YSN now and get access to the content as it becomes available in the following weeks/months.


The BMCS is pleased to announce the call for nominations for the BMCS Hall of Fame & the Capps Green Zomaya Memorial Awards 2020, and some upcoming events. 

BMCS HALL OF FAME: Call for nominations

The BMCS Hall of Fame aims to recognise prominent chemists for outstanding, sustained contributions to any area of interest to the BMCS. This is an Individual award to recognise prominence and significant, sustained, scientific impact in the field of medicinal chemistry, agriscience, bio-organic chemistry or chemical biology, including teaching excellence, outstanding contributions to the BMCS, or any combination thereof.

Guidelines / criteria / eligibility

Inductees may be from academic or industrial institutions and there are no age restrictions.
There is no requirement to be an RSC or BMCS member, but inductees should be resident in the continent of Europe or have spent a considerable proportion of their career there. Posthumous inductees will only be considered in exceptional circumstances.
Proposals for inductees should be made by an independent party, i.e. not from the same institution. The proposer should ensure the potential inductee has knowledge of the proposal, e.g. by cc them on the email. If this is not the case, the BMCS will ensure the potential inductee is aware and willing to be inducted before confirming their induction.
Winners of the Malcolm Campbell award or the Capps Green Zomaya award are not automatically inducted, and anyone wishing to be considered should follow the standard process.


Independent nominations should include a 1 page synopsis detailing the justification (this would be what would appear in the HoF website), the candidate’s CV & publication list. The nomination may be further bolstered by additional independent letters of support.
Nominations can be submitted from beginning of March to end of September. Applications will be reviewed and inductees and proposers will be made aware of the outcome by mid-December.


The inductee will be listed on BMCS Hall of Fame website with a short synopsis of their scientific achievements.
A medal and certificate will be presented to the new inductee at a suitable BMCS conference, with attendance and travel covered. Inductees will be expected to give a talk at the conference they receive their award.

Capps Green Zomaya Memorial Award 2020: Call for NomiNations

The Biological and Medicinal Chemistry Sector of the Royal Society of Chemistry is pleased to invite nominations for the ninth Capps Green Zomaya Memorial Award in medicinal or computational chemistry.

The Award will be given to the individual judged to have made an important contribution to the discovery or development of new medicines. Nominations are invited for candidates, up to the age of 40, working in UK or international laboratories (candidates over the age of 40, who have taken career breaks, will be considered).

A Royal Society of Chemistry commemorative medal and certificate will be awarded to accompany the prize of £2,000.

Nominations should be submitted no later than 31 October 2019 to: Maggi Churchouse, RSC-BMCS Secretariat, 3 East Barn, Market Weston Road, Thelnetham, Diss  IP22 1JJ,  UK      

Telephone: +44 (0)1359 221004 E-mail:

For further details, please access the activities link on

2nd RSC BMCS/ RSC CICAG Artificial Intelligence in Chemistry symposium
2nd to 3rd September 2019, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, UK
The call for poster abstracts will close on 5th July

Synopsis:   AI is experiencing a renaissance in development of new methods and practical applications to ongoing challenges in chemistry. This two-day conference will present the current efforts in applying these new methods.  We will combine aspects of artificial intelligence and deep machine learning methods to applications in chemistry, agriscience, bioorganic chemistry, and chemical biology.

20th RSC / SCI Cambridge MedChem symposium
8th to 11th September, Churchill College, Cambridge, UK

Synopsis:   The 20th symposium, Europe’s premier biennial Medicinal Chemistry event, focussing on first disclosures and new strategies in Medicinal Chemistry. This conference will be of interest to both academic and industrial scientists engaged in all aspects of the drug discovery and development process.


“Synthesis of DNA-coupled isoquinolones and pyrrolidines by solid phase ytterbium- and silver-mediated imine chemistry”

Marco Potowski, Verena B. K. Kunig, Florian Losch and Andreas Brunschweiger*

As part of our New Talent collection, Brunschweiger et al. explore metal-mediated imine chemistry for the synthesis of DNA-tagged heterocycles, demonstrating that an encoded chemistry approach allows for the synthesis of DNA-coupled isoquinolones by a Yb(III)-mediated Castagnoli–Cushman reaction under anhydrous reaction conditions.

DNA-encoded libraries of chemically synthesized compounds are an important small molecule screening technology. The synthesis of encoded compounds in solution is currently restricted to a few DNA-compatible and water-tolerant reactions. Encoded compound synthesis of short DNA-barcodes covalently connected to solid supports benefits from a broad range of choices of organic solvents. Here, we show that this encoded chemistry approach allows for the synthesis of DNA-coupled isoquinolones by an Yb(III)-mediated Castagnoli–Cushman reaction under anhydrous reaction conditions and for the synthesis of highly substituted pyrrolidines by Ag(I)-mediated 1,3-dipolar azomethine ylide cycloaddition. An encoding scheme for these DNA-barcoded compounds based on a DNA hairpin is demonstrated.


Read the article!

This article is part of the themed collection: New Talent





May 15-17, 2019
Barcelona, Spain
2nd Molecules Medicinal Chemistry Symposium – Facing Novel Challenges in Drug Discovery

June 21, 2019 
Madrid, Spain
6th SEQT Young Researchers Symposium

June 27-30, 2019 
Prague, Czech Republic
11th Joint Meeting on Medicinal Chemistry

July 3-5, 2019
Nantes, France
55th International Conference on Medicinal Chemistry (RICT 2019)


June 10-13, 2019 
Krakow, Poland
EFMC-ACSMEDI MedChem Frontiers 2019

September 1-5, 2019 
Athens, Greece
EFMC-ASMC'19: EFMC International Symposium on Advances in Synthetic and Medicinal Chemistry

September 5-6, 2019 
Athens, Greece
EFMC-YMCS 2019: 6th EFMC Young Medicinal Chemist Symposium


June 30 – July 4, 2019 
Urbino, Italy
39th Edition of the European School of Medicinal Chemistry (ESMEC)


September 11-13, 2019 
Pescara, Italy
Summer School in Pharmaceutical Analysis (SSPA)

September 15-20, 2019 
Vienna, Austria
EUROPIN Summer School on Drug Design


Lab Head, Chemical Biology, Novartis, Chemical Biology and Therapeutics, Basel, Switzerland

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