How did you get interested in Medicinal Chemistry?
I always loved chemistry; my mum is an analytical chemist and I always loved to visit her at work. I had hard time deciding whether to study Chemistry or Pharmacy. I ultimately decided to study Pharmacy since I not only wanted to learn how the molecules are made but also understand what they do with the human body. Medicinal Chemistry allows me to combine these two aspects: great organic chemistry and pharmacology.
Where and when did you obtain your PhD diploma?
In 2013 at the University of Münster, in the group of Prof. Dr. B. Wünsch.
What was the topic of your PhD project?
Synthesis of Novel Chemokine Receptor 5 Antagonists by Late-Stage Diversification and Evaluation of their Structure Affinity Relationships. It was the perfect topic for me, combining novel chemistry (C-H activation) with interesting pharmacology. The work was also highly interdisciplinary, which I particularly enjoyed.
Where did you have your postdoc position?
My first postdoctoral position was in the group of Prof. Dr. C. E. Müller, Bonn University, working on a project within the Neuroalliance Consortium´. It was a collaboration project with UCB pharma, which provided me with the opportunity to get insight into the industrial site of research.
My second postdoc position was in the group of Prof. Dr. K. A. Jacobson at the NIH, Bethesda. Here I worked on several projects: adenosine receptor ligands, P2Y14 receptor antagonists and had the opportunity to start the project on CD73 inhibitors in collaboration with C. E. Müller.
Where are you currently working and what is your current position?
My own research group, funded by the Emmy-Noether program of the German research foundation, is located at the European Institute for Molecular Imaging (EIMI) at the University of Münster. We design, synthesize, and pharmacologically characterize novel receptor ligands for diagnostic and therapeutic applications in the fields of cancer, inflammation, and neuropathic pain.
How would you explain what your research area is to non-scientists?
We create molecules to answer diagnostic questions and help to develop new therapies.
What do you like best about your work?
It is never dull or boring. Every day you learn something new, get a new piece of the puzzle.
What kind of skills does your work require?
My work consists of teaching and research. For teaching, you need good communication and presentation skills. For research, besides enthusiasm and perseverance, you require a lot of management skills: you have to be in the moment and think ahead at the same time.
What do you consider your greatest achievement in your scientific career?
Well, I more or less recently started my independent career; therefore, I hope my greatest achievement is still to come.
Which of your papers are you most proud of and why?
The one I am currently preparing on the imaging of CD73 expression in cancer.
How many PhD students and postdocs do you currently supervise?
6 PhDs, 2 Master students, no postdocs at the moment
What are the features of a successful PhD student or postdoc?
I always tell my PhD students 6 months in their project, they should be able to tell me something about their target that I do not know. Knowing the literature and good planning is in my opinion as important as enthusiasm and perseverance in research.
How would you describe yourself as a supervisor?
I try to create a productive environment and enough space for every group member to pursue their research projects and develop themselves. I think it is important to treat every person with equal respect and decency regardless of their position or status from intern to professor. This is the mantra I live by as a private person and as a supervisor. I don’t take myself too seriously.
When I get an idea, I go straight to the lab to discuss it. One of my PhD students just recently told me: What’s up? You have that look on your face again.’ We laughed, discussed, and a new subproject was born. I think this pretty much describes me as a supervisor.
What is the most embarrassing thing you have done in the lab while doing experiments, e.g. explosions?
Well, during my time at the NIH, I quenched what I thought was a little bit of NaH on the balance with isopropanol (standard procedure of traces of NaH), overlooking that a bigger piece of NaH got under the balance. The moment it got in contact with some isopropanol, it caught fire. Besides burning down the balance and the mess caused by the fire distinguisher, nothing bad happened. I was embarrassed and devasted. Ken Jacobson laughed it off and told me ‘I wish this will be the worst and the only bad thing happening to you throughout your career.’ So far, his wish came true.
What are your recommendations for a book, podcast, website, blog, YouTube channel or film?
I like the novel Cantor’s dilemma by Carl Djerassi, Dr. GPCR podcast. I cannot think of a recommendation for a film for science, but don’t get me started on recommendations for movies in general unless you want to hear everything about Quentin Tarantino’s work.
Which scientist do you admire the most and why?
There are many scientists I admire and look up to, but Ernest Rutherford would be the one I admire the most, not only for his immense contributions in Physics and Chemistry but also for his inspirational leadership (eleven of his students received a Nobel prize) and for his modesty.
Have you experienced any unfair situations during your scientific career?
Fairness is a complex matter. I do not consider myself experiencing unfair situations with a significant impact on my career so far. In my opinion, sometimes situations can be quickly diffused by addressing the issue upfront.
Which field of medicinal chemistry do you consider the most promising for the future?
Incorporation of AI in drug development.
What would you expect to be the next major breakthrough in medicinal chemistry?
The development of checkpoint inhibitors for cancer therapy, it has already provided some great results, but I am certain there is more to come.