Monthly Newsletter November 2018

Exclusive Interview with EFMC President Yves P. Auberson

The Communication Team’s latest interview goes right to the top.


How did you get interested in Medicinal Chemistry?
The power of chemistry to create novel matter always fascinated me. As a kid, I witnessed an epilepsy patient having a seizure while on vacation in Spain, and that left a lasting impression on me. When I realized that new molecules might have the power to heal, I became fascinated in the potential of medicinal chemistry.

Where and when did you obtain your PhD diploma?
I obtained my PhD in 1990, in Prof. Pierre Vogel’s group in Lausanne, Switzerland. I developed total syntheses of rare sugars: Fun chemistry, intellectually challenging, and that prepared me well for the next step in my career.

Where did you have your postdoc position?
With Prof. Peter Schultz, at Affymax in Palo Alto, California. It was a start-up company by then, and I had a great time. We were surrounded by brilliant people, pursuing new ideas by mixing techniques of biology and chemistry with printing technology. What a lesson it was! The company was at the research edge in combinatorial libraries, which was a fancy new development at that time: printing DNA on chips, or using phage display to produce gigantic peptide libraries created fascinating opportunities. My project was to develop catalytic antibodies to lower the energy of activation of thermodynamically disfavoured reactions. That was an ambitious goal, and despite all efforts, impossible reactions remained... impossible.

Where do you work at the moment and what is your current position?
I work in the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland, and have a double role: leading a research group, and serving as president of both EFMC and of the Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology of the Swiss Chemical Society.
Novartis is a great company to work for, science-oriented and supportive of the scientific community in general.

What are your current research interests?
My research group is developing clinical imaging agents to facilitate the development of our drug candidates. Imaging helps with diagnosis and monitoring of disease progression, but also answering questions that cannot be easily addressed otherwise, such as: Does a drug reach its target and occupy it long enough to have an effect? What is the most effective and safe clinical dose? This is very helpful information for our clinicians, and when it helps bring a drug faster to the patients, it is well worth the effort. There is also an artistic dimension to the images we generate, and that makes it even more interesting.

What do you like most in your job?
Its intellectual diversity, the people I work with, and the fact that I will never know everything and must keep learning all the time.

What do you consider your biggest achievement in your scientific carrier?
When we tested our first development compound in treatment-resistant epilepsy patients and... yes, it worked! There is no bigger satisfaction than seeing years of research transform into a therapy. It feels like a miracle happened when a new molecule created in a medicinal chemistry lab proves to work in the clinic and restore health.

Which scientist do you admire the most and why?
I still remember reading, as a child, the “Stories of Uncle Paul”, a cartoon that introduced me to the life of Alexander Fleming and Louis Pasteur, and many other wonderful scientists and admirable minds. I loved these stories, and I suspect this is one reason I became interested in science. There are of course many admirable scientists, past and present. They all have in common dedication, a sense of innovation, curiosity and an acute sense of observation, and a knack for finding gold nuggets in mountains of data.

Which field of medicinal chemistry do you consider the most promising in the future?
This is an interesting question, and my belief is that medicinal chemistry will become even more diverse. Low molecular weight compounds will remain a major source of new treatments in the future. Other areas, including synthetically optimized biologics, will expand our options. There is much to gain by exploiting the chemical biology – medicinal chemistry continuum. Better chemical tools will help improve target selection; new modalities will allow developing novel therapeutic approaches. Imagination and innovation should have no limits.

What would you guess to be the next major breakthrough in medicinal chemistry?
It is hard to say, as the claims around the potential impact of new techniques in drug discovery are often exaggerated. I tend to believe that innovation is incremental and that we will continue to develop the power of medicinal chemistry by constantly challenging ourselves, exploring new technologies and ideas. Over the years, multiple innovations have contributed to this progress, such as computer-assisted drug discovery, new synthetic methods and screening technologies, chemically optimized biologics or target identification technologies. The human body is complex and we need a broad variety of approaches. The next major breakthrough is always a drug that shows a real impact on patient’s lives, whatever form it takes.

What would you like to ask from other medicinal chemists?
To stay passionate, curious and creative, to be supportive of their team and community, to trust themselves and have fun in research, but never forget the ultimate objective of what we do: create tools to improve our understanding of disease, and drugs to help people live a better and healthier life. This is something we can really be proud of.

Signature of a MoU between the EFMC and the ICBS

The European Federation for Medicinal Chemistry (EFMC) is pleased to announce the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Chemical Biology Society (ICBS) and warmly welcomes this step forward in the collaboration between the two societies. 

Both societies will organise a session at each other’s flagship meeting (EFMC will have a session at the ICBS Meeting in fall 2019 in India and ICBS will hold a session at the EFMC-ISMC 2020 in Basel, Switzerland) and encourage exchange of information between their members.

The agreement also paves the way for future joint ICBS|EFMC meetings in Europe.

We would like to thank the ICBS Board for the kind and fruitful exchanges which led to the current agreement, and look forward to the future of our partnership.

We invite you to have a look at the ICBS website:

EFMC Young Scientists Network

If you are 35 or under and looking to build networks throughout Europe and beyond, the new EFMC-Young Scientists Network is for you.  

The aim of the EFMC-YSN is to inspire, connect and provide opportunities to young medicinal chemists and chemical biologists. There will be local/global events, competitions, awards, and grants. You can join us now and shape the future direction of the network.

Just send us a message or an email

Meet Cassandra Lee Fleming (University of Gothenburg, Sweden), the winner of the EFMC-YMCS 2018!

In this edition, we highlight a particular #Iamamedicinalchemist. Cassandra Lee Fleming is a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden). She won the 2018 edition of the EFMC Young Medicinal Chemist Symposium held in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Discover her story and do not miss the opportunity to listen to her talk at the EFMC-ASMC’19 in Athens!

How did you get interested in Medicinal Chemistry?

I have always been interested in understanding how the body works. This in combination with my enthusiasm for a range of science subjects offered throughout my education led me to pursue my research interests within medicinal chemistry field.

Where and when did you obtain your PhD diploma?

I completed my PhD in 2015 at Deakin University (Australia) under the guidance of Associate Professor Frederick Pfeffer.

What was the topic of your PhD project?

In efforts to further develop our understanding of how histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors act at cellular level, my doctoral studies focused on the design and synthesis of fluorescent HDAC inhibitors as tools for cellular imaging applications.

Where did you have your postdoc position?

Following my doctorate, I joined the group of Professor Joakim Andréasson as a postdoctoral researcher at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

Where do you work at the moment and what is your current position?

I am currently a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), in the group of Professor Morten Grøtli.

What are your current research interests?

My research interests are centred around the utilisation of light as an external stimulus to control the pharmacological activity of small bioactive molecules in diseased cells and tissues to provide valuable insight into the underlying molecular events of complex disease states.

What do you like most in your job?

I like being able to combine the practical aspects of organic chemistry with problem solving to address the research question at hand. I really enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of my current project and the fact that no two days are ever the same. You are constantly learning new things (even if most of the time this is a result of experiments that just didn’t work!).

What kind of tasks your job includes?

I spend most of my time synthesising fluorescent and light-responsive bioactive molecules and evaluating their photophysical and biological properties. However, more recently, I have also begun to dabble in a bit of multiphoton microscopy.

What kind of skills your job requires?

Curiosity, determination, to be able to embrace failure and to ‘think outside the box’.

What is the most embarrassing thing you did in the lab while doing experiments, e.g. explosions?

During my PhD I once accidently flooded the fume hood with water and oil after the hosing on my reflux condenser split and the water ended up flowing into the oil bath. Luckily this happened over the lunch break so not a lot of damage was done, however it did take a while to clean up!

Which scientist do you admire the most and why?

This is a tough question as there are so many inspirational scientists both past and present. However, I really admire Sir Martyn Poliakoff for his science outreach and education work. He communicates a diverse range of scientific topics in a unique and engaging way. He shares his passion for learning with the public and inspires the next generation of scientists — he is an excellent role model for young researchers.

What would you guess to be the next major breakthrough in medicinal chemistry?

I hope to see a significant advancement in our understanding of the underlying molecular events of neurodegenerative disorders (such as Alzheimer’s) so that effective treatments for disease states can be developed.

Call for Nominations - EFMC Prizes 2019

To acknowledge and recognise outstanding young medicinal chemists (≤ 12 years after PhD) working in European industry and academia, EFMC established the "EFMC Prize for a Young Medicinal Chemist in Industry" and the "EFMC Prize for a Young Medicinal Chemist in Academia".

The two Prizes are given annually and consists of a diploma, € 1.000 and an invitation for a short presentation at an EFMC symposium.

The prize-winners  will be invited to give oral communications at the 8th EFMC International Symposium on Advances in Synthetic and Medicinal Chemistry (EFMC-ASMC’19) in Athens, Greece, September 1-5, 2019.

Applications and regulations can be found on

Deadline: January 31, 2019

More from EFMC Photo Competition 2018

To celebrate the amazing entries for the 2018 Photo Competition, we highlight three of the pictures and their creators.

Can’t wait for more!? Discover them all on

My Magic Corner - Siham Benramdane

This is my fumehood, where magic happens


Count the shades of yellow? - Grigoris Zoidis

Column chromatography fractions of nitro-containing indole analogue



Organic synthesis - Gergo Mótyán

Heterocyclic steroids under infrared light

News from the French “Société de Chimie Thérapeutique” (SCT)

26th Young Research Fellows Meeting Registrations open

Faculty of Pharmacy of Paris, University Paris Descartes | February 20th-22nd, 2019

This meeting brings together about 300 young European scientists and gives them the opportunity to present their most recent results. The topics presented cover all aspects of medicinal chemistry: chemical biology, chemoinformatics, SAR studies, ADMET, imaging, physical chemistry, biolabeling and diagnostic tools, drug vectorization, nanotechnologies, natural products, synthetic methodology, etc…

Deadline for registration: December 20th, 2018

Information and registration:


This month’s highlighted MedChemComm article - Chemical Modulation of Transcription Factors

Transcription factors (TFs) constitute a diverse class of sequence-specific DNA-binding proteins, which are key to the modulation of gene expression. TFs have been associated with human diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, which makes this class of proteins attractive targets for chemical biology and medicinal chemistry research. Since TFs lack a common binding site or structural similarity, the development of small molecules to efficiently modulate TF biology in cells and in vivo is a challenging task.

This review article highlights various strategies that are currently being explored for the identification and development of modulators of Myc, p53, Stat, Nrf2, CREB, ER, AR, HIF, NF-κB, and BET proteins.


Read the article!

The latest edition of MedChemComm, the official journal of the EFMC, is available at:




November 12-13, 2018
London, United Kingdom
2nd SCI/RSC Symposium on Antimicrobial Drug Discovery


April 28 - May 1, 2019 
Oegstgeest (near Leiden), The Netherlands
15th EFMC Short Course on Medicinal Chemistry - Strategies in Fragment Based Drug Discovery

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

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