Medicinal chemist to mimic nature’s methods – University of Copenhagen

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03 August 2015

Medicinal chemist to mimic nature’s methods

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More than half of all medicines are derived from or inspired by nature. But naturally inspired medicines are often difficult to produce industrially. Frederik Diness is a new associate professor at the Department of Chemistry. He conducts research to make medicinal development easier, cheaper, faster and more environmentally friendly. He hopes to replicate nature’s evolutionary methods by combining selection with numerous chemical reactions.

“Nature is in constant flux and creates many variations, keeping those that prove to be beneficial. This system of permutation and selection is one that we want to bring into the laboratory,” says Frederik Diness.

Research tools compare with elite gymnasts

Diness works at the Department of Chemistry’s Centre for Evolutionary Chemical Biology. The Centre’s primary objective is to develop tools for medicinal chemistry R&D, tools that can effectively produce millions of new substances and then be able to sort them according to their biological activity. The demands upon these new research technologies are immense. They must be robust, simple and provide replicable results. Diness compares them with the demands upon an elite gymnast. “Every tumble must be perfect. You and I may be able to land one or two out of ten, but it would be extraordinarily difficult to land perfectly each time. Doing so would require a great deal of work, and so it is with research tools” explains Frederik Diness.

Emulating natures flexibility

To a large degree, living organisms use proteins as tools for healing. Consequently, many naturally occurring medicinal products belong to this group of structures. Diness is working on the development of a chemical production platform that is just as flexible as proteins found in nature, a platform that can be used to produce all types of medicines.

Proteins too large for rational production

A chemical production platform is necessary because proteins are colossally large, complex and flexible molecules. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to create them through chemistry. Luckily, in many cases, one can attain the functionality without being burdened by the entire natural molecule, explains Diness. “We would like to find smaller molecules with the same functionality, so that we can produce them industrially. The advantage of using a combination of chemistry and selection is that we are provided with a much larger palette of chemical reactions and building blocks to draw from in comparison with what nature offers,” says Frederik Diness.

Engineer with industrial experience

Frederik Diness is trained as an engineer from DTU and has a graduate degree in organic chemistry. After six months in the private sector at Hillerød based company “ Polypeptides”, he began his PhD at the Carlsberg laboratory with Morten Meldal as his supervisor. For his Postdoc, his time was divided between the former Department for Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen and the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. He lives in Ølstykke with his partner Helle and their daughter and two sons.