Future medicinal chemists visit a very anti-depressive workplace – University of Copenhagen

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06 December 2013

Future medicinal chemists visit a very anti-depressive workplace

Bachelor introduction 2013

Lundbeck is one of Denmark’s largest employers of chemists, with over 100 chemists in the pharmaceutical company’s development unit alone. That’s why nearly 50 of UCPH’s new chemistry students visited the pharma firm on November 22.

Brain ailments costly to society

The students were welcomed to Lundbeck by Lise Brennum, Public Affairs Coordinator, Global Public Affairs. She explained that Lundbeck’s work with antidepressants is important because psychiatric disorders are among the most costly illnesses confronted by society.

Communication skills vital to medicinal chemists

But Lundbeck produces far more than antidepressants. In 2011, Lundbeck found itself at the eye of a media storm because of drug sales tied to US death penalty executions. Lundbeck was accused of providing lethal injections, but the product in question was actually used to prevent cramps in those being executed.

Brennum mentioned the case as an example of how there’s more to the business than just inventing new, beneficial drugs. One should also be able to explain their work to the public.

The fine art of inventing new drugs

Another way of looking at pharmaceutical development is as an artisanal craft, according to Jan Kehler, a Research Fellow of Lundbeck’s division for Medicinal Chemistry. For many years, Kehler has investigated the effects of natural substances upon the brain. Besides substances like cocaine, opium, hallucinogenic mushrooms, he has also looked at more commonly consumed substances including chocolate and coffee.

Cocaine and chocolate show ways into brain

These natural substances are interesting to study because relatively few natural substances are actually able to make their way into the brain and then influence it. So by understanding how these natural substances gain access to, and manipulate thoughts and feelings, a pharmaceutical firm can learn a lot about new ways to design drugs that treat psychiatric disorders.

Familiar lab-style

The students were also offered a tour of the Lundbeck development laboratories. Amazingly, the facilities were remarkably similar to the students’ own labs back at the University of Copenhagen.

First you get creative

As Divisional Director, Biologics and Pharmaceutical Science, René Holm, explained; during the discovery phase of the job, medicinal chemistry is about creativity and analysis. It’s only when a substance begins to show promise that chemists begin considering how to manufacture large quantities.

“The upscaling is not trivial, especially if the chemical process generates heat,” explains Holm.

The Lundbeck visit is part of the Department of Chemistry’s new introduction to studies programme that, among other things, serves to present new chemistry students with evidence that jobs do await beyond their academic tribulations.