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25 Years Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences: Combined fascination

25 Years ago, the Center for Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences was founded at Leiden University; one year later, in 1985, the education program of Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences started. On Friday September 18th, this was celebrated with a Symposium, an anniversary booklet, and a grand party.

Meindert Danhof

Bio-Pharmaceutics in stead of Pharmacy

The founding of the Center for Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences was a direct consequence of the operation Task Distribution and Concentration, which was instigated in 1984 by the Minister of Education, having as goal the reduction of the number of education programs at Dutch Universities and to bundle expertise. The operation led to the decision that the Leiden Pharmacy program had to be cancelled. After intense negotiations, Professor Douwe Breimer, succeeded in setting up a new 3-year senior study program Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences, linked to multi-disciplinary drug research. The goal was to create an international leading research program (which was achieved completely). In 1991, together with the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, the Leiden-Amsterdam Center for Drug Research (LACDR) was founded, Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences being one of its cornerstones.

What does Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences mean?

The research program comprises all aspects of drug discovery and development. These are (1) the discovery of new targets for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, diseases of the central nervous systems, and cancer, (2) the design and synthesis of new drug molecules, (3) the delivery and targeting of drugs, as well as (4) the development of new strategies for evaluation of drug functioning and drug safety. The basis for all this research is an unique “systems approach’ to the design and development of new drugs.

Collaboration with LUMC

The research of the Centre for BPS has flourished. At this time, 228 employees are involved in research and education, among whom 79 PhD Students. The research budget has grown from Hfl. 5,000,000.- in 1985 to over € 14,000,000.- per annum in 2008. Over 65% of this amount is obtained in competition from external funding (2nd and 3rd stream). In these projects, there is close collaboration with the international pharmaceutical industry, for example in the Top Institute Pharma. At the moment, steps are taken for a more intense collaboration with the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) in the field of translational drug research: i.e. the translation of laboratory research to the patient and vice versa. Finally, there is a lot of attention to the valorization of the research results: this has led to thirty active patents and three spin-off companies.

Over 100 freshmen!

 Besides research, the educational program of Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences, which started with nine students in 1985, has flourished as well. A major highlight was the addition of the educational substructure in 1994, making Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences a complete education track. Over the past 25 years, 409 students have received their Drs. or MSc diplomas. The expectation is that this number will rapidly rise: with a current inflow of over 100 freshmen, Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences is one of the largest education programs in the Faculty of Science. Approximately 60% of the graduates continue in PhD research functions, while 30% finds immediate employment in the (international) pharmaceutical industry. Since 1984, 296 PhD students have successfully defended their thesis.


Student Maarten Doornbos, Praeses of Study Association K.N.P.S.V. Aesculapius, was of course present at the symposium and party: ‘The symposium was opened by Professor Douwe Breimer, the founding father of BPS’, Doornbos writes in an impression, which he made at request of the Newsletter. ‘He gave a presentation on the origins of this field of research and enthusiastically explained how a small research group in the early years has grown into the LACDR of today.’
 ‘Professor Meindert Danhof, the scientific director of the LACDR, continued with an overview of the current situation of the LACDR. He also provided details on the current main research areas and the strategies used to forward the progression of the institute.’


The alumni of the Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences  were also well represented during the symposium and the party. In the anniversary booklet, 25 Jaar Bio-Farmaceutische Wetenschappen (Dutch), a selection of alumni and current students tell of their careers and the reasons for choosing Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences. For many, the main motivation is a combined fascination for chemistry, biology, and medicine: ‘A drug as a chemical substance, which has biological effects, which are important for the treatment of (severe) diseases’, one of them characteristically states. Another one was attracted by the combination of the multidisciplinary breadth and depth of the research. A third says: ‘It is fascinating to reduce complex processes to comparatively simple mechanisms, or to discover that behind (seemingly) simple mechanisms hides an enormous complexity.’  

Various possibilities for the future

During the symposium six of the alumni gave a presentation as well. Doornbos: ‘A few of them told how they had experienced their education and where they ended up afterwards. For the students who were present a nice opportunity to get an overview of possible future job prospects. These appear to be very diverse, as illustrated by the alumni who presented their careers: civil servant at a Ministry, teacher at University, employee at a large pharmaceutical company, and various other directions. A lot of alumni emphasized the supporting role of the Study Association K.N.P.S.V. Aesculapius, which offers serious, but also fun activities. Most of them have been active members in comities or in the board of the association. That was the way then as it is still the way now at Aesculapius.
(September 22nd 2009/Meindert Danhof/Maarten Doornbos/CH - Transl: September 25th 2009/Erik de Vries)


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