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Dr. Gerard van Westen receives VENI grant

Gerard van Westen (LACDR/division of medicinal chemistry) has been awarded with a VENI grant from NWO, the Dutch Research Council.

Gerard has recently joined LACDR after a successful Marie-Curie / EMBL fellowship at the European Bioinformatics Institute in the UK working at the ChEMBL group. Before his time in the UK he got his PhD at the LACDR in collaboration with Janssen Pharmaceutica. For this work he received the ‘Discoverer of the Year 2013’ award from the faculty of Science.  To date Gerard has authored 32 peer-reviewed papers and this is his third personal grant.

The research proposal Gerard will work on for the next three years is entitled “Fighting cancer through G Protein-Coupled Receptors”. G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are the most common protein targets for today’s medicines. It has recently been shown in ‘deep sequencing’ experiments that these receptors are the second most mutated protein class in cancerous tissues. However, the use of GPCRs as drug targets specifically for the treatment of cancer and the effects of the observed mutations have not been systematically addressed. In this VENI proposal bioinformatics, cheminformatics, and in vitro experiments will be integrated to unravel the role of a number of GPCRs in cancer cell growth. The project builds on Gerard’s previous experience with models of protein mutations that lead to HIV resistance, and the division’s work on studying the effect of single mutations on GPCR activation ( Figure 1). The project also fits in the Drug and Target Discovery clusters’ goals to understand receptor signaling to control cellular behavior. Subsequently, starting from this proof-of-principle, industrial partner Janssen (Pharmaceutical companies of Johnson and Johnson) will bring results further into their cancer drug discovery pipeline.

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