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Chemistry research for better chemotherapy Finalist PNAS paper award

Last year, chemists Dennis Wander and Hermen Overkleeft contributed to an important discovery about a widely used cancer drug. Their research has now been recognised as Finalist for the PNAS Cozzarelli Prize in the Biomedical Sciences class.


In addition to the Cozzarelliprize for best paper, this year's PNAS jury recognised six ‘Finalists', one in each class. ‘A so-called second prize, because the pool of papers was so strong this year,’ says Dennis Wander. For the team, the appreciation from PNAS comes as extra icing on the cake. ‘It took us fourteen attempts at various journals before our paper finally made it to PNAS,’ says Wander. ‘So it is great to receive this recognition for our work. Very rewarding.’

Less side effects

Together with scientists from the LUMC, the chemists found a way to reduce the side effects of the anticancer drug doxorubicin without losing its effectiveness. Their discovery went so strongly against the existing dogma that it took years to get the paper published.

Doxorubicin is a widely used drug, but serious side effects are still often a reason to discontinue treatment. This is because doxorubicin not only creates breaks in the DNA, but also causes damage to the chromatin-the material around which DNA is wound. This combination makes the drug enormously effective against cancer, but it also proved to be the cause of serious side effects, such as heart failure.

By modifying the structure of the molecule, the scientists made a variant of doxorubicin that does not cause DNA breaks, but still damages chromatin.

Read more about the research here – Smart chemistry rids anti-cancer drugs of serious side effects

Into the clinic

Meanwhile, Wander and his colleagues are not sitting still. 'Our main goal now is to produce the new variant of the drug on a large scale,' says Wander. 'Because it's already a known substance, it can't be patented. So the pharmaceutical industry is not interested in investing. Therefore, we are doing it in academic form, including with the Acadamic Pharmacy department at LUMC.’ And then...? ‘After that, of course, we want to get our drug into the clinic!’

About the PNAS Cozzarelli Prize

PNAS awards the CozzarelliPrize annually to the six research teams whose PNAS articles have made outstanding contributions to their fields, ranging from engineering to social sciences. In addition to the six paper awards, this year's jury also designated a Finalist in each class. These outstanding papers receive special attention on the PNAS website and social media.
The prize has been awarded since 2005 and is named after former PNAS Editor-in-Chief Nicholas R. Cozzareli (1938-2006). This year's award ceremony will take place online at the 158th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, in April.

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