Professor Molecular Pharmacology
Prof. dr. Laura H. Heitman is Professor of Molecular Pharmacology at the Division of Drug Discovery and Safety at the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research (LACDR, Leiden University). Moreover, since January 2019 her research group is part of Oncode Institute. Her research interests are mainly focused on understanding and improving drug-receptor interactions, to ultimately make medicines work better. Specifically, she focuses on novel concepts for drug action, such as target binding kinetics and allosteric modulation and studies these on membrane proteins, mostly G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). Her research can basically be split in two lines: 1) Intervening with receptor function by small molecules, and 2) Understanding (variant) receptor pharmacology.
Former PhD Candidates
In the Heitman group, different expertise and research domains are combined, such as molecular biology, pharmacology, organic and computational chemistry. They have selected membrane-bound proteins, such as G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), as many drugs act via these. Over the years, an array of novel in vitro equilibrium and kinetic binding assays have been developed, as well as (label-free) functional assays to investigate “Novel receptor concepts” to target these membrane proteins, with the ultimate aim to make medicines work better. Examples of such concepts are ‘Allosteric modulation’ and ‘Drug-target binding kinetics’, which can both lead to so-called insurmountable antagonism, i.e. antagonists that cannot be disrupted/counteracted by high local concentrations of the endogenous receptor agonist that is often causal to the disease state. Although many of my projects are in principle ‘disease-agnostic’, her group does have research line around “GPCRs and Cancer”, as it is more and more clear that GPCRs (and their variants) have a role in cancer. To reach her scientific aims, her team collaborates with crystallographers, cell biologists and in vivo pharmacologists, both from academia and pharmaceutical industry.
Prof. Heitman is the recipient of multiple awards, including the ‘2017 MedChemComm Emerging Investigator’-award, runner up for the ‘2018 EFMC Young Medicinal Chemist in Academia’-award and ‘2022 TOPX Female to Follow in Life Sciences-award’. She has obtained several competitive research grants, all allowing her to study these novel, clinically relevant and highly translational concepts for drug action. Specifically, her work is funded by the Dutch Cancer Society (Oncode – for personal excellence), Dutch Organization of Scientific Research (VENI, VIDI – both for personal excellence, NWA-BioClock), Chinese Scholarship Council, EU-Innovative Medicines Initiative (large consortia: K4DD and RESOLUTE), and through collaborations with pharmaceutical industry. Her current research team consists of one assistant professor, 10 PhD students, two Post-Docs and two technicians, and she has successfully graduated 14 PhD students so far, who all have been selected for exciting new positions.
Her research activities have currently led to an authorship on over 120 papers in this field, including one in Science (2012) and one in Nature (2016), where she is first or senior/corresponding author on 40 of these. Currently, her H-index is 38 and the total number of citations is over 5000 (both according to Google Scholar). Moreover, she is a frequently invited speaker (>70 lectures) at conferences in her field (e.g. drug discovery, medicinal chemistry, GPCRs), but also at pharmaceutical companies, universities and knowledge institutes. As a teacher she is active in all years of the bachelor and master Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences (BPS) and in the master of Pharmacy, all at Leiden University. She is a consultant on molecular pharmacology of GPCRs for several biotech companies. She is a member of several committees and boards, e.g. the Scientific Advisory Board of the Centre for Human Drug Research in Leiden, the Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology (MCCB) committee from the Royal Dutch Chemistry Society, the Dutch Society for Pharmacology. Lastly, she is chair and local organizer of the European Federation for Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology (EFMC) Short Courses on Medicinal Chemistry, which are organized yearly.
Laura's search for better medicines
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