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"Only Happy Researchers Are Good Researchers”
My name is Bernd Riedl, I am 50 years old and work as a chemist for Bayer HealthCare in Wuppertal. My team and I have synthesized an active substance that has now been authorized for the treatment of different types of cancer.
I discovered my love of chemistry in my very first chemistry lesson at school. When I was studying chemistry in Stuttgart, I produced complex natural compound molecules in Prof. Ulrich Schmidt’s group – or "cooked them up” as we chemists like to say – practical and focused research work which I really enjoyed. We not only wanted to copy the complex systems of nature, but also to improve their efficacy.
When I was a student, every spare moment and every spare Mark was spent on motor cycling. Without the great support of my parents, my studies would probably have come to nothing. My research work today has a very personal connection as I came into contact with cancer in my immediate family at a very early age. I have also lost two very good friends from university to cancer – one of whom died from liver cancer within four months. At that time I had no idea how these events would spur me on in the discovery of a novel active substance for the treatment of cancer.
I joined an ongoing project in the USA as chemical project leader in 1996. A research team was looking for compounds which switch off enzymes that play a crucial part in the division of tumor cells. Our team started working with a small molecule and synthesized close relatives of it that were then studied by biologists. Although what we had "cooked up” after a year and a few learning cycles was effective against cancer cells, it was unsuitable for use in humans.
Research Work is only Possible in a Team
We wondered whether this was something to do with the mechanism of action, i.e. the inhibition of cell division, or whether it was pure chance. After a further year’s work, we were coming close to our goal. We developed another series of over 50 new compounds, all of which we synthesized in the laboratory. I was convinced that the right molecule must be among them. We did indeed find a small group of well-tolerated molecules which at the same time had the desired effect against cancer cells. From this group, we finally identified the molecule that subsequently went into clinical development as an active substance candidate and has now been approved as a cancer therapy for certain tumors.
Together with the biological project leader Barbara Hibner, I led the project team of about 25 people from all over the world. Research work of this kind is only possible in a team – it is completely impossible alone. We worked together, sometimes in unorthodox ways, but we were always highly effective and ultimately very successful.
In 2004, together with my colleagues Timothy Lowinger, Scott Wilhelm and Edward Huguenel, I was awarded the Otto Bayer Medal for this team achievement – the highest accolade for scientific work at Bayer.
Back in Germany, I found a new area of work in Medical Chemistry at the Bayer HealthCare research center in Wuppertal. Of course, I follow the development of the active substance with great interest: it’s like having a child – you want to be there and are pleased and proud when it does well.