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Starting up science: From lab to therapy

A public discussion with Heinrich Wieland Laureate Craig M. Crews

What path does an idea spawned by curiosity-driven research take from lab to real-world treatment? How do science-based start-ups succeed in the US and in Germany? These and other questions were addressed during this virtual meeting held as part of Berlin Science Week organised by the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation. Our guest of honour was this year's Heinrich Wieland laureate Craig M. Crews. The chemist and professor at Yale University is a pioneer in the field of controlled protein degradation.

2 November 2020: Programme

4:00 pm: Talk with Craig M. Crews, 2020 Heinrich Wieland Laureate
4:10 pm: Public discussion moderated by science journalist Monika Seynsche
4:30 pm: Join in our open-floor discussion on entrepreneurship in science!

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John C. Malone Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, and Professor of Chemistry, of Pharmacology, and of Management at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA

Craig M. Crews is a pioneer in the field of controlled protein degradation. His early research, which was focused on blocking the cell’s protein degradation machinery, led to an FDA-approved drug used to treat multiple myeloma. More recently, Craig M. Crews conceived and demonstrated proof-of-concept of an entirely new approach to control protein levels in cells: the so-called PROTAC technology (PROTteolysis TArgeting Chimera). PROTACs activate a cell’s quality control system to target disease-causing proteins for degradation, paving the way for entirely new treatment options for various diseases. The first PROTACs are already in clinical trials by the Yale-based company Arvinas, which Craig M. Crews founded a few years ago. They target the androgen and estrogen receptors in patients with metastatic prostate and breast cancer.

Department Head at the Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP), and Leibniz Humboldt Professor for Chemical Biology at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Christian Hackenberger has developed new ways to chemically attach proteins to synthetic molecules – an important step forward in tweaking proteins for medical applications. With colleagues in Berlin, Christian Hackenberger recently coupled a protein scaffold from harmless microbes in the human gut with sugar molecules that influenza viruses use as an entry port into lung cells. These artificial sugar-coated protein scaffolds hold promise for new antiviral drugs, as they capture influenza viruses before they can infect lung cells. In another approach, Christian Hackenberger has linked toxic chemotherapeutics with antibodies to target them specifically to tumour cells and thus avoid unwanted side effects on the rest of the body. He recently co-founded the start-up Tubulis with colleagues at LMU München to develop these antibody-drug-conjugates further.

CEO of ActiTrexx GmbH and Department Head of Skin and Lymph Node Sonography at the University Medical Centre of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany

Andrea Tüttenberg has shown that malignant melanoma can be fought by loading a special type of immune cells from the blood with tumour elements and reintroducing these cells into the body as a vaccine. This enables the immune system to recognize the tumour cells as foreign and kill them. Together with colleagues in Mainz, Andrea Tüttenberg also developed a new strategy for treating graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), which can occur after transplanting blood stem cells in leukemic patients. Her approach exploits the body’s own ability to maintain immunologic tolerance using regulatory T cells and thus avoids the severe side effects of conventional GvHD treatments, such as infections and relapse of leukemia. At ActiTrexx, she is developing this approach further to enable the safe transplantation of blood stem cell and new options to treat autoimmune diseases.

The Laureate

Professor Craig M. Crews conceived and demonstrated a proof-of-concept for the proteolysis targeting chimera (PROTAC) technology, an entirely new approach to controlling protein levels in cells. Based on his many years of research, he is making innovative new medicines possible. For his ground-breaking research, he will receive the 2020 Heinrich Wieland Prize.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the personal presentation of our 2020 award and scientific symposium have been postponed until 2021. Details on the rescheduled event can be found on the website of the Heinrich Wieland Prize.

-> Press release

-> Learn more about Craig M. Crews

Heinrich Wieland Prize

This international award honours distinguished scientists from around the world for their outstanding research on biologically active molecules and systems in the fields of chemistry, biochemistry, and physiology as well as their clinical importance.

The 100,000-euro prize is named after the Nobel Laureate Heinrich Otto Wieland (1877-1957) and has been awarded annually since 1964. Among the awardees - selected by a scientific Board of Trustees - are four later Nobel Laureates. Since 2011, the prize has been endowed by the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation

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Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation

The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation is an independent, non-profit foundation that is committed to promoting medical, biological, chemical, and pharmaceutical science.

Through our various activities, funding programmes, and scientific awards, we want to promote excellence in basic research in the natural and life sciences. Among our key objectives is to create the freedom scientists need to conduct outstanding research.

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Berlin Science Week

Berlin Science Week is a 10-day international festival between 1-10 November bringing together the world's most innovative scientific organizations to celebrate science, to connect, and to engage the local and international science community with the public.

Berlin Science Week gives greater visibility to science, research and innovation. It is the global platform for dialogue and collaboration between science and society that inspires a deeper understanding of our world.

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