Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Ukpe Ajima, reports from Cambridge, UK

20 November 2017

20 Nov 2017

Ukpe Ajima was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary in May 2017 to attend the 19th SCI/RSC Medicinal Chemistry Symposium in Cambridge, UK. Ukpe is a PhD student at the University of Jos. Here he describes how his attendance has broadened his scientific interests in the field of medicinal chemistry.

‘I am presently a third year PhD student in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry of the University of Jos, Nigeria. My research is in the area of antimalarial drug discovery and my work involves the synthesis, characterization and antimalarial screening of hybrid antimalarial compounds that combine two distinct pharmacophores into a single chemical entity with numerous advantages. This is a new paradigm in drug discovery which has been employed with reasonable success in a number of therapeutic areas such as antimalarial, anticancer and anti-Alzheimer’s drug development.

'Thanks to the generous financial support I received from SCI through the Messel Travel Bursary, I was able to attend the 19th SCI/RSC Medicinal Chemistry Symposium held at Churchill College, Cambridge, UK from the 10 – 13 September 2017. The biennial symposium is one of the major gatherings of experts in the field of medicinal chemistry and it brought together interdisciplinary researchers from both industry and academia with shared interest in medicinal chemistry. About 340 delegates from various parts of the world were in attendance at the meeting and it provided a forum for researchers involved in drug discovery and development to share their experiences and strategies for the development of drugs against novel targets.

'The programme started with registration and a welcome barbecue on Sunday the 10 September. Prior to the barbecue, I was able to participate in a fantastic pre-conference workshop which was targeted at early career medicinal chemists. The workshop was organized in the form of a game in which teams of about six members were in competition in a hypothetical drug development program aimed at taking an anti-Alzheimer’s hit compound to the candidate selection stage while spending a sensible amount of money and making good, data driven decisions along the way. The workshop was conducted in a relaxed atmosphere and I had a lot of fun during the game. The evening was rounded off with a quiz which provided an informal avenue for interaction among the conference delegates.

'The main conference was run over the course of three days subsequently with a series of 30 - 40 minutes presentations detailing the discovery process for new drugs targeting disease conditions ranging from malaria to breast cancer and others. The talks were interspersed with flash poster presentations. A total of 31 oral lectures and 66 posters were presented during the conference. The quality of the presentations was very high and covered a full range of drug targets, key enabling processes and technologies together with late breaker talks.

'The benefits of my participation in the conference are quite numerous; it was highly beneficial to my personal and professional development as it gave me a fantastic opportunity to present my work at an international conference thereby giving visibility to my research. I made a poster presentation which is part of my on-going PhD work and it was entitled “Synthesis, Characterization and Biological Evaluation of some Benzimidazole - Dihydroartemisinin hybrids as potential dual acting antimalarial agents”. I received some great feedback and valuable suggestions on some new methods and techniques that I can apply to improve my work. Similarly, I was able to get new insights and ideas that will be useful to me as I round up my PhD research work. I was also exposed to cutting edge research and up-to-date information in the wider scientific area of drug discovery which will be incorporated into my research and disseminated to my colleagues and students back in my institution.

'The conference also provided an excellent platform for networking as I was able to interact with other researchers in my area of research interest which is antimalarial drug discovery. I was quite excited meeting and interacting with some conference participants from some non-profit organizations who are directly involved in research in my area and the discussions we had opened up the possibility of future collaborations such as in the Open synthesis network of the DNDi.

'A whole session at the conference was dedicated to research in the area of neglected tropical diseases and the numerous opportunities available in this area. I particularly enjoyed the presentation by Prof. Kelly Chibale; a Professor from the University of Capetown and one of the leading researchers in this area and I have been inspired to broaden my research horizons into this area in the future.

'My participation in this conference was unique as I was one of only two conference delegates from an African University and the only from my country Nigeria. I would therefore like to once again express my sincere gratitude to SCI for their financial support through the award of the Messel Travel Bursary which made it possible for me to attend this wonderful conference.’

Ukpe Ajima
PhD Student
University of Jos

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