Speaker Interview: Prof Adam Nelson - New Approaches in Medicinal Chemistry

5 Nov 2015

Prof Adam Nelson is one of the speakers at the upcoming New Approaches in Medicinal Chemistry event, organised by SCI's Young Chemists' Panel. He is a Professor of Chemical Biology at the University of Leeds and his talk will cover The realisation of activity-directed synthesis.

What sparked your interest in science?
Although I was always better at science and maths than other subjects, my interest was heightened as a sixth former by my chemistry teacher. He suggested that I read ‘Molecular Biology of the Gene’ which introduced me to the molecular basis of biological mechanisms. Following up on this excitement was challenging because I had not taken Biology at either GCSE or A level!

What keeps you interested?
Working every day with inspiring young scientists! It is very exciting to hear about unexpected results, and to discuss with them what the results might mean.

What do you think are the main challenges facing scientists working in this area?
Constant organisation upheaval.

You have been invited to present at New Approaches in Medicinal Chemistry. What led you to become interested in this area in particular?
We have recently developed a new approach to bioactive molecule discovery which we call ‘activity-directed synthesis’. It is complementary to most contemporary discovery approaches because the emergence of the molecules is driven by function rather than design. It is certainly a new approach that could be embraced in future medicinal chemistry.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?
Demonstrating that biological activity alone could be used to drive the emergence of syntheses of biologically-active compounds. Of course, this is how natural products emerge - on the basis of their functional benefit to the host organism.

Would you have done anything differently?
I would have taken Biology at least at GSCE level! I would have taken writing more seriously at school.

What would someone at the start of their career need to do to achieve what you have?
The bar is a lot higher now! The route to an independent academic position is tougher because a much stronger track record of excellent publication is needed now, which can take typically 5 years post-PhD. You then need to convince grant reviewers that your ideas are exciting to attract and support excellent co-workers; and to know when a project is poised for publication in the best journal possible.

If you had not pursued a career in this field, what would you have done?
I would have been a medicinal chemist in the pharmaceutical industry.

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