Professor, you specialise in designing and examining chemical compounds, particularly ones that can be applied in the pharmaceutical industry. What do you need to prepare yourself for when choosing such studies and scientific career path?
The pharmaceutical industry could not exist without patenting. As a person conducting scientific research, I know that patents are essential. This is why we prepare a patent application to the Patent Office of the Republic of Poland first, and then we publish the research results, which is something we are actually accounted for. Therefore, both the application and the article need to be written well, but these are two different languages. The more materials we develop, the better we know what to describe and how to do it.
I’m currently a co-author of over twenty protected solutions, and further twenty are waiting to be considered. We also transfer our knowledge to students. This is an inherent part of courses related to drug design.
The medicinal substance design is at the beginning of the road, the patient is at the end, and between them there is a time and financial gap.
Students are very interested in this subject, but they have to realise that indeed there’s a long way from design to implementation. A scientist should also remember about this. Patents with potential application in the pharmaceutical industry are frequently developed to a certain stage in several subsequent companies. The last one in this chain buys the ready-made technology and only handles the implementation. It is mainly due to excessive costs. No pharmaceutical company will risk a continuation of research on compounds that still require a lot of tests, before we know with high probability that a particular substance really works, maintains its properties in specific period of time and does not have adverse side effects.
What is more, the University of Silesia is not a university of technology, so in most cases it does not carry out research work at the request of companies which later test and introduce specific solutions in the market. This, paradoxically, gives us more freedom to conduct research and have a vision, focus on our research subject and keep digging deeper and deeper.
And what if we run out of oxygen down there?
We need to know what we want, but we cannot be blindly focused on one goal only. The opportunity goes with those who are ready. If I look for a compound with specific biological effects and obtain a substance which is potentially valuable for application in a different field instead, then I should go in this direction rather than ignore it. Therefore, it’s good to leave your niche for a moment and take a look around. Honestly speaking, everything that we regard as valuable in our work nowadays has partly been a result of a twist of fate collided with interdisciplinary knowledge. I love interdisciplinarity. This is how I built my team. I’ve wanted each of its members to specialise in a different scientific discipline. Actually, I started as an analytical chemist, then I was a synthetic organic chemist, next I got interested in pharmacy, and these days I focus more widely on health sciences. Thanks to this approach, it is easier for us to find our way in different research subjects.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the team involved an art historian.
Not exactly, but you are quite close. I do cooperate with Dr Agnieszka Bangrowska who specialises in protection and conservation of library resources at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Silesia. We have been looking for chemical compounds that will be fungicidal and serve to protect the most valuable cultural heritage monuments and archival collections. An interesting task. You need to find a substance that will overcome pathogens, won’t damage paper or ink, or be toxical for the environment and human beings. We have obtained a patent for several compounds, so we can continue our research and think about cooperation with companies interested in such fungicide. As you can see, the way from design to implementation is not always long.
Is it better to design a new compound, or search through one’s own archives?
Once I conducted research on antimicrobial agents. It is obviously better to start with searching through archives. So we had a starting point. However, the specific paper and ink environment required to develop research and propose new active substances for which Dr Agnieszka Bangrowska searched for solvents and determined concentration levels sufficient to combat selected fungi species.
So sometimes it happens by accident, but knowledge and experience are more frequently useful…
A few years ago I was on postdoctoral internship at the Charles University in Prague, in the group of late Prof. Antonín Holý. This outstanding chemist was a co-author of drugs used in AIDS therapy that were most effective back then. He cooperated with a certain pharmaceutical company. Nowadays, computer programs with high computing power are capable of examining, within a very short time, even up to several dozen thousand compounds and indicate the ones which may prove to be effective in combatting a given disease with high likelihood. In Poland it is still done manually. However, please imagine that some pharmaceutical company representatives visited the professor in his study in Prague, and told him that the computer had indicated a number of most interesting compounds to them. At that point Prof. A. Holý took out his notes from a drawer and gave them a number of compounds he had tested. The ideas lying in his drawer turned out to be a hit. I don’t know whether it was a chance event, or rather the professor’s intuition based on knowledge and experience. However, I would risk saying that as many as eight out of ten drugs introduced in the market originate at universities. This is why I stay where I am. I’m interested in the compounds that I test and I remain vigilant. I can always discover something new.
Thank you for the interview.
Prof. Robert Musioł | Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of Silesia in Katowice
Photo by Małgorzata Kłoskowicz