Simona Cristescu & Floris Rutjes
Simona Cristescu & Floris Rutjes

NWO Open Technology Grants on drug development technology and green chemical industry

Two projects involving researchers from the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) of Radboud University, have been awarded a NWO Technology Grant. The Open Technology Programme, funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), provides funding for application-oriented technical-scientific research that is free from disciplinary boundaries. The programme offers companies and other organizations an accessible way to participate in scientific research that is intended to lead to societal and/or scientific impact.

Project: Alpha-Helical Spiro Scaffolds to Modulate Protein-Protein Interactions (ASPPIRe) 

Applicant: Radboud University, Prof. Floris Rutjes - Synthetic Organic Chemistry (IMM)

Protein-Protein Interactions (PPIs) are crucial for many biological processes, such as cell proliferation, growth, signal transduction, and programmed cell death. As a result, dysfunctions in PPIs are linked to various diseases. Interfering with PPIs to cure diseases is more complex than for traditional drug targets, but recent findings have shown that modulating PPIs with small molecules is feasible. In the ASPPIRe project, the research team will design and synthesize novel libraries of spirocyclic compounds that mimic protein α-helices. These compounds will be screened against validated PPIs to identify new inhibitors that may serve as a starting point for the development of new drugs. 

Floris Rutjes is Professor in Synthetic Organic Chemistry and Director of the IMM. His group works on the design and synthesis of biologically relevant small molecules and develops new sustainable synthesis methods. Rutjes actively seeks collaborations with business and industry, has a keen eye for application of scientific inventions and stimulates new spin-off companies to translate these fundamental discoveries into societally relevant innovations. 

The project is a collaboration with HAN University of Applied Sciences (Lectorate Drug Discovery), Pivot Park Screening Centre (Oss), BioAxis (Oss), and Symeres (Nijmegen). The Pivot Park Screening Centre will develop biological assays and test the synthesized compounds. BioAxis will assist in molecular modeling to design the appropriate compounds. “Our group, together with HAN, will develop and validate synthesis methods and create compounds. Symeres will then use these methods to produce large libraries of compounds”, Rutjes explains. ‘The project in fact is the result of an ongoing medicinal chemistry collaboration between the Lectorate Drug Discovery at HAN, formerly led by Pedro Hermkens, and the Synthetic Organic Chemistry group at Radboud University, based on ideas that had been lingering for years. It is also a really nice example of public-private collaboration, in which the project partners have complementary roles in addressing a societally relevant need.’

Project: Accessing ultrafast timescales to achieve a climate neutral chemical industry 

Applicants: Radboud University - Simona Cristescu, TD Lab, IMM and University of Maastricht, Prof. Gerard van Rooij)

As the chemical industry shifts to electrified and circular chemical processes, methane will increasingly become a bottleneck in closing the carbon cycle. It is crucial that methane is valorised rather than burned for energy to avoid CO2 emissions. This project develops ultrafast plasma pyrolysis of methane to ethylene as an innovative and economically viable technology for methane valorisation. It requires fundamental understanding of the chemical kinetics taking place on time scales of microseconds, which is within reach by combining an advanced pulsed microwave plasma reactor and a unique infrared spectroscopy method so called time-resolved dual-comb spectroscopy.

Simona Cristescu is head of the Life Science Trace Detection Laboratory (TDLab), embedded in IMM. They host a variety of state-of-the-art trace gas detection instruments that allow real time (at the second scale) measurements with detection levels at or below parts per billion volume (ppbV). The infrastructure is capable of detecting a long list of gas species such as hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon oxides, aldehydes, alcohols, and ketones. In addition, TDLab actively develops state-of-the-art trace gas detection instruments based on laser spectroscopy for real-life applications in various fields, such as medicine, chemistry, health, environmental science, process control and more. 

This project is a collaboration with Brightsite Plasmalab of Maastricht University (Group of Gerard van Rooij) located at Brightlands Chemelot campus. Plasmalab builds a pulsed microwave discharge plasma reactor capable of incorporating laser-based spectroscopy instruments for time-resolved monitoring of the reaction dynamics. TDLab develops a state-of-the-art ultra-broadband time-resolved dual-comb spectroscopy system with both high spectral and temporal resolution. The partners then combine the two instruments to study the plasma-chemistry in depth and enhance the efficiency of ethylene formation. 

Open Technology Grant

The NWO Domain Applied and Engineering Sciences (AES) promotes applied and engineering research in close cooperation with public and private users of knowledge in order to contribute to a sustainable and inclusive society. The scientific scope of the NWO Domain AES includes all disciplines of the engineering sciences and the application‐oriented practice of mathematics, natural sciences, medical sciences and life sciences. The Open Technology Programme (OTP) focuses on this field of research and is characterised by the absence of disciplinary boundaries.

We warmly congratulate Floris and Simona with their grant!

Official press release NWO: