PHOENIX Pharmaceutics Science Award 2018 for:
- Molecular biological analyses of „Magic Mushrooms“
- Bacterial nanocellulose for the production of wound dressings
- New therapeutic approaches for the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver hepatitis
- The role of receptor Plexin-B2 and it’s ligand Semaphorin-4C in inflammatory pain
Can depression be treated with Magic Mushrooms? Can a bacterium produce wound dressings? These are just two of the questions that the winners of this year's PHOENIX Pharmacy Science Award are dealing with. For the 22nd time yesterday evening, the prize, endowed with 40,000 euros, was awarded in Frankfurt's Palmengarten.
The award is given annually to innovative and outstanding research projects in the pharmaceutical sector. Participants from Germany, Switzerland and Austria could submit their contributions in four categories. An independent jury led by Professor Jörg Kreuter, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, evaluates papers from the fields of pharmacology and clinical pharmacy, pharmaceutical biology, pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmaceutical technology.
A gala event moderated by Nina Ruge framed the festive award ceremony. The event also marked the start of the 25th anniversary of the PHOENIX group. In his opening speech, Oliver Windholz, CEO of PHOENIX Pharma SE, referred to the almost equally long-standing promotion of pharmaceutical excellence through the PHOENIX Pharmacy Science Award: "With more than 80 award-winning research projects from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the PHOENIX Pharmaceutics Science Award is our contribution to ensuring that top pharmaceutical research has a home in the DACH region. Top-class research that can be groundbreaking for the healthcare of people worldwide".
This year's winners are:
1. Under the direction of Dr. Dirk Hoffmeister, Professor at the Institute of Pharmacy, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, in the category Pharmaceutical Biology, with the work: Enzymatic Synthesis of Psilocybin (Published in: Angewandte Chemie International Edition 56, 12352-12355).
"Magic Mushrooms" such as Psilocybe cubensis contain psilocybin which has structural similarity to serotonin. Psilocybin leads to changes in consciousness and, like LSD, is a classic hallucinogen. As a partial agonist, it mainly attacks the 5HT2A receptor of the human central nervous system. Psilocybin is currently being investigated in phase III clinical studies with regard to its use in the treatment of therapy-resistant depression or anxiety in advanced stages of cancers. Prof. Hoffmeister's team was able to synthesise psilocybin in vitro in a combined reaction with PsiD, PsiK and PsiM. In view of the renewed pharmaceutical interest in psilocybin, these results provide a basis for its biotechnological production in vitro or in vivo.
2. Under the direction of Dr. Dagmar Fischer, Professor at the Institute of Pharmacy, FriedrichSchiller-University Jena, in the category Pharmaceutical Technology, with the work: Controlled extended octenidine release from a bacterial nanocellulose/ Poloxamer hybrid system (Published in: EJPB 112 (2017) 164-176).
The research group used bacterial nanocellulose for the production of wound dressings. In the case of octenidine, an antiseptic used in wound treatment, it has been possible to create a hybrid system by incorporating poloxamer polymers in the form of micelles or gel structures in nanocellulose, which can release active substances in the form of modern wound dressings. In clinical practice, this means fewer dressing changes and thus more patient compliance, cost and time savings. The material also has outstanding properties in terms of water absorption, softness and flexibility, combined with excellent biocompatibility. The result is a controllable drug carrier system for long-lasting dermal wound treatment.
3. Under the direction of Dr. Daniel Merk, junior research group leader at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main and Fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich, in the category Pharmaceutical Chemistry, with the work: A Dual Modulator of Farnesoid X Receptor and Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase to Counter Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (Published in: Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 2017, 60(18), 7703-7724).
The non-alcoholic fatty liver and the non-alcoholic steatohepatitis as their advanced form are regarded as hepatic manifestations of the metabolic syndrome. The research group led by Dr. Merk has developed an experimental drug that simultaneously modulates two biological target structures whose respective efficacy in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis has been proven in clinical studies and functional animal models. In particular, the activation of the farnesoid X-receptor (FXR), which showed antisteatoid and antifibrotic effects in clinical studies, combined with the inhibition of soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) as an antiinflammatory strategy, promises synergies. To exploit this dual concept, the team has developed agents that exert partial FXR agonism and sEH-inhibiting activity. The combination of known pharmacophores and the systematic investigation of the structureactivity relationship at both targets resulted in dual modulators with low nanomolar potency. Extensive in vitro characterization confirmed high dual efficacy in the cellular context combined with low toxicity, and the pilot in vivo data showed positive pharmacokinetics and involvement in both targets in vivo.
4. Under the direction of Dr. Rohini Kuner, Professor at the Institute of Pharmacology, Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg, in the category Pharmacology and Clinical Medicine, with the work: Semaphorin 4C Plexin-B2 signaling in peripheral sensory neurons is pronociceptive in a model of inflammatory pain (Published in: Nature Communications 8, 176, 1-15).
Prof. Kuner and her team showed in a mouse model that the plexin-B2 receptor and its semaphorin-4C ligand are strongly increased in peripheral sensory neurons in adults under inflammation and contribute to the hyperalgesia that occurs during inflammation. In addition, the ligand is also released by immune cells during inflammation, which has an additional pain-enhancing effect. These results suggest important roles for plexin B2 signaling in sensory function, which may be of therapeutic importance in pathological pain.