Herbert Waldmann receives Otto Hahn Award 2023

September 21, 2023

Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. Herbert Waldmann, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology and Professor at the Technical University of Dortmund, will be honoured with the Otto Hahn Award 2023 for his innovative drug research at the interface of chemistry and biology. The award is endowed with 50,000 euros and is jointly sponsored by the City of Frankfurt am Main, the German Chemical Society (GDCh) and the German Physical Society (DPG). The award ceremony will take place on 26 October in the festive setting of Frankfurt's Paulskirche.

Waldmann is one of the world's leading scientists in the field of chemical biology. He played a major role in establishing the field of research and had a decisive influence on the development of the discipline as it progressed. At the interface between biology and chemistry, he combined methods from both disciplines and used molecular probes as powerful tools to study biological phenomena. His work inspired innovative research in medicinal chemistry and paved the way for novel therapeutic interventions in cancer research, among others.

"Herbert Waldmann is not only an outstanding scientist and university teacher. Through his research, he has opened up new sources for active substances and thus assumed social responsibility," explains Professor Dr. Karsten Danielmeier, President of the German Chemical Society.

"Herbert Waldmann's outstanding scientific achievement is at the same time an important contribution to strengthening the public appreciation and visibility of the natural sciences, whose findings are indispensable for socio-political decisions as well as for solving complex global challenges," adds Professor Dr. Joachim Ullrich, President of the German Physical Society.

"By awarding the Otto Hahn Prize, the City of Frankfurt remembers one of its most distinguished citizens and honours great research personalities. Herbert Waldmann has undoubtedly earned this award," congratulates Frankfurt's Lord Mayor Mike Josef.

In his scientific work, Waldmann designed a novel methodology to synthesise fully functional proteins. He also developed a general conceptual framework for the design and synthesis of bioactive small molecules that modulate protein function. These approaches have been successfully applied in biological research and have provided new insights into important biological processes, especially signal transduction.

With his group, the chemist developed a synthesis method for lipidated proteins, especially the Ras-GTPases, which are mutated in about 20 % of all human cancers. This led to significant insights into their role in biological signal transduction, including the discovery of the dynamic "Ras cycle". This research enables the development of small molecule inhibitors that can inhibit the growth of Ras-dependent tumours and opens up new possibilities for novel therapeutic interventions.

In his current research, the award winner and his group are specifically developing so-called pseudo natural products. These are biologically active substances with novel basic chemical structures. They consist of building blocks of natural substances, but are not natural substances themselves. In order to develop such pseudo-natural substances, Waldmann analyses how the biological properties of natural substances are encoded in their structure. The elements of this structural code are then linked together to form new substances. Cell cultures are then used to check whether the pseudo natural substance has new biological activity. If so, it can serve in drug discovery as a starting point for the development of new medicines.  


Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Herbert Waldmann

Herbert Waldmann completed his studies in chemistry with a doctorate at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz in 1985. After two years at Harvard University, Cambridge, USA, he returned to Mainz, where he habilitated in 1991. After holding positions at the University of Bonn and the University of Karlsruhe, he has headed the Department of Chemical Biology at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology since 1999 and is also Professor of Biochemistry at the Technical University of Dortmund. Since 2005, he has also headed the Chemical Genomics Centre of the Max Planck Society. Waldmann is the author of over 700 scientific publications and has received numerous awards. In 2014, Leiden University, NL, awarded him an honorary doctorate. Waldmann has been a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina since 2004. He is also a member of various editorial boards of scientific journals as well as numerous advisory boards and boards of trustees.


Otto Hahn Award

The Otto Hahn Award is awarded jointly by the City of Frankfurt am Main, the German Physical Society (DPG) and the German Chemical Society (GDCh). It serves to promote science, especially in the fields of chemistry, physics and applied engineering sciences, by acknowledging outstanding scientific achievements. It is endowed with 50,000 euros and is awarded every two years with a ceremony in Frankfurt's Paulskirche.

The Text is based on a press release of the GDCh.

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