The ranks of researchers at the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, have been expanded with the hiring of leading international expert Andrea Brancale from Cardiff University. The internationally recognized researcher was selected after a rigorous interview process as "Chair Medicinal Chemistry". As Chair, Brancale will build a new UCT Prague research group focused on excellence and the production of high-quality scientific outputs in the field of medicinal chemistry.
How did it come about that you applied for the prestigious position of Chair Medicinal Chemistry at UCT Prague?
A few years ago, after the BREXIT referendum, I started thinking about leaving Cardiff and exploring new opportunities, possibly in the EU. I came across the UCT Prague position online and was immediately intrigued. After some initial, informal interactions, I formally applied for the position.
How was the interview process?
It was very pleasant, friendly, and professional. I was able to talk to several staff members during my December visit, and they all provided me very open and honest views on working at UCT Prague.
Can you briefly describe your time at Cardiff University and your previous positions?
I spent 25 years at Cardiff, having started my PhD research there. After my postdoctoral experiences, I become a lecturer, and over time, I built my academic career. I become Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in 2017. I really enjoyed working at the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at that time. I loved the atmosphere of the School and the wonderful interactions with my colleagues. It was an excellent environment for developing my research skills and vision.
How challenging was it to close the Welsh chapter of your life and move halfway across Europe to a different culture and environment?
It certainly is a bit of a challenge to move to a different country, with a different culture, but to me is all very exciting! I discover something new every day, coming across new corners of Prague and finding my way around the UCT campus. Everything has been easy so far, but probably because I haven’t started learning Czech yet.
What are your main goals for the next five years?
I think my main goal is establishing a world-class medicinal chemistry research group at UCT Prague. I also would like to help and support the University as much as possible in improving its international profile.
What stage are you at in creating your new research group?
We are just in the process of setting up our brand-new laboratory, and we plan to have our first students and postdoctoral researchers working with us before the end of the year.
Can you describe your current research interests? And where would you like to direct your research efforts at UCT Prague?
Our research is focused on the design and synthesis of novel potential biologically active molecules, with an emphasis on using computer-aided drug design methods. Our initial activities will be in the area of antivirals and neurodegenerative diseases. However, we will also explore new collaborations—at UCT and IOCB, but not stopping there—that could lead to new, ground-breaking research projects.
In the vision that you submitted as part of the interview process, you wrote about the importance of a multidisciplinary research team working together starting in the early stages of the research process. Why is this so important?
As a medicinal chemist, my ambition is that my research could, one day, make a difference to a patient. Developing new drugs is what we all aspire to in this field. However, medicinal chemistry researchers cannot do this on our own, and such research is a highly multidisciplinary endeavour. The best results are obtained when an interdisciplinary research team has the possibility of developing a common vision from the very beginning. This facilitates better research focus and the most efficient use of intellectual and financial resources.
You will lead the new Department of Medicinal Chemistry. What else do you want to devote yourself to?
Learning Czech? Jokes aside, my intention is to support UCT Prague as much as possible in developing its strategy and vision, not only through my research.
Why are you interested in Medicinal Chemistry?
Chemistry is a subject that I have always loved, but medicinal chemistry, in particular, enables me to use chemistry as a tool in potentially improving people’s lives and health.
You will also teach at UCT Prague. Is teaching a professional duty for you or do you have a special relationship with it?
I will certainly teach at UCT Prague, and I consider teaching a very stimulating part of my profession. It is always good to interact with the students, to share knowledge with them, and to be challenged by them.
Even though you have been at UCT Prague a short time and it is too soon for an in-depth analysis, I will still ask: What conditions did you encounter at the University?
I think it is too early to give a fair assessment, as you note. But overall, I am very pleased with the arrangements for my position so far and with UCT Prague’s research facilities. Maybe I will come back to you with more details in a few months.
How will the cooperation with IOCB Prague, which is financially involved in the establishment of your position, go forward?
Even before coming to UCT Prague, I knew IOCB as a world renowned centre of research excellence. I am very much looking forward to collaborating with IOCB, both from the research point of view—there is clearly ample synergy between my research and that of the many excellent researchers there—and also from a wider perspective, in supporting a shared vision of establishing medicinal chemistry and drug discovery as key areas of research excellence in Czechia.