– What is the purpose of this secondment?
I’m working on the A2A adenosine receptor (A2AR), trying to elucidate the nature of the interaction with some of its binding partners. The understanding of these interactions will hopefully provide novel tools to modulate the receptor’s signalling output and thereby help to develop novel drugs. A more direct way of modulating A2AR signalling is to block the binding site for its natural ligand, adenosine. This can be achieved by using a specific set of molecules called antagonists. Novartis has developed new sets of antagonists for the A2AR. In my secondment I tried to crystallise the A2AR in complex with some of these molecules to better understand the molecular mechanisms involved in binding. This information will help to generate better, more potent and more specific drugs.
– What added value(s) do you think this secondment will bring to your PhD?
With this secondment I had the great opportunity to collaborate with a big pharma company and to see and experience how they work. It was great to see all the technical possibilities they have and being also allowed to use some of these facilities. Further, I had the chance to network with many different people from industry.
Besides all of this, the secondment opened some novel aspects in my project, giving me the chance to learn more about drug discovery and teaching me novel techniques such as surface plasmon resonance (SPR).
– What do you miss most from your home institute/city?
Novartis has a big, fully equipped campus in Basel, so that there is basically nothing missing. However, because of being such a big company, administrative procedures are much more complicated. Therefore, for the time of my secondment I was only registered as a visitor, which did not grant me full access rights and I missed the liberty to come and go whenever I want and actually having access everywhere I need to. This required some additional organisation of my day as somebody had to always come with me to the cell culture lab when I wanted to work there and I had to pay attention to not work too late, otherwise I would lock myself in. But I’m not complaining, it was also nice to physically be hindered to work on weekends.
– How is the city you’re staying in? What would you recommend to anyone visiting?
Well, I was quite in a special situation, as I originally come from Basel, so I had the pleasure of going back home for three months, rather than exploring a new city. Thus, since Basel is my city, I of course recommend everybody to visit it! Especially in summer there is an amazing ambience in the city and it is great to chill out along the river!
– Would you prefer to spend more or less time in your secondment as to the research work you are doing/ had to do?
As always, things only started working when I was running out of time and it would have been great to stay a couple of weeks more. Unfortunately, this was not possible. But luckily, I will be able to continue my work back at Leeds.
– If it was possible, would you like to go back? If yes, how long? What for?
I really would like to get the chance to go back again. I will see how it goes to reproduce the crystals I got there here back in Leeds. If this shows is too difficult it would be great to go back to the already evaluated setup.
Also, the biophysical experiments did not go as well as we hoped and we had to do a lot of ground work for getting the experiment to work, rather than actually collecting the data we wanted. It would therefore be great to be able to go back and finish off this work.