Considerans Gouden medaille 2011
The Gold Medal Committee of the KNCV has critically evaluated the nominations that were received for the 2011 Medal. Although the quality of the nominees was generally excellent, the committee has unanimously proposed one of them to the Board of the KNCV. The Board fully agreed and thus it was decided that Dr. Huib Ovaa is the recipient of the 2011 Gold Medal.
Dr. Huib Ovaa started his scientific career at Leiden University, where he studied chemistry and also received his PhD supervised by the late Prof Jacques van Boom in 2001. He then moved to the lab of Prof Hidde Ploegh at Harvard Medical School Boston US, where he stayed for three years. After receiving a VENI-fellowship he moved back to the Netherlands to set up independent research at the Netherlands Cancer Institute. That is where he currently is, heading a significant group at the interface of chemistry and biology.
During his PhD research Huib Ovaa specialized in synthetic organic chemistry working on a topic concerning ring-closing metathesis of carbohydrate-like molecules, part of which was performed in the Blechert lab at the Technical University in Berlin. He graduated cum laude and also received in 2001 the C.J. Kok prize for the best thesis in Chemistry at Leiden University, clearly showing the high level he reached in the field of organic synthesis.
That was the point where he decided to change fields, since after receiving an NWO Talent stipend, Huib moved to the lab of Prof Hidde Ploegh, at that time at Harvard Medical School (Boston, US). There he transformed himself into an interdisciplinary researcher in chemical biology, with a thorough knowledge and expertise in immunology and eventually was appointed as a junior faculty member. In these years, he laid the foundation for his current research focusing amongst others on the biology of the ubiquitin-proteasome system.
In 2004, Huib Ovaa started his own independent group the Netherlands Cancer Institute for two reasons: first of all, there was a need for someone with knowledge in the field of organic synthesis, who would be able to design and synthesize biologically active compounds. Secondly, the ubiquitination expertise of Huib was relevant to research in other groups at the NKI. In this fruitful and stimulating environment, but most of all owing to his own enthusiasm, insight in biology, and his competence to collaborate with researchers in other fields, he has generated most impressive results. Highlights include the design, synthesis and application of photocleavable MHC class I ligands, published in Nature Medicine. There is also the design and synthesis – by combining synthetic chemistry and molecular biology – of ubiquitin analogues that have enabled the selective study of specific parts of the ubiquitination processes. Furthermore, Huib is increasingly involved in lead finding for drug development purposes and is heading the NKI high throughput chemical screening unit. In this role, Huib is one of the founding fathers of NL-openscreen, a combined effort in the Life Sciences to set up a national screening facility in the Netherlands, and Dutch representative in EU-openscreen, a European consortium aiming at connecting national screening facilities.
Huib has been very successful in attracting funding, including VIDI, ECHO from CW, but also grants from ALW and NGI. On top that, he was awarded an ERC Starting Grant recently. He is active in valorization and has founded his own company named UbiQ. He has received several awards, including the NVBMB prize in 2009, and the Amsterdam Innovation Award in 2010. He publishes in a diverse array of high impact journals – several Nature journals, PNAS, Cell, Angewandte Chemie, J Med Chem - and is asked regularly as an invited speaker at international conferences.
The Gold Medal of the KNCV is awarded each year to a young, and talented chemist, who is also expected to play a prominent future role in the field of chemistry. Huib Ovaa has proven to be an excellent researcher, who in his relatively short career has produced landmark achievements at the interface of chemistry and biology and is considered as one of the coming men in this field. His talent, commitment to science, creativity, and enthusiasm have turned him into the truly multidisciplinary scientist that he currently is. The committee is convinced that Huib Ovaa will continue to act on this top level in the years to come and that he therefore is a worthy recipient of the 2011 Gold Medal of the KNCV.