Considerans Gouden medaille 2012
It is my great pleasure to say a few words on this memorable occasion and to honour you as the recipient of the 'Gouden KNCV Medaille 2012'. This is perhaps the greatest honour the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society can give to a chemist working in the Netherlands. I do so also on behalf of my fellow committee members Titia Sixma, Bert Weckhuysen, Joost Reek, Albert Heck, Albert Schenning and Marcel Wubbolts. We were all highly impressed, both by your remarkable career and the impressive scientific results you obtained at every stage of your career, and the progress you have made since being appointed as professor in chemical biology – the first of its name in the Netherlands – in 2008.
At this point it is customary to state that the committee therefore ‘was unanimous in its decision’ to select you as the awardee. This however is not the truth. We had four candidates. A relatively small number perhaps, but it appears that nominations are made by colleagues only for candidates that they consider would actually have a reasonable chance. The list of candidates was indeed of high quality and the committee was unanimous in judging that three candidates would be worthy recipients. We were divided on the number one and after ample discussion in a convincing majority we voted – obviously – for you. I will say a few words on your remarkable career and the reason why in the end we decided to forward your name to the KNCV.
You made your first scientific contribution as a Bachelor student in the group of your later Thesis supervisor, professor Bert Meijer. Your work at that time has been instrumental in the development of the supramolecular polymer research line that today is highly characteristic for the organic chemistry research at the Technical University of Eindhoven. I do not think there many chemists that have a Science publication as their first article. The first, but by far not the only first-tier journal paper on your publication list! You were one of only two PhD students of over seventy in total who received the PhD degree from Bert Meijer cum laude. This based on many strong papers on supramolecular chemistry research in Eindhoven but also a number of other places worldwide. You further broadened your horizon as a post-doctoral researcher with professor Waldmann at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Physiology in Dortmund, where you acquainted yourself with chemical biology research. These two years were followed by two years working in the group of Stan van Boeckel, then at Organon, Oss. During these two years you became familiar with medicinal chemistry in a pharmaceutical industry setting, and at the same time contributed to concepts on protein-protein interactions as relevant drug targets.
After these formative years you then moved back to Dortmund, where you became an independent group leader in 2005 and at the age of 29. From these years onwards your visibility as a leader in chemical biology research has increased rapidly. You received many awards and grants and have published a steadily increasing number of high quality papers in excellent journals. You received several offers for professorships and chose to return to Eindhoven to accept in 2008 and at the age of 33 a chair in chemical biology. In your research you have taken elements from all stages of your career and have made these into a highly recognisable research program. You combine supramolecular chemistry and medicinal chemistry in chemical biology research in a way unsurpassed in the Netherlands and leading worldwide. You select highly relevant targets such as nuclear receptors in oncology and force yourself to study the interaction of these with binding partners – including potential drug candidates – in the appropriate environment of the cell. In your research you take no short cuts, neither in the design of the molecular probes nor in the biological assays, and you prefer results that truly make the difference in the long run over short term incremental steps that in the end hold no real value. I will not expand on your work too much, since I am sure you will show us exactly what you are capable of in a few moments. One aspect of your research the committee was especially impressed by is your work on doing supramolecular chemistry as a means to influence protein-protein interactions in a cellular and therefore aqueous environment, no mean feat indeed!
Your impact on research and researchers is perhaps best explained by an anecdote I heard from one of your former colleagues. At the time of your postdoctoral research within the Waldmann group, Oliver Seitz, now professor at the Humboldt University Berlin, was working on his habilitation. Upon meeting with you he was impressed, first by your appearance, second by your outgoing nature and appetite for partying and third and foremost by the ease with which you interacted with people around you. He was amazed by how you attracted the most promising young researchers around you and how successful you were in collaborating with these. When you left for Organon, he also noted that some were struggling for a while with their research and concluded you had the gift, not only to attract bright people but also to get the best out of them. It was clear to him already at those early years that you would go far. To me this demonstrates your gifts, not only as a scientists, but also as a teacher, inspirer and group leader.
I will come to an end. Luc, I am sure we will see many exciting results from you and your group in the years to come. I congratulate you, your wife, family friends and colleagues with this honour as a highly worthy recipient of the Gold Medal 2012.
Herman Overkleeft, Chair, KNCV Gold Medal Committee 2012