Symeres director Tommi Meulemans: ‘Organic chemistry is a form of art’
For chemistry students interested in the early stages of new medicine development, Symeres offers great possibilities. We spoke with Director of Chemistry Tommi Meulemans about the cutting-edge technology at Symeres, his passion for organic chemistry and Symeres’ cooperation with HAN-students. “We want to educate them in the art of synthesis.”
The whole process of developing new medicines can take over twenty years, so the fact that Contract Research Organization (CRO) Symeres played an important part in developing the first set of medicines against Aids says quite a lot about the experience and knowledge that the company has in store.
“We have some of the best equipped labs in the world”, Tommi Meulemans proudly states. “If you want to work in synthetic organic chemistry, our company is a candyshop.”
What Symeres does in a nutshell
“Symeres supports pharmaceutical companies in the early-to-clinical-stage research on developing new medicines. Our work lies in the stages from very early research leading up to the first tests of new potential medicines on humans. This type of research requires very specific knowledge.
“Generally, it works like this: Firstly, biologists search for the ‘target’, the part of our biochemical or cellular system responsible for a certain disease. When they find the target, that’s where we come in. Our expertise is synthesizing compounds in order to find specific ones that will be both effective and safe. That’s quite a task, so the majority of the people who start working at Symeres start in the lab, making innovative molecules.”
You can compare organic chemistry with cooking
“We have quite a few internship projects at Symeres. Some are based on developing new techniques, some on the synthesis of new compounds. In medicinal chemistry we’re always looking for ‘novel chemical space’, molecular structures that haven’t been explored yet. The amount of molecules we can prepare is endless and in these internship projects we really look into this novel chemical space. To do that, we need new chemistry techniques. The students help us develop this novel chemistry.
“This is our core business, but I also feel like we have an obligation to train new people in organic chemistry. Because we need them! Symeres is a growing company, so we need more and more chemists. We hope, of course, that an internship here will get students excited about the art of synthesis. And even better: get them excited about applying for a job at Symeres.”
In your company profile, you state: ‘finding the most efficient synthesis routes, or designing a molecule that fits the client’s needs, can make my day’. Why are you so passionate about it?
“To me, organic chemistry is like a form of art. Of course, there’s a lot to learn. For example how molecules interact etc, but as you get more experience, a lot of it also comes from gut feeling.
“In that respect, you can compare it to cooking: If you ask ten people to cook a recipe, you’ll still get ten different dishes. It’s the ones who have the most feeling for what they’re doing, through experience, who will create the best dish. It’s about more than precisely following the recipe. Using a bit less or more of a certain ingredient, the way you boil the potatoes, a pinch of salt here and there. It can make the difference between a dish that’s good, and one that’s perfect – exactly the way you want it.”
If you have questions about an internship at Symeres, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Foto David van Haren