#11: Will there be a new therapy for cancer soon?

In Germany, around 500,000 people fall ill with cancer every year. Around half of them will die. This makes cancer one of the commonest causes of death. The chemist, Professor Dr. Dieter Schinzer, Institute of Chemistry, is conducting research with his team on an agent that targets tumor cells. Since 4 February is World Cancer Day, we spoke with him about how his research group is creating active ingredients in their test tubes to treat cancer, as well as vegan vaccines and antibiotics from bacteria.

Our Guest Today

Together with his team, the chemist, Professor Dr. Dieter Schinzer builds “custom-made molecules”. They recreate substances generated by certain organisms in nature and improve them biologically so that they can be used in clinical developments. In the process, their research work ranges from natural substances such as disorazole, which targets tumor cells and could be used in cancer treatment, through to the first successful manufacturing of pharmaceutical cholesterol, which is an essential part of mRNA vaccines. In 2021, Professor Schinzer was awarded the “Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg Research Prize” for his accomplishments in the field of drug development.

 *the audio file is only available in German

The podcast to read

Intro voice:
 "Wissen, wann du wilst." The podcast about research at the University of Magdeburg.

Ina Götze: When I think of chemistry labs, in my mind’s eye I see smoking test tubes accompanied by popping and banging sounds. And in fact, in the labs in our own Building 16 some spectacular things really are happening. That is because our chemist, Professor Schinzer, and his team are recreating natural molecules there. Better versions of these molecules are being produced in the test tube, some of which have a pharmaceutical effect. Something that at first sounds relatively simple is, however, in truth exceedingly complicated. And that is why I visited Professor Schinzer so that he could explain how he and his team are producing agents to treat cancer, vegan vaccinations and antibiotics made from bacteria. Thank you very much for letting me join you.

Professor Schinzer: You're very welcome!

Ina Götze: In Germany, around 500,000 fall ill with cancer every year. Around a half of them will die. And that is the case, even though there are treatments available. You and your team have recently reverse engineered a substance known as Disorazole... Did I pronounce that right?

Professor Schinzer: Yes, that's it exactly.

Ina Götze: Thank goodness! You have reverse engineered this compound that may be a good candidate for a new cancer treatment. What exactly does it do in our bodies?

Professor Schinzer: Well... we have actually known what it does for some years now. Now there is even a whole family of disorazoles... over 20 natural compounds. They are known as secondary metabolites. They are substances that are produced in nature by bacteria. And this substance has an action, so to speak, that enables it to intervene in the cell cycle. What that means is that this substance triggers what is known as programmed cell death. This is also called apoptosis. What this ultimately means is that the cells die off and there is no more multiplication, which is the big problem in all cancers, this proliferation, so to speak, of rapidly dividing cells, which is what makes them so dangerous due to metastases and the like as the disease progresses. So it is an action that has been known about for a long time. The special thing about disorazoles is that they are extremely active. This means only the tiniest amounts are needed, really almost indiscernible amounts, to bring about cell death.

Ina Götze: Until now it hasn’t been possible to use this substance for treating disease. Why not? And what have you done to change this?

Professor Schinzer: Exactly, until now it wasn't possible to use it. This is true of a whole group of substances, actually, not only the so-called disorazoles, but for a multitude of other substances, known as the cytostatics. The fact is that the disorazoles are so active, so biologically active, that they actually are almost too toxic for direct therapeutic use, because these reactions are not normally selective, and therefore a treatment of this kind, if it were to be used directly, would be extremely dangerous due to its very high cytotoxicity. This means that what we have to do is produce so-called conjugates. We take this highly active substance and couple it to a protein and also to what is known as a linker, which is placed between the protein and the active substance. And that sounds relatively complex...

Ina Götze: I think that it probably is very complex too. (laughs)

Professor Schinzer: But it is easy to visualize. It is similar in principle to a reaction, if you will, of the kind that we also see with vaccines. They are always protein-protein interactions. This means that potential treatments can be made to be more selective. It means that not every cell that divides quickly is, so to speak, hit with a sledgehammer, instead selectively, wherever possible, only the tumor cells. And that is done with antibodies. This means that ultimately antibodies recognize, via a protein-protein interaction, other proteins on the tumor, and what happens is that these substances, in our case disorazoles, are administered by infusion, if approved, by means of a linker – that is just a mechanism – used to dock the substance onto a protein.
Of course we are not at this stage yet, but that is the idea with all of these highly toxic substances. The treatment is infused, and we need to ensure that its action does not manifest in the bloodstream. It is not toxic as long as it circulates in the bloodstream and the tumor cells are detected via protein-protein interactions, in other words antibody-antigen. That means if the antibody with the conjugate of linker and active substance docks onto the tumor cells. And then we make use of another phenomenon, for example, something that is typical of many cancer cells, the PH-gradient, which as a rule tends to be more acidic. And the linkers, they are constructed in such a way that, so to speak, on the tumor itself the conjugate disintegrates, and the active substance is released. And the activity of these substances is actually so great, that each cell actually only needs a couple of molecules. It is ingenious. So that is a really modern concept in cancer treatment, where there are already various examples on the market. Naturally, we have not got that far yet; rather at the moment we are just working on creating these structures, so to speak, with cooperation partners.

Ina Götze: You say the active substance... So it is a little bit... normally the active substance is... it’s like with a sledgehammer, as you said: I clobber everything that moves. And you say to the active ingredient... you make use of certain properties... and show it where it really needs to be hitting. A bit like with bulls and a red rag.

Professor Schinzer: Exactly, the active substance is, so to speak, not in operation when it is docked onto this structure. It circulates in the bloodstream with, ideally, no effect. And nevertheless, this antibody is in a position, so to speak, to find the tumor cells. And then, as I already said, a certain property in the tumor cell is exploited, in order to destroy this structure again, and then the active substance is exactly where it is needed.

Ina Götze: As you have already mentioned yourself, you are not the only ones working on this. There are other scientists too who are already reverse engineering molecules in the laboratory. What is the difference, then, with your method?

Professor Schinzer: We are actually known – and that has been true for the entire time that I have been dealing with substances like these – we are known for always developing syntheses that, in principle, as we say, are upscalable. This means that we are in a position to be able to manufacture larger quantities; with this substance, disorazole, in particular, that we were just discussing, there is a natural process involved. As I just said, they are so-called secondary metabolites of bacteria, which means, there are bacteria that produce it in nature. However, it is only an absolute by-product of the process of fermentation. It would be a biotechnological production process, which always, so to speak, is in competition with chemical synthesis. In this case, this disorazole is a true by-product of the fermentation. Only very small quantities can be produced via this natural biological process. Therefore, being able to synthesize efficiently is extremely important. This is particularly true with this substance, and we have succeeded, by using very robust reaction steps, with very high chemical yields, to produce larger quantities of this substance, in order, ultimately, to be able to carry out the required studies. And that is the advantage in comparison with other synthesis methods, that have been published to date. In those cases, it was only possible to produce extremely small quantities.

Ina Götze: With 500,000 sufferers per year, a larger quantity is really very, very useful. So how do you go about reverse engineering the molecules? Is it a little bit like Lego sets or rather like a cooking recipe, a little bit of this and a pinch of that? (laughs) How do you begin to reverse engineer molecules?

Professor Schinzer: A little bit of everything, perhaps. In fact it is a kind of building block system, which is actually what we call it. Normally the process is to produce a so-called retrosynthesis, which means that the whole thing is done backwards. We already know the structure. These projects are always highly interdisciplinary. In projects like this we work with biotechnologists, biologists, medical doctors and so on, where everyone, so to speak, has their own subsection to cover. And we are, so to speak, supplied with the structures, in this case by the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Braunschweig, the HZI. The center has working groups that have expertise as far as fermentation and the like are concerned, as well as structure elucidation and the detection of interesting new natural substances and structural types. So we are provided with the three-dimensional structure. We analyze this structure and create a so-called retrosynthesis, which means we dismantle this complex molecule backwards into more simple components. And we are able, if everything goes as well as possible, to dismantle it back far enough that these substances, these so-called educts, are even commercially available.
The actual challenge then is, once we have a strategy, to reassemble it again forwards. Since these molecules are so complex and even with our expertise and knowledge and the knowledge from textbooks and the literature, there are always hurdles that cannot be predicted. We say that these are multifunctional molecules. This means that they are highly complex, and we need a very great deal of know-how, a lot of staying power in the lab, in order to eventually reassemble them forwards.
Of course it doesn’t always run as smoothly as the final description, instead, logically, there are a multitude of frustrations and problems along the way. But well, with a deep breath, with the know-how and required assertiveness from all involved (laughs)... and it also costs a great deal of money. That has to be said. We need a sizable infrastructure, from complex analysis to chemicals. And often there are paths that lead to a dead end too. That means, no more progress can be made and we have to simply alter the strategy because certain issues cannot be overlooked due to their complexity. So it is a tough job, but…

Ina Götze: …in the end it is worthwhile.

Professor Schinzer: In the end it is absolutely worth it.

Ina Götze: You have said yourself that the production of these molecules is actually more of a marathon than a sprint. How long does it take until the substances are suitable for large-scale use and can be mass-produced?

Professor Schinzer: Well that is another question. For starters, what we are looking to do is to synthesize such molecules, if everything goes really well, before anyone else in the world. And that does not always work out, since logically the competition worldwide is very great. In North America, in particular, there are many top working groups and naturally in Europe too, that are concerned with these questions, and which also in some cases have excellent infrastructure, for example at very big universities such as on the east and west coasts, the very best places. There are lots of working groups there working in this area. This means that for starters our aim is to get to grips with the synthesis, so that we know how it works strategically, in order then, so to speak, to make it suitable for “upscaling” so that we are in a position to produce kilograms of it, which basically, if it were to come to market, would be needed, even though it is extremely active. That is a whole other story. Then you need additional cooperation partners, who as a rule come from the pharmaceutical industry, because actually both financially and in terms of equipment, this goes beyond our means. But so far we have always done quite well, in that our syntheses, although they were not only intended for the smallest scale, have always been able to be put into practice extremely well in pilot plants, i.e. being upscaled, without any great modifications. So that is a very big advantage. We have had cases before, where, so to speak, we have managed to go directly from the milligram to a kilogram quantity, without having, somehow, to alter anything much in the synthesis. But work is always going on to refine the process. These then are the pharmaceutical developments, completely different departments. There are specialists there who are concerned with adapting syntheses in some cases quite heavily, in order to make them suitable, so to speak, for larger quantities. But that is then a project which at least is no longer in our hands in terms of leadership, but instead is pursued further by industrial partners.

Ina Götze: So what motivates you to keep going for the last couple of kilometers, even when you already have blisters on your feet?

Professor Schinzer: Good question. But, well, it is... In fact it is the case that there is a great incentive. Recently we had a case with a synthesis that hopefully will soon be ready. This synthesis is a world first. And that is incredibly motivating for people. As a rule there are doctoral students, highly motivated doctoral students behind these things. That is, of course, also advantageous for the future careers of these employees, working on such a high-ranking project, and to get it over the finishing line, because after all that has a strong impact. They are very good for publishing in top journals. As a rule everything that we do is patented, because we always keep in mind that this option is for pharmaceutical use and logically it is fundamentally important to patent these methods and processes, in order to be able to further develop them afterwards through cooperations with the pharmaceutical industry. This means that there is certainly momentum, especially in the final phase of such projects. With all of our projects, which, ultimately, as we say, are as “hot”, as the disorazoles or some of the other things that we have done, it actually does not matter if I call the lab, be it Saturday night at 11 pm or Sunday night at 11 pm, The telephones are always picked up (laughs), because the people are really trying to push the synthesis through as fast as they can and to reach the home stretch. It really is a great feeling generating such a complex substance for the first time. A long time ago we were involved in a very important worldwide project where there was a real race, afterwards, with different working groups around the globe. And it was exploited accordingly, in terms of publications and patents. It was really extremely interesting and a great experience for all those involved, despite the stress that came with it.

Ina Götze: Our listeners will know for themselves, if perhaps they go jogging to keep themselves fit, or take part, for example, in the company relays, if somebody is running ahead then we automatically run faster and are a lot more motivated.

Professor Schinzer: Exactly, it is a great incentive when you know that some other group at the Scripps Institute or somewhere is breathing down your neck so that they will have the chance to stand out and look good. So, back then we were in third place against two absolutely top groups from the USA, but it was... Things are very similar at the moment in our current situation, where the ante is just constantly being upped.

Ina Götze: So how are things with your disorazole at the moment? Is it already being tested, or what is the situation?

Professor Schinzer: No, the biological testing, that is actually already clear. It was already clear as an isolated natural substance that it really is highly active. Far too active for direct use, as I explained earlier. And, indeed, many people say there is currently a kind of renaissance for very many highly cytotoxic compounds, which in the past were not developed because they were simply too active, too reactive, but using this new concept that I explained earlier, via antibody-substance conjugates, there is now an... really this renaissance, the possibility of making these substances usable in selective tumor treatments. At the moment we are just... We have recently begun a state project and hopefully will soon be approved for another. I have just issued a new topic for a doctoral thesis, where we are just in the process, now of constructing these linkers, which I also explained, on to which we can dock antibodies. That is the situation at the moment. We are able to produce the natural substance in sensible quantities, and also derivatives. We also have test programs running currently with the HZI, where we are screening derivatives, in order to identify their activity. We are currently in the process of joining all these substances to the so-called linkers. And then we have cooperation partners. These are larger companies, which have this whole protein expertise, which we do not have, and which dock everything to the antibodies in cooperation with us, and then conduct tests. If this effect works, then everything passes to the so-called pre-clinical stage, in other words into animal testing.
These are things that perhaps are on the horizon now, which could take place in the foreseeable future. Everything else is still a bit up in the air. Perhaps you also know that pharmaceutical developments today take at least ten years. I mean the vaccines, they were certainly a major exception, due to the worldwide importance, but as a rule a pharmaceutical development takes at least ten years, even 15 years, and gobbles up, we say nowadays, one and a half to two billion. The currency doesn’t matter, be it euros or dollars. It is an enormous figure. And this shows you that of course a university absolutely should not be playing in this league. What I think is good about universities is a very good mix of fundamental research and applied research and cooperations are really very important in this field, otherwise there is no chance of winning any prizes, so to speak. This means that it will take years still, but we are very optimistic because it... let me put it this way, from the whole picture from the biological profile, what we can do with the substance, how it works, it is a typical candidate for this new concept.

Ina Götze: You have already mentioned that you also work a lot with companies. What is the advantage for you of working with industry on societal problems?

Professor Schinzer: That is always a thorny question. It is clear, we need these cooperations. However, these cooperations are important for all of the participants. Another of our functions is to train people, naturally at the university, in that we guide them to their doctorates or Master’s degrees, to other degrees. These are vocational degree qualifications. That means, ultimately they need cooperations with pharmaceutical companies, which is also extremely useful. When the employees are looking for jobs later on, it certainly pays to be known in the corresponding companies, as far as successful cooperations are concerned. And that is not unimportant. On the other hand, it is also the case that particularly the research and development departments of the pharmaceutical and chemical companies have an enormous amount of expertise. Especially in these developments so it is very useful for all involved. And, of course, logically, it also improves our budget. It is always about money and such industrial research projects are naturally also lucrative, so that we bring in the necessary funds.
Alongside grants, which, of course, are extremely important, via other institutions such as the BMBF or the DFG, the standard institutions. So the research that we conduct is always somehow two-pronged. There are aspects of basic research, there is generally a very high application character too, and we are growing into this function too. Ultimately, I am in an environment, if I can put it this way, grew up at the university where I was previously, in the positions where the people always had very close ties to the relevant industries. And then you simply grow into it. If you gain your doctorate or become a professor in these areas, you automatically grow into them, and it sort of comes naturally.

Ina Götze: Do the companies approach you because they have certain challenges and need your support, or do you set the priority areas for research?

Professor Schinzer: The companies actually come due to the things that we are doing and that are published. We also patent a lot. I am also active as an advisor in the pharmaceutical industry, and therefore I also know what kind of projects are ongoing. And that usually results from such initially theoretical considerations, from consultancy things and good, we are... of course, it is highly interdisciplinary, as I have already mentioned a couple of times. We always have different partners. We have access to very new structures, which possess what you might call an interesting biology. And inevitably an industrial interest will also develop from that.

Ina Götze: Another substance that you have developed with your team is plant-based cholesterol. That is a really important component for the production of mRNA vaccines. Is it already being used? Could it be, that perhaps I have already had some administered to me?

Professor Schinzer: So, that absolutely could be the case, that you will be administered some in a vaccine, only in small quantities, of course. We are also talking here about very small quantities that we have processed. Yes, in fact it was an extremely successful project that we worked on. We actually finished this synthesis in principle one year ago, more or less exactly. One year ago and a typical project where we developed a laboratory synthesis – with an extremely short turnaround – which was actually brought to industrial scale by our partner, Cordon Pharma, in a very short period of time. In less than one year, because it has actually already started to produce it industrially, and it is being synthesized in gigantic quantities using a four-step process that we developed. The background was that this highly pure so-called pharmaceutical cholesterol is urgently needed in large quantities all over the world, this so-called GMP: Good Manufacturing Practice Cholesterol. GMP means these are certain synthesis operations where substances can be brought in the human area, i.e. directly to humans. That means, we are talking here about so-called validated processes, which have to occur in ultra-high purity form. The syntheses have to be incredibly well optimized.
The existing sources for pharmaceutical cholesterol tended to be more from animal sources for industrial cholesterol. It was made from extraction, sheep's wool, or even more unappetizing, by shredding the spinal columns of cattle. And that has a certain residual risk, let us say... ten years ago there was this big debate in terms of prion diseases, such as BSE or Kreuzfeld-Jakob’s disease. The risk is zero. In terms of these prion diseases, there is an extremely low risk that impurities could be contained in it. Prion diseases are dangerous neurological diseases. Now we have synthesized what is known as a plant-based cholesterol, the raw materials are purely of vegetable origin, so in terms of the process it is really extremely good, a sustainable raw material, which can be grown worldwide in plantations in the tropics, which grows and can be harvested, and prepared for synthesis there, which is known as semisynthesis. We start therefore with a natural substance, add four chemical synthesis steps to it and end up once again with a natural substance, with cholesterol, of vegetable origin, now as a raw material. This means we can 100 per cent exclude – the probability is zero – that we have to deal in any way with these prions. To this extent, this argument is fundamentally correct, when people say that the vaccines have become even safer as a result, since now this additive is made from plants. This means it is an integral part of modern mRNA vaccines, which are being administered worldwide, as we all know, to combat the pandemic.
And the actual bottleneck with the vaccines was not the ingredient itself, but this mRNA fragment. I do not mean to say that it can be manufactured easily, but it can be produced more or less in the quantities needed. What actually caused the bottleneck was these so-called lipids that are used, in order, so to speak... it is called the formulation, in order to get this active ingredient into the body and transfer it into the cells, without it just degrading first. In other words, in the past a whole host of attempts were made, it was done with mRNA in animal models. If they inject it directly, it is completely ineffective, because it is immediately broken down by our defensive system enzymes, more or less shredded. In practical terms, the lipids are the protective coat. It is injected into muscle cells. These so-called LMPs, so these nanoparticles, the lipid nanoparticles that coat the mRNA fragment, protect it and allow it to be transferred to the cell and at the same time, in interaction with cholesterol, enable its release, i.e. after passing through the membrane... its release in the cytosol. The mRNA fragment is released in the cytosol. There too, its half-life is very short. But then what is supposed to happen happens. This mRNA fragment goes to the ribosome, that means to our in-cell protein factory. And that is called translation. It is converted into this spike protein, which is an important virus identifier, where then also an antigen reaction... which I have already mentioned, so [it has] a certain relationship with these other modern therapeutic concepts, they are always protein-protein interactions, this fragment, which was then converted to this spike protein, is then identified as a foreign body, then there is an antigen reaction. Ultimately it is encapsulated into antibodies and then that is how this protective mechanism develops, so to speak, the vaccination effect.

Ina Götze: That is good to hear, that this protective effect is now even safer and vegan.

Professor Schinzer: The term vegan, exactly, I have seen that quite often in the press recently. It doesn’t actually come from us, because I personally tend to associate ‘vegan’ more with perhaps foodstuffs. But if vegan means that it is purely plant-based, then that is right. (laughs)

Ina Götze: It's the same in natural cosmetics, for example, that are also vegan. You work a lot with other departments, for example in this case, I’m sure with our Faculty of Medicine. How does that enrich your own work?

Professor Schinzer: Well, it is very rewarding. It is part of this high degree of interdisciplinarity that I have already mentioned several times, because naturally we ourselves only possess a particular skill set. We can produce really complex molecules in the laboratory. And my philosophy is always, that is so... or: I generally search for molecules according to the criterion, on the one hand with interesting structures, which fascinates me as a chemist, but on the other hand in terms of their biological profile, so to speak, which is always very important, a biological effect behind them. And that is then usually also coupled to disease indications, something that is also always relevant. So the combination is like that. Which naturally is important too, if they are active, so to speak, in this arena, then they can access sources of funding considerably more easily, which is, of course, logical. This should also not be completely negated. After all, it is not unimportant. Without money, ultimately they can do nothing at all, even if they have the best ideas. The infrastructure is, of course, extremely expensive. In this respect, all these factors are very important, in order to have projects of this level of complexity going on. And cooperations with the Faculty of Medicine. Of course, there is quite a number of groups. We cooperate, among other things, with Mr. Naumann here from the Faculty of Medicine, who has an interest in certain therapeutic concepts, in certain conjugates, as far as active substances are concerned. And this is where we contribute our know-how in synthesizing substances that are tested by him. The whole biological part is what we lack, so to speak. We always have to rely on cooperation partners, because we are not in a position to maintain these entire complex testing systems. We do not have the expertise and so we leave that to the professionals.

Ina Götze: Your latest success is the production of an antibiotic from bacteria. What exactly should we imagine by this? And what is the difference between this and a normal antibiotic?

Professor Schinzer: Yes, that is always the question. A normal antibiotic, well, that also comes from bacteria, interestingly, and that shows the high productivity of these so-called mycobacteria. The disorazoles come from mycobacteria too and the mycobacteria have such a broad spectrum of active substances, which, for whatever reason, these bacteria also produce. In many cases we do not know why these bacteria do what they do. They also produce so-called sorangicins. These are natural substances with antibiotic properties, significantly more complex in terms of structure – so an even greater challenge – than the disorazoles, really extremely complex molecules. What is new about this type of antibiotic is it is called Neoserangicin A. They are always unusual names (laughs), where often a degree of inventiveness also comes into play, in other words the people who first isolated the structures think up names that perhaps for the uninitiated have tongue-twisting qualities. In this case it is Neoserangicin A. “A” means that there are several of them. They are entirely new substances that have only just been patented, which have not yet been synthesized worldwide. The special thing about this new type of antibiotic is that the substance is active, even against so-called gram-negative bacteria – there are gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. I’m sure that we don’t need to go into all of the details right now. There are differences in the membrane.

Ina Götze: We are certain to report on it when the time comes. Then people will be able to read it on our website.

Professor Schinzer: Gram-negative bacteria are considered to be particularly hazardous, because there are not many antibiotics worldwide that are effective against gram-negative bacteria. Gram-negative are very hazardous in this regard, because there are various so-called multi-resistant strains, especially these hospital germs, and even more specifically in intensive care units – also an important topic at present in connection with the coronavirus – so specifically in intensive care units these very hazardous, multi-resistant bacteria are widespread. And when you look in the latest documents from the World Health Organization, you will see that there are bacteria that are gram-negative bacteria that are entirely typical of these intensive care units – a bacterium that is known as acinetobacter baumannii. If you look at what the World Health authorities have to say, you will see that there are practically no treatments against it. And unfortunately every year here in Germany there are actually deaths in intensive care units that are directly causally associated with such bacteria. That is a very important problem. Politically, too, it has been a very important problem. If we go back ten years, it was even at the G8 summit in Elmau, I think, in Germany... in Bavaria... a few years ago, it was a big subject at the G8 summit led by Angela Merkel, who was the Chancellor at the time, and who put it on the agenda, so to speak. There is a so-called “innovation gap” in the pharmaceutical industry. For a long time, antibiotic research has been neglected, and this could result in an extremely dangerous situation. Many scientists who should be taken seriously say today that perhaps in around 2050, infectious diseases could be the number one cause of death and will probably take over from cardiovascular diseases and cancer. This means that it is a dangerous situation that we are maneuvering into. And that is why it is extremely important to develop, to find, active substances that have an impact against such bacteria. These neosorangicins are active against them, and so in this regard it is an extremely current substance, and you could say we have made a lot of progress with synthesizing it. We have almost finished. Almost is always a difficult story. As I already explained, a large number of snags can crop up with such complex systems. However, we have already produced it in tiny quantities, and we are currently in the process of making a larger quantity now and securing it all. I hope that we will have succeeded by Christmas. You can see that the champagne is already waiting on the desk.

Ina Götze: Yes, very nice! I am definitely excited and look forward to hearing about it. And no doubt so are our listeners. As I said, we will report on it when it comes to that point. I have to confess that chemistry was not my best subject at school. For that reason I am delighted (laughs) that you have taken the time to explain your work to me as a lay person in more detail. When and how did you personally discover your passion for chemistry?

Professor Schinzer: Good, actually extremely early on. Actually I was always interested in everything connected with the natural sciences. As a schoolboy I had every Kosmos kit you could possibly imagine. Kosmos kits are those experiment kits which were usually about scientific things, i.e. physics, chemistry and so on, astronomy, biology. I already had, I think, every kit, and various telescopes, at this time. I was always interested and consequently I also had a laboratory at home back then, which was not always an entirely stress-free undertaking. (laughs) Certainly because every now and again something would explode. Happily, if we run things professionally today…

Ina Götze: But nothing or nobody was hurt?

Professor Schinzer: No, not at all.

Ina Götze: And finally, one last question, and now I can hear things going pop again. But this time it is actually champagne corks. How does it feel when, after such a long time, you have managed to recreate such complex molecules?

Professor Schinzer: Well, it is a great feeling. It is... in that sense a champagne bottle is a good analogy because there is always pressure on it. Not too much, you would think. Since after all we are not at a grand prix, where the good stuff gets spilled. Well, there is a certain amount of pressure. I have explained it during our chat. It can all accumulate. There are lots of setbacks and quite a lot [of pressure] builds up. And there is such a feeling of liberation in the end when the substance is ready, then we are really ready to celebrate (laughs), with a champagne party. I acquired the habit in a past job. I spent a few years in Berkeley with Clayton Heathcock, a world-renowned natural substance chemist, where it was the custom whenever a complex molecule was finished, to hold a big champagne party and I simply brought this tradition back to Germany with me. And I think that those involved always enjoy it.

Ina Götze: Yes, in any case it sounds very, very nice and above all well-deserved, I have to say.

Professor Schinzer: That’s true. And that's where the projects benefit us again, because that also costs money. (laughs)

Ina Götze: I hope that by Christmas – we are recording this episode before Christmas – that the corks will be popping. Thank you very much for letting me visit and taking the time to talk to me. I have learned a lot and hope that you out there have too, through your speakers and headphones. We will be here again in February, however with an internal podcast. Then it will be about our psychosocial student counseling. The programs can actually be utilized by our staff too. So, you’ll be very welcome to listen along and until then, stay healthy!

Outro voice: "Wissen, wann du willst." The podcast about research at the University of Magdeburg.

Last Modification: 17.03.2022 - Contact Person: Webmaster