From synthetic methodology to making molecules with a mission – a research summary of the first 10 years
Willem van Otterlo was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. As a child he moved to Southern Africa and received his primary and secondary schooling in Windhoek, Namibia, and Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1989 he started his BSc and in 1999 he graduated with a PhD that involved the synthesis of analogues of the michellamines. The PhD was performed under the mentorship of Profs CB de Koning and JP Michael at the School of Chemistry, University of the Witwatersrand (WITS), Johannesburg. He then spent two years in the research group of Prof. Stephen Hanessian (University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada) as a postdoctoral fellow, involved in projects focused on medicinal chemistry and synthesis utilising peptide-based building blocks. In 2001 he returned to his alma mater to take up a lecturing position and initiated a research programme involving the application of organometallic reagents to the synthesis of small benzo-fused molecules, eventually attaining the rank of Associate Professor. In July 2008 he joined Prof. Dr Herbert Waldmann’s Chemical Biology group at the Max Planck Institute, Dortmund, as a von Humboldt (Georg-Forster) Research Fellow for a sabbatical year to learn more about the interaction between chemistry and biology. He then took up the Chair of Organic Chemistry at Stellenbosch University, Western Cape. Since June 2010 he has been striving to nurture a team environment at the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Sciences so that organic and medicinal chemistry research can be performed in collaboration with talented colleagues. His current research interests are focused on the synthesis of small molecules with potential bioactivity, particularly molecules based on natural templates such as pancratistatin, podophyllotoxin, colchicine and purpurogallin, as well as research focused on the design of better ligands for enzymes (kinases and phosphatases) and nuclear receptors (estrogen receptor).