Nicolas Thomä, a research group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI) in Basel, receives the Otto Naegeli Prize for Medical Research, one of the most prestigious scientific awards in Switzerland. Thomä is recognized for his groundbreaking work on targeted protein degradation, which contributes to advancing drug design.
From the outset of his career, structural biologist Nicolas Thomä has sought to understand the structure and function of protein complexes that ensure genome stability and maintenance, and often play a role in cancer.
A specific emphasis of Thomä’s research has been on small-molecule therapeutics that target disease-causing proteins for degradation. Thomä’s work has shown how some small molecules function as "molecular glues", inducing interactions between a target protein and an enzyme that tags proteins for degradation. Such molecular glues have the potential to target proteins that were previously thought to be undruggable. Research from Thomä’s laboratory elucidated how the molecular glue thalidomide and its analogues function at the molecular level. To date, thalidomide derivatives are among the most successful drugs for several forms of blood cancers (learn more in the video below). Structural biologist Nicolas Thomä talks about his fascination with proteins and his work on "molecular glues".
Thomä’s research has also advanced the understanding of how proteins that are essential to turn genes on and off can bind the DNA molecule in the nucleus, where DNA is tightly packed around proteins and thus not easily accessible. In addition, the Thomä laboratory has made contributions to the field of DNA repair by revealing the mechanisms through which cells recognize a form of DNA damage induced by ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV-induced DNA damage plays a key role in the development of skin cancer. For their studies, researchers from the Thomä group use a multidisciplinary approach that includes biochemistry and cryogenic electron microscopy, or cryo-EM.
Nicolas Thomä is the third FMI scientist to be honored with the Otto Naegeli Prize: senior group leader Silvia Arber received the prize in 2014, and Susan Gasser, senior group leader emerita and longtime director, received it in 2006.
The award ceremony will take place on June 14, 2022, at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel.