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©Andreas Weiß - Helmholtz Munich

Prof. Dr. Oliver Plettenburg





Being always intrigued by bioorganic and medicinal chemistry and convinced that working at the interface of chemistry and biology had great chances for true innovation, I did start my scientific career in a major European pharmaceutical venture in 2001. I chose this career path, as I believed that this would open up a great environment to tackle pressing healthcare needs and actually bring new medications into the clinic, an assumption that turned out to be true. As a medicinal chemist I was responsible for progressing projects from very early phases (target discovery) through hit and lead optimization up to preclinical and ultimately clinical development. In this role I was deeply involved in target family approaches, particularly in the field of kinase research, also acting as local head of chemical biology kinases. As a project leader for various programs in the area of diabetes, oncology and cardiovascular diseases Fortunately, I was able to progress eight compounds to preclinical or clinical status. From 2010 I got more and more interested in exploring innovative approaches for improving success rates in drug discovery and exploration of potentially disruptive future medications, e.g. detoxifying compounds by specifically delivering compounds to the desired target organ or developing smart medicines being able to sense particular physiological conditions (like hypoglycemia) and then readily liberating compounds from a depot.


Albeit drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry was a great experience, in 2016 I was offered the opportunity to return to academia and establish the newly founded Institute of Medicinal Chemistry at Helmholtz Munich. I realized that this would bring exiting opportunities to explore certain phenomena in greater detail than possible in an industrial setting and furthermore it would open up options to invest in highly innovative, with a chance to become game changers in treatment, which, however, may be regarded as too risky or too unconventional in a pharma setting. The institute is dedicated to the exploration mechanistic aspects of pathology and the discovery of new treatment options for different diseasessuch as diabetes (type 1 or type 2), immunological disorders or certain infectious diseases. I feel that being located in a competitive, highly interdisciplinary and interactive scientific infrastructure like being offered by Helmholtz Centre Munich provides an optimal environment to probe such innovative therapeutic concepts and to make significant contributions to public healthcare.

The aim of our research is to explore poorly understood biological processes and to make these accessible for therapeutic purposes. For this we optimize underexploited chemical substance classes according to modern medicinal chemistry criteria to create innovative chemical agents. We also aim at selectively delivering drug substances to the target organ and to develop smart systems that allow release of the free drug exactly at the time needed, thus effectively limiting drug side effects. Lastly, we want to develop tools to visualize the development of common diseases in tissues and living animals. This will on the one hand improve our understanding of disease pathogenesis and the value of individual disease models, on the other hand it will open up opportunities for a better characterization of defined early disease states and enable intervention at an early point in time, which is likely to improve therapeutic outcomes.    

Fields of Work and Expertise

Medicinal ChemistryBiological ChemistryTargeted Delivery


1997 - 2000

Ph.D. in Chemistry, University of Wuppertal, Germany

Topic: Synthesis of phosphorylated inositols and inositol derivatives

2000 – 2001

Postdoctoral stay with Prof. Wong Chi-Huey, Scripps Research Institute

Topic: Synthesis of a-galactosyl-ceramides to mediate a CD1 stimulated immune response


Research Scientist, Medicinial Chemistry, Aventis, Frankfurt


Research Scientist, TD Cardiovascular Diseases, Sanofi-Aventis, Frankfurt


Senior Research Scientist, TD Cardiovascular Diseases, Sanofi-Aventis, Frankfurt


Head of Chemical Biology, Sanofi, Frankfurt


Head of Biosensing und Chemical Probes, Sanofi, Frankfurt

2016 - today

Professor (W3) for Medicinal Chemistry at the Leibniz Universität Hannover; Director, Institute for Medicinal Chemistry, Helmholtz Munich

Honors and Awards

Special Achievement Award, Sanofi-Aventis
Milestone Award, Aventis


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