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Interview “We aim to deliver new therapeutic concepts on how to intervene with cell signaling networks.”

Daniel Krappmann about his new Research Unit "Signaling and Translation" at Helmholtz Munich

Daniel Krappmann about his new Research Unit "Signaling and Translation" at Helmholtz Munich

Prof. Dr. Daniel Krappmann, head of the new Research Unit “Signaling and Translation” and group leader of the research group “Signaling & Immunity” at Helmholtz Munich applies a multidisciplinary approach to discover alterations in signaling pathways in diseases. These research findings can serve as a basis for pioneering targeting strategies in the development of new precision drugs.

What particular challenges do you see in your new role as head of the new Research Unit “Signaling and Translation” (SAT)?

DK: The research and development of new therapeutics relies on the tight interactions of multiple disciplines. In the new Research Unit “Signaling and Translation” (SAT) as part of the Molecular Targets and Therapeutics Center at Helmholtz Munich we bring together expertise from a wide range of disciplines covering biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, genetic engineering, virology, preclinical models, and drug discovery. In addition, we are working together with partners at Helmholtz Munich and external experts in the areas of structural biology, medicinal chemistry, pharmacology and human diseases. The main challenge will be to create synergies and to combine all skills and technologies to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical innovations. Our aim is to foster the clinical translation of new discoveries into pioneering targeting strategies and the development of new drugs.

What research priorities do you want to approach through your new Research Unit?

DK: We aim to deliver new therapeutic concepts on how to intervene with cell signaling networks in order to improve the treatment of common and often yet unmet medical needs. Signaling pathways are responsible for the flow of information inside the cells and allow the cells to react and adapt to a changing environment. However, small genetic or regulatory changes in signaling networks can cause severe and often fatal diseases, such as cancer, inflammation or metabolic disorders. In SAT, we directly compare “healthy”- and “disease”-states of cell signaling to make predictions about how we can manipulate pathways for therapeutic intervention. As an example, we have been able to identify an aberrant signaling pathway in distinct cancer cells, that leads to the activation of a specific enzyme called mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma translocation protein 1 (MALT1). These findings in combination with the discovery of first-in-class MALT1 inhibitors led to the initiation of clinical trials that are evaluating MALT1 targeting in cancer therapies.

Why is your research important for health research?

DK: A strong focus in health research is to develop precision therapies. By comparing “healthy” and “disease-causing” states of cell signaling, we aim to rationally predict new precision medicine approaches, meaning that we want to lay the basis to deliver tailored targeting strategies that correct precisely the disease-causing molecular defect(s). The aim is to cure patients without the severe side effects that are often associated with non-targeted therapeutic approaches. Precision therapeutic approaches in cancer are a prime example of such concepts. Specific oncogenic alterations and the connected molecular changes lead to aberrant growth and survival of tumor cells and cancer. However, treatments such as chemo- or radiotherapies are often unspecific and erase tumor cells, but also destroy healthy cells and tissues, which leads to severe side effects. By elucidating the exact molecular changes in signaling pathways that promote tumor development, we aim to advance options for precision therapies.

What is your overall vision for the Research Unit “Signaling & Translation”?

DK: By elucidating how key cellular signaling pathways control health and disease, we want to develop new therapeutic concepts for the treatment of infectious diseases, cancer, degenerative diseases and diabetes. Our vision is to discover new drug candidates that help to improve treatments of unmet medical needs.

Latest update: March 2023.

Find out more about Daniel Krappmann

Daniel Krappmann started his academic career as a PhD student and continued his studies on signal transduction in cancer cells as a postdoctoral fellow and junior group leader at the Max-Delbrück-Center (MDC) for Molecular Medicine in Berlin. His Research Unit "Signaling and Translation" at Helmholtz Munich is dedicated to study physiological and pathological signaling pathways in the immune system and in cancer.

The identification of the pro-proliferative and anti-apoptotic function of signaling networks in human tumor cells inspired his long-standing efforts to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical translation. He has been leading a successful drug discovery program and the pre-clinical development of new immune modulatory drugs. Candidate drugs from this program are currently tested in the clinic for their ability to boost our immune defence to fight cancer.