The Scientist

Advancing the Frontier of Chemistry, Biology and Medicine

Chemists have the unique power to make novel molecules and thereby create wonderful tools to understand biological processes and materials properties. As toolmakers we enable ourselves and others to make fundamental discoveries

Professor Seeberger studied chemistry in Erlangen (Germany) and completed a PhD in biochemistry in Boulder (USA). After a postdoctoral fellowship at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Research in New York he advanced to tenured Firmenich Associate Professor of Chemistry at MIT. After six years as Professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich he assumed positions as Director at the Max-Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and Professor at the Free University of Berlin in 2009. In addition, he serves as honorary Professor at the University of Potsdam. From 2003-2014 he was Affiliate Professor at the Sanford-Burnham Institute for Medical Research (La Jolla, USA).

Professor Seeberger’s research on the chemistry and biology of carbohydrates, carbohydrate vaccine development and continuous flow synthesis of drug substances spans a broad range of topics from engineering to immunology and has been documented in over 500 peer-reviewed journal articles, four books, more than 40 patents, over 200 published abstracts and more than 850 invited lectures. This work was recognized with more than 35 international awards from the US (e.g. Arthur C. Cope Young Scholar Award 2003, Horace B. Isbell Award 2003, Claude S. Hudson Award 2009 from the American Chemical Society), Germany (e.g. Körber Prize for European Sciences 2007, Wissenschaftspreis des Stifterverbandes 2017), Holland (Havinga Medal), Israel (Honorary Lifetime Member Israel Chemical Society), Japan (Yoshimasa Hirata Gold Medal), Switzerland (“The 100 Most Important Swiss”), the Philippines (Gusi Peace Prize 2018) and international organizations (Whistler Award 2012, Int. Carboh. Soc.). In 2013 he was elected to the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences.

Glycosciences. Peter Seeberger developed the chemical basis for automated glycan assembly, a feat previously deemed impossible (Science 2001, 291, 1523). Over the next decade he systematically developed a general synthesis of the largest class of biopolymers. The chemistry was extended to the more difficult cis-glycosidic linkages (Nature Comm. 2016, 7, 12482). Seeberger built in 2008 the first automated glycan synthesizer prototype (now exhibited in Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin). A commercial instrument (Glyconeer 2.1 by GlycoUniverse) is used by laboratories world-wide (Proc Nat Acad Sci USA, 2017, 114, E3385).

Vaccine Development. Reliable, quick access to defined glycans opened an alternative path to the development of vaccines against a host of pathogens. Until today, glycoconjugate vaccines such as Prevenar 13 against streptococci (Revenues 2015: > 6,5 billion USD) were produced by growing bacteria and isolating the glycans from their surface. Seeberger showed that short synthetic glycans are able to protect in animal models from several types of Streptococcus pneumoniaewhere either no vaccines exist or existing vaccines are insufficient e.g. serotype 8 (Science Transl. Med. 2017, 9, eaaf5347) serotype 2 (J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2017, 139, 14783),serotype 5 (Proc Nat Acad Sci USA, 2017, 114, 11063) and serotype 3 (Cell Chem. Bio.2016,23, 1407). A first synthetic glycan vaccine candidate against the particularly deadly hospital acquired infection Klebsiella pneumoniaewas recently disclosed (Angew.Chem.Int.Ed.2017,56, 13973). Glycoepitopes ofClostridium difficile, an important hospital acquired infection, were identified and characterized (Nature Comm. 2016, 7, 11224) and several glycans are currently in animal challenge studies. Vaxxilon AG, founded in 2015, advances the synthetic glycoconjugate vaccine candidates developed in the Seeberger laboratory and has been given the go-ahead by the Paul Ehrlich Institute for clinical trials to commence in 2019.

Diagnostics. Rapid and reliable access to defined carbohydrates enabled Prof. Seeberger to build cell surface glycans of bacteria and parasites to identify epitopes that are recognized by the human immune system and test them in animal models. An antibody against Bacillus anthracis(Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.2005, 44, 6315) eventually provided the basis for a diagnostic kit to detect this biowarfare agent (licensed by MiproLab). Monoclonal antibodies as well as more recently nanobodies against surface glycans found on bacteria such as plague (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.2013,52, 9524) and parasites have been developed as research tools (Methods Mol. Biol., 2015, 1331, 57) and as potential diagnostic and therapeutic agents.

Peter H. Seeberger – Biographical Sketch