Via Chimica

joint prize of the Experientia Foundation
and the Learned Society of the Czech Republic for university students

This year’s winner of the Via Chimica Prize is

Ondřej Daněk

from the University of Chemistry and Technology (UCT) in Prague. In his bachelor’s work, Daněk focused on small molecules in the search for new drugs against HIV.

Using small molecules, he searched for new drugs against the HIV virus: for his bachelor's thesis, Ondřej Daněk from VŠCHT Prague won the Via Chimica 2023 prize for young chemical talents.

The Via Chimica Prize for 2023 has been won by Ondřej Daněk from the UCT in Prague. The prize, which is awarded annually to gifted university chemistry students by the Experientia Foundation in cooperation with the Learned Society of the Czech Republic, was awarded to Daněk for his exceptional bachelor’s thesis entitled “Synthesis of Quinolone-Based DC-SIGN Inhibitors.” In his research work, which he successfully defended at the UCT in Prague, Ondřej designed and synthesized small molecules that could potentially prevent the HIV virus from attacking the human immune system. In addition to the prize, the gifted young scientist will receive a personal award of CZK 50,000 from the Experientia Foundation.

Ondřej Daněk convinced the committee of the merit of his independent scientific research on this modern and socially relevant topic. “In his bachelor’s thesis, he used new methods of medicinal chemistry to synthesize a series of small molecules based on quinolone, the interlinking of which creates new DC-SIGN receptor inhibitors, which may potentially lead to new medicines (e.g. against HIV),” explains Professor Jana Klánová, chair of the joint evaluation committee of the Learned Society of the Czech Republic and the Experientia Foundation. “He also impressed us with the wide range of other activities he has engaged in, including his research stay abroad and his internship in a company, as well as his science popularisation efforts. The committee particularly appreciated his commitment to popularising chemistry and biology among high-school students, especially his contribution to organising science Olympiads, team competitions and summer schools, as well as his work as a counsellor at chemistry-focused summer camps,” she added.

And what was Ondřej’s winning thesis about? As the winner himself explains, “The cell surfaces of the dendritic cells of the human immune system contain what are known as DC-SIGN receptors. These play a crucial role in pathogen recognition and the immune response against pathogens. Dendritic cells use these receptors to bind to oligosaccharide (sugar) chains on the surface of the pathogen. The cells then pass the bound pathogen to T-lymphocytes, which can produce antibodies against it. However, HIV takes advantage of this interaction by infecting the T-lymphocyte once the dendritic cell transfers the pathogen to it. How do we prevent the virus from doing this? Scientists initially attempted to block the binding site directly, but with little success. A key breakthrough came in 2017 when it was established that there are several additional secondary binding sites on the receptor that may interact better with potential medicines. And so these were the sites we focused on. In our group, which is led by Petra Ménová, we synthesize small molecules, where it is generally easier to establish which parts of the molecule are significant for the interaction with the receptor, and which are less so. Later, we combine the most potent of these molecules to form inhibitors which bind much more strongly to the receptor. Our goal is to prepare compounds which, through the way they bind, can force the receptor to alter its shape in such a way that natural ligands (and therefore pathogens) can no longer bind to the primary binding site,” Daněk adds.

Ondřej Daněk (*2000)

The winner of the Via Chimica Award for 2023, Ondřej Daněk, was born in Prague in the year 2000. After graduating from the Botičská Grammar School (which specialises in science), he continued to the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, where he is studying for his Master’s degree in Organic Chemistry. He has already presented some of the results of his scientific work at several conferences, and published in the journal ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters. He completed an internship at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and in Santiago Lab (a synthesis-on-demand company). He has actively organised summer camps for young chemists and biologists in the Czech town of Běstvina, as well as chemistry competitions for high school students, and the national round of the Chemistry Olympiad.