A love affair with Pharmacology for Prof Danny Hoyer
After more than 38 years in the Pharmaceutical Industry and Academia, the Chair of Pharmacology and Therapeutics in the Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology is retiring.
With a grandfather who worked at Sandoz, one of Basle’s four major pharmaceuticals, from 1913 until his retirement, it was little wonder Daniel Hoyer’s interest in discovery science was piqued at a young age.
“I was fascinated by how ‘simple’ chemicals could, by binding to a few proteins within or on the cells’ surface, induce such dramatic changes in the body and potentially treat complex diseases,” he says.
“My love affair with pharmacology, drug discovery, research and development flourished during my early years of study”, especially since Hoyer completed 6 summer placements with Roche and Sandoz in Basle before his PhD, experiencing research in Pharma from the inside.
After a baccalaureate in Biochemistry, a Masters in Biochemistry and Physiology and a PhD in Pharmacology in Strasbourg and Sandoz, Prof Hoyer moved to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia for a post-doc and was offered a job focusing on serotonin (5-HT), a completely new field.
He worked with Sandoz/Novartis for 31 years to develop drugs for cardiovascular diseases, migraine, pain, irritable bowel syndrome, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, epilepsy, oncology, endocrine and sleep disorders. “One of the benefits of working in Pharma is the constant change – there’s never a dull moment,” he says.
During this time, Danny was the recipient of many accolades. By 2002, he was on the first ISI highly cited researchers list. In 2003, he was ranked in the top 10 most cited pharmacologists in the world. Having moved from 5-HT to Neuropeptides, he got a European Neuropeptide Club (ENC) prize for his work on somatostatin, became a Novartis leading scientist and Fellow on the British Pharmacology Society (BPS). In 2003-2004, Prof Hoyer was elected president of the International Society for Serotonin Research (ISSR), chaired IUPHAR committees on 5-HT and somatostatin receptors, became ENC president and adjunct Professor at Scipps .
His work resulted in six patents, two which are biological in essence and are his favourites. “They concentrate on neuropsychiatric disorders treatments, for depression and bipolar disorders, but also schizophrenia and migraine,” he explains. “They are based on gene expression profiling performed in tissues from patients and animal models of disease.”
LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE
After three decades working mainly in cardiovascular and neuropsychiatry, Prof Hoyer was ready for a change.
“One of my jobs with Novartis was to manage and coordinate academic collaborations. So, I was curious about life on the other side of the fence.”
He applied for the Chair and Head of Pharmacology at the University of Melbourne in 2012 – a good choice as his wife Laura, a neuroscientist, is from Auckland.
Since his arrival, Prof Hoyer has been instrumental in establishing important collaborations, including the Lung Health Research Centre in 2013, the Therapeutic Technologies Hallmark Research Initiative in 2014, BioCurate Pty Ltd (Project Mercury) between Monash University and University of Melbourne in 2015, the ARC-funded Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Personal Therapeutics and the SPARK programme in 2017, TianLi Biotech, a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and the Chinese Pharma First Biotech last year – despite challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since joining Melbourne, he became a BPS Honorary Fellow and ISSR Life Fellow, a 2019 and 2020 Highly Cited Researcher, the 2015-2020 most cited pharmacologist in Australia and a French National Academy of Pharmacy member. Hoyer has published >390 papers, > 36,700 citations and an H factor of 91.
“In recent years, I’ve seen massive progress in chemistry, biology and biophysics including advances in genetics, epigenetics, imaging and – more recently – structural biology. This has allowed scientists to design, synthesize and screen millions of compounds and biologics using high throughput synthesis and screening in a minimal amount of time,” explains Prof Hoyer.
“Whole genome sequencing, antisense, SiRNA and CRISPR have set new frontiers in biomedical sciences, both preclinically and clinically. All these discoveries and developments have impacted the therapeutic aspects of our work tremendously”.
“As the link to disease becomes better known, this favours the development of precision medicines and the promise of real power to tackle human disease.”
While retirement begins on 3 July 2021, Prof Hoyer will continue his involvement with Academia and Industry. He still has post-docs, students and mentees under his wing and remains on the board of the British Journal of Pharmacology after 16 years, and several learned societies.
“I look forward to having time for sport, culture, travel, friends and family. Our children and grandchildren live in Europe; I will take more time to see them, and discover Australia.”
Prof Hoyer has greatly enjoyed his time in Melbourne. “Academia is different from Industry; I have met and worked with fantastic people across the Melbourne Precinct and Australia. Now, it’s time for another change, although I am not going far.”
His closing recommendation to fellow scientists young and young at heart: “Whatever you do, make sure you like your work! if you start enjoying it less, do not fear the change. Grab the opportunity to move forward into something new.”