On 24 April, Prof. Wim Quax was appointed Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion. In 1997, Quax (Geleen, 1956), Professor of Pharmaceutical Biology and chair of the Department of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Biology in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the UG, swapped a career in the pharmaceutical industry for a new start in academia. His appointment as a professor was an inspired choice: in a relatively short space of time, he developed into an outstanding, leading researcher and an unrivalled figurehead for the institute, who never ceased to give new impetus to the research carried out there. His research into making the pharmaceutical industry more sustainable, treating cancer and combating antimicrobial resistance was not only crucially important to the scientific world, but has also had a huge impact on society.
Quax’s academic work focuses on three separate lines of research, all of which are of great scientific and social importance. His research into the ‘green’ production of drugs is an important first step on the path towards making pharmaceuticals more environmentally sustainable. Natural sources of substances with medicinal benefits are under threat of extinction and the chemical synthesis of these drugs generates a lot of waste. There is an urgent need for alternative, natural production methods. Headed by Quax, a group of PhD students is working on modifying bacteria, yeasts and plant cells into natural ‘mini drug factories’, which do not need toxic solvents and do not release residual products.
A second line of research concerns research into proteins that can render aggressive cancer cells harmless without damaging immature, healthy cells. The aim is to develop drugs to treat certain types of cancer that will have fewer side-effects. Quax is also working on new strategies to combat the global problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. His research focuses on specific substances that disrupt the communication between cells in pathogenic bacteria. These substances do not kill the bacteria, but slow down the infection process so that antibiotics can have a greater effect, and eliminate the bacteria’s chances of becoming resistant. His three lines of research are all helping to solve urgent societal problems: the burden that the pharmaceutical industry is putting on the environment, the fight against cancer and bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
Over the years, Quax has proved his academic stature with over 220 peer-reviewed articles in international journals and chapters in books, and over 10,000 citations from his work. He has taken part in over ten European research consortia. It is also worth mentioning that the focus of the PhytoSana project, which he initiated, is on using traditional knowledge of therapeutic herbs to develop new pharmaceutical, cosmetic and functional food products. He is particularly interested in the potential of podophyllotoxin, a substance that is produced by cow parsley and pre-dates certain cancer treatments. He works closely with De Kruidhof botanical garden to grow his supplies.
Thanks to his experience in industry, Quax has developed a highly focused mentality, which he uses to ensure that science is used for the benefit of society. He is a keen supporter of valorizing knowledge and has some 39 patents to his name. Many of these patents led to new companies that were set up to translate the knowledge into a new product or service.
Under Quax's leadership, the Department's staff of ten has grown into a staff of over forty. They include various professors and researchers on their way to their own chairs. He fulfilled his role with the utmost dedication, and his boundless efforts and huge personal commitment ensured a very pleasant working environment. He is known for his warm personality and sincere interest in fellow man. He would walk through fire for his staff if the need arose, as he did when there was an accident with a lift involving 14 of his staff. Thanks to his persistence, they were given the right care and psychological after-care, and adequate compensation. He is a popular supervisor among PhD students, having guided a staggering 44 PhD students successfully to the finish line. In his own inimitable way, he has managed to pass his considerable enthusiasm for academia and research to students, PhD candidates and staff members, lifting the academic level of the people around him to a higher plane.
Quax has also shown himself to be a loyal, outstanding administrator. His insatiable appetite for work, his strong opinions and his heart for business meant that he repeatedly took responsibility in countless positions on boards and committees of every level, for example as chair of the department and director of the Pharmacy research institute. He was also chair of the University Committee for Academic Practice (UCW) at the UG, a committee that aims for continuous improvement in the quality of research. In addition, as an administrator he was involved with the Groningen University Institute for Drug Exploration (GUIDE), where he worked passionately to link fundamental, academic research with the applied research being carried out within the pharmaceutical industry. He also spent seven years as the director of the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy (GRIP). During his time as director, the institute transformed into one of the most successful institutes within the Faculty and has become a leading light in the Netherlands. He has also made a significant contribution to various committees, such as the Pharmacy programme committee and the Rosalind Franklin Fellowship committee, aimed at increasing diversity within the Faculty.
Outside the academic world, Quax occupies various positions on assessment committees and on the board of FIGON, the integrative platform for innovative drug research in the Netherlands. With Quax at the helm, two European partnerships were secured: one concerning antibiotic resistance, and the other the treatment of diabetes. Quax has huge international renown: this is evident from his participation in the European Federation of Biotechnology and his membership of The Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities.
Quax is also deeply committed to helping society and fellow man in his free time. He is a member of the Rotary Hoogezand-Sappemeer and has helped to set up countless local and international projects. In addition, he is a popular speaker, both at Rotary events and on other occasions, such as at De Kruidhof botanical gardens, where he convincingly imparts his knowledge of medicinal plants to audiences.
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