Health, chemistry and early drug development


The reoccurring theme of Mats Larhed’s work is the improvement of human health. It is reflected in both his effort on developing new drug candidates and in his coordination of the EU health project EIT Health in Uppsala.


Mats Larhed has just returned to work from a trip to Norway where he has spent time on one of his major hobbies: to climb mountains and then ski downhill. Now the skis will rest for a while and give room for drug development in different stages.

He is professor at the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at Uppsala University where he heads a research group that design and synthesize small molecules with the goal to develop new drugs. The group is mainly working with molecules that have effect on high blood pressure, neuropathic pain and declining cognitive abilities associated with dementia.

In connection to the closure of AstraZeneca in Södertälje Mats Larhed and his colleagues wrote a proposal on how to build a national infrastructure for drug development within the academia. The investigation that he did together with among others Per Artursson (Director of the unit ADME) and Helena Danielson (Director of the unit Biophysical Screening and Characterization) helped laying the foundation of today’s Drug Discovery and Development Platform at SciLifeLab.

− It was rewarding to be part of and to influence so that this much-needed initiative was established. The Drug Discovery and Development Platform has an important role within Swedish drug development by making use of and expanding the research that exists within academia, said Mats Larhed.

Today he is Director of the unit Medicinal Chemistry – Lead Identification, which is part of the Drug Discovery and Development Platform. The unit is contacted by researchers who have identified one or several biologically active molecules which they want to develop further. The unit staff improves the molecule to a state where it should be possible to enter clinical trials.

− A research group that contact us usually have access to a small number of variants of a bioactive molecule that they believe is interesting to develop into a drug candidate. We design and synthesize analogs that are similar to their best molecule in series of up to 100 new molecules and examine their chemical and biological effects to identify the ones with the best properties, said Mats Larhed.

There are many reasons for a molecule to be rejected. Some molecules affect the biological system negatively, some are not absorbed by the body and others cannot be protected by patenting.

− In the end the unit delivers a project where we have identified a number of molecules that can be taken to the next step. Other stakeholders then continue the development process. One example is the company Glionova Therapeutics, which was initiated in the end of 2014. The company further evaluates a drug candidate that has been developed by the help of the SciLifeLab Drug Discovery and Development Platform.

Mats Larhed is also chair of the SciLifeLab Steering Committee at the Uppsala node. The Steering Committee prepares budget for SRA funds, nominates candidates for different SciLifeLab positions and initiates new recruitments. Decisions are then taken by the Disciplinary Domains of Medicine & Pharmacy and Science & Technology at Uppsala University.

Something that consumes much of Mats Larhed’s time right now is his role as coordinator of EIT Health in Uppsala. EIT Health is an initiative to increase the competitiveness of European industry, improve the quality of life of Europe’s citizens and the sustainability of healthcare system. Three of SciLifeLab’s host universities – Uppsala University, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Karolinska Institutet – are among the over 50 core partners of EIT Health. SciLifeLab is also an associated organization and a project partner to the initiative.

− I see great opportunities for joint EIT Health – SciLifeLab projects and for innovative collaborations within new educational programs.

Short facts:

Name: Mats Larhed
Profession: Professor at the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at Uppsala University.
Connection to SciLifeLab: Chair of the Steering Committee at SciLifeLab in Uppsala. Director of the unit Medicinal Chemistry – Lead Identification. SciLifeLab Faculty member.
Leisure activities/hobbies: Skiing, golf and kayaking.
What you didn’t know about Mats Larhed: He has a great interest for shoes, especially welted, English leather shoes.

Published May 2015
Sara Engström


Last updated: 2015-05-18

Content Responsible: Scilifelab Administration()