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Thomas Spangenberg

Publish Date

26 SEP 2022


Thomas Spangenberg


Thomas is responsible for global health drug discovery focusing on Malaria and Schistosomiasis. Living Da Vinci’s philosophy, “the noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding”, Thomas shares how his motivation was ignited due to his grandfather.

What drew you to work in the field of drug discovery in infectious diseases and how do you feel about working in such a cutting-edge field?

Timely and exciting! I started with a postdoc more than 10 years ago at Harvard University (USA) and I got the chance to work on a neglected tropical skin disease – Buruli ulcer. This is how I entered the field of infectious diseases and I kept working on it passionately since then. 

Why is it so important to work in that field of infectious diseases and how do you hope your research will make a difference?

There is a need of medicine or alternative ways for treating patients, and we can contribute to that. With the whole Covid-19 pandemic, everybody is now clear about the need to get prepared for the next infectious disease outbreaks. I think that discovering and developing new medicines is a major part of the solution. That is what we hope to do – having an impact on especially younger patients, because infectious diseases, such as malaria are affecting the younger ones – the future of our society.

What does your research involve?

We have two parasites we focus on in our team. The one I have worked on most historically is the Plasmodium parasite. The one responsible for malaria and well known. The second one is the parasitic flatworm responsible for a neglected tropical disease named schistosomiasis. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, as a private company, is really at the forefront of research here. These are these areas where we think, we can contribute on the R&D side, more specifically, discovering new molecules capable of interacting with relevant targets. The ultimate goal that I am thriving for is the impact on the disease. How the molecule can affect the patient is what makes me wake up every morning. 

What challenges are you facing currently?

One challenge is to become sustainable and do more sustainable research. Manage the waste of resources. Global warming is a trigger for infectious diseases, their resurgence or spreading. It is all linked in a way. Another key challenge is the ever-increasing amount of data. We have so much data that needs to be managed and it is increasing exponentially.

What are your greatest achievements in your career?

Working together for innovation, like granting access to scientists to materials for their research. Also, the research on combining different molecules for defeating malaria. Earlier in my career, I was focusing on making biomolecules in a more efficient way.  

What advice would you give to young scientists wishing to pursue a research career?

Science is very fulfilling. It is a very peculiar area to work in - the more you dig the more you find! Therefore, it never stops. Having the passion and staying curious is important!