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Prof. Dr. Halmuthur M. Sampath Kumar

Porträt Prof. Dr. Halmuthur M. Sampath Kumar

Humboldt Research Fellow Prof. Dr. Halmuthur M. Sampath Kumar researches novel anticancer drugs at FAU’s Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy. (Image: FAU/Svetlana B. Tsogoeva)

Halmuthur M. Sampath Kumar obtained his MSc in organic chemistry from Gulbarga University, India, securing first rank and a PhD degree from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (CSIR-IICT), Hyderabad, in the area of biomimetic chemisty. In 2000, he moved to the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Physiology at Dortmund in as Alexander von Humboldt Fellow to work with Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Herbert Waldmann in the area of nuclear localization and gene therapy. After returning to India in 2002, he continued his research work at CSIR-IICT on agrochemical and pharmaceutical technology development. Many of the technologies developed by Prof. Dr. Kumar have been commercialized in India and other countries. He relocated to the CSIR-Regional Research Laboratory in 2004, presently rechristened as CSIR-IIIM, where he instituted a new department dedicated to biological chemistry research and served as the chairman of the department till 2009.

Currently, he is the project coordinator and nodal scientist for the vaccine immunology programme at CSIR-IICT. Focus of his current research is on the development of novel small molecule immunomodulators based on natural product scaffolds, vaccine(Th1) adjuvants/ mucosal delivery systems, peptide epitope based wholly synthetic  vaccines, pharmaceutical and cosmeceutical hybrids.

From May 2019 until July 2019, Prof. Dr. Kumar will research on new, gentler anti-cancer drugs at FAU.

With more than 500 partnerships spreading across above 70 countries, FAU has a very high global reputation as a potential platform for collaborative research. Various departments of FAU are working close knit with leading national and international R&D institutions in the frontier areas of science. FAU´s Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy has many such international research collaborations with the world-leading academic institutions.

What exactly sparked your interest in this field of research?

Cancer is a second leading cause of death in this century and anticancer drugs available today for clinical use are expensive, often highly toxic and associated with deleterious side defects. The refractory and metastatic nature of tumors complicate the cancer treatment further. The primary reason for the high toxicity of anticancer drugs is their non specific mode of action. As a consequence, a large number of normal cells are destroyed along with the cancer cells. In order to avert the toxicity, scientists worldwide are making efforts to develop effective tumor targeting vehicles which can transport anti-cancer drugs directly to tumors, without allowing them to affect normal cells. In this direction, my group in India, started working on the development of novel hybrid drug entities for the tumor targeted drug delivery and we use various peptide based carriers including tumor homing peptides, small protein carriers which have a tendency to accumulate in tumors, to achieve this goal. We link these peptide vehicles to various clinically used but otherwise highly toxic, anti-cancer drugs and study their efficacy versus toxicity in preclinical animal models. Such anticancer drug conjugates are expected  to offer safer methods of effective chemotherapy of cancer free from toxic side effects.

What were your reasons for choosing FAU as your host institution for a research stay abroad?

I am aware that FAU is one of Germany’s  oldest and largest leading universities with research priorities to solve societal problems. FAU is engaged in several cutting edge research projects and particularly the Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy has a very high reputation on pursuing fundamental research aimed at translational goals in interdisciplinary areas. In this context, pioneering research by Prof. Dr. Svetlana Tsogoeva’s group in medicinal chemistry on hybrid drugs against malaria and cancer and other infectious diseases was a unique attraction as my research group in India has been working in similar lines. Thus, working in Prof. Tsogoeva’s lab would greatly compliment my research goals and also give me opportunity to exchange views and foster bilateral scientific collaboration between CSIR-India and FAU in future.

How visible is FAU in your field of research on the international stage?

With more than 500 partnerships spreading across above 70 countries, FAU has a very high global reputation as a potential platform for collaborative research. Various departments of FAU are working close knit with leading national and international R&D institutions in the frontier areas of science. FAU´s Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy has many such international research collaborations with the world-leading academic institutions. In the field of medicinal chemistry and drug discovery, Prof. Tsogoeva’s research work on the development of artemisinin hybrid drugs for the treatment of malaria, cancer and human cytomegalo viral (HCMV) infections are highly acclaimed throughout the world.

How do you find the interaction between researchers at FAU?

Very positive and fruitful. Host faculty, graduate students and staff of FAU are very cordial, cooperative and helping. With a clear understanding of the ongoing research on hybrid drugs at FAU´s Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy, my proposals on anticancer drug conjugates were received positively, with complimentary suggestions to fine-tune the project  objectives.  I am hopeful, our joint research efforts  culminate in a collaborative project between FAU and CSIR-India.

Could you give us a short description of the project your research group is working on?

Back in India, my research group is working on two major areas. First, the devlopment of natural product based drug libraries as novel anti-cancer therapeutics and tumor specific delivery of anticancer drugs. Second, the development of novel vaccine adjuvants/delivery systems  and peptide epitope based cancer vaccines.

What is your main task within your research group/ your project?

Developing novel efficacious and nontoxic  hybrid drugs for cancer,  malaria and other infectious diseases and cost effective and efficacious humans and veterinary vaccines.

What are the most important results of your research at FAU to date?

I have arrived in FAU a month back and already initiated the work on the design and synthesis of tumor homing peptide based drug conjugate. I am confident, we will be able to initiate the biological testing of the  peptide drug conjugate, soon after accomplishing the synthesis. We are also compiling a review article on the structural hybridization of drugs.

What benefits can society in general expect as a result of your research?

Our research towards developing novel efficacious and nontoxic  hybrid drugs for cancer, malaria and other infectious diseases may eventually pave the way for new and potential drug entities as safer alternatives to some of the toxic drugs in clinical use today.

Host faculty, graduate students and staff of FAU are very cordial, cooperative and helping.

What were your first (and subsequent) impressions of the Erlangen-Nuremberg region?

Immediately after my arrival, my first impression of Nuremberg and Erlangen was very normal. As I had not really visited the place yet, I initially found these cities alike many other cities of Germany. Subsequently, my visit to various places in Erlangen and Nuremberg changed my view. I was mesmerized to find how the traditional Bavarian culture is conserved and how youth takes active part in the carnivals even in this digital era of modernization. It is indeed cherishing to see youngsters in Bavarian costumes, gentlemen in authentic Lederhosen and young ladies in  Dirndl, moving together in groups along the streets of Erlangen during the traditional Erlangen beer festival. During my weekend trip to Nuremberg, an amazing city unfolded in front of me. I had the opportunity to visit many famous landmarks.  More than a city of fortress and castles, I found Nuremberg as a unique city reflecting the rich culture and tradition of Germany, both modern and medieval.

Can you already tell us a highlight, a moment from your stay, which you find particularly memorable?

Apart from my memorable Nuremberg visit, I had the opportunity to visit various places of Bavaria: from colourful Bamberg to the medieval town Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Hessen on the southern tip of the Romantische Strasse, the nearby magnificent and fairy tale castle Neuschwanstein, the majestic lion at the port of Lindau and ever mesmerizing Munich, where I even had the chance to view the entire FC Bayern team celebrating their recent victory on the balcony of Munich town hall at Marienplatz. Even though I have stayed in the western part of Germany before, now I really feel that the Bavarian region is unique, more German of Germany. After visiting Bavaria, I felt my present visit to Germany is complete and fulfilling.

What are your favourite places at FAU and in Erlangen or Nuremberg?

In Erlangen the peaceful Schlossgarten located in the middle of the city is my most favourite place during weekends, apart from other places like the Sculptor museum or the Roethelheimpark.

In Nuremberg: the imperial castle with its massive medieval fortification, Königsstrasse, the Gothic Frauenkirche near the Hauptmarkt, the ever enchanting Toy Museum at Karlstrasse and Germany’s most famous painter Albrecht Durer’s house. I still have many important places yet to visit in Nuremberg!

Thank you for the interview, Prof. Dr. Kumar.