Last month, Michael Sloth Trabjerg, Scientific Adviser for 2N Pharma successfully completed the defence of his PhD research into lipid metabolism dysfunction in Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease (PD) at Aalborg University.
In recognition of this milestone and his contribution to 2N Pharma’s research and development, we share some insights about the man and his motivation.
What’s your background and relationship with 2N Pharma so far?
I’m a medical doctor, having finished my formal education in 2017 at Aalborg University before progressing on there to do my PhD fellowship. I’ve actually been involved with 2N Pharma since before the company was officially established. At the university in 2016 I was a member of (Co-Founder) John Nieland’s staff, investigating dysregulated metabolism, trying to develop different compounds that would have a protective effect on affected cells. One of the university board members had introduced us and suggested I could work on solutions in conjunction with my master thesis and subsequently my PhD.
I had one foot in the university and one in 2N Pharma, which can be a common route into the life sciences where high potential biomedical start-ups and SME’s collaborate with a university hospital’s specialist research team. This enables companies to get access to wider facilities and more easily establish relationships with other organisation partners.
“As ALS is a rare disease it is essential to work with multiple partners to find sufficient affected patients and have on hand suitable testing facilities.“
During my PhD I’ve been working with animal trials as we gear up to clinical tests, undertaking testing and validating 2N Pharma’s results, proposing hypotheses and approaches to improve drug candidate effectiveness.
What attracted you to Aalborg University and Aalborg Hospital?
I’m from the west coast of Denmark, only about 200 km from here. I love where I grew up and appreciate being close to home, my family and friends. Aalborg and the university community is comparatively small and close-knit which says something important to me personally. I felt welcome and at home.
Aalborg itself is not that big but it is sufficiently big and high-tech enough to support the kind of academically focused companies where I can undertake research and practice my speciality. I’m fortunate to have found both the right kind of university and hospital that fits with the areas of science about which I am most passionate, almost on my doorstep. The icing on the cake is that Aalborg has a nice environment, is not crowded and not as stressful as some bigger city environments which makes it a great location.
An example of it being a close-knit community is that I’ve actually been studying and working with 2N Pharma’s Project Manager Anne Køttrup Mørkholt at various times over the last 10 years. We started at the University at the same time, so I already knew and had a good working relationship since 2010. In 2011 we collaborated and co-wrote a student project together on neuroscience.
Congratulations on presenting the defence to your PhD, please tell me more about it.
My focus was on identifying the optimum molecule that can act as downregulator of the CPT1 molecule, a gatekeeper in lipid metabolism. Our theory was that if we can downregulate the effect of this metabolism, to have a better balance with glucose, that we can stop or moderate disease mechanisms that give rise to not just ALS, but also more widespread conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and potentially others including multiple sclerosis.
We got increasingly strong results and over time, identifying and solving problems with the original compound and through the research I helped create a platform for a new compound that we’re looking to take to clinical trials.
What do you like about neurobiology and working at 2N Pharma?
In my 3rd semester back in 2011 I studied neurobiology for the first time. The brain’s complexity is to me a thing of beauty and my eyes were opened to something I knew I had to get more deeply into. My studies took me away and into neurology where once again I was amazed and inspired. I was then committed to find something that covered both.
I feel now as I did before that this area is important as it holds great potential to find treatments for currently incurable diseases. On a daily basis I get to investigate inspiring novel solutions, apply different perspectives and combine very different approaches to the task. I get to view the condition through a multi-systemic lens – meaning we look at the disease in other organs as well as the brain.
The 2N Pharma environment and working relationships makes it really easy to get involved with coming up with ideas and testing them. I enjoy working in collaboration with John and the team, and find our conversations stimulating. I appreciate having responsibility and being able to have the kind of deep impact that comes from being in a small group.
“The brain’s complexity is to me a thing of beauty and my eyes were opened to something i knew i had to get more deeply into.”
What’s your career focus right now?
In one month from now I will start my residency at the Aalborg hospital emergency department, which is enabling me to bring this cutting-edge science into a practical frontline working environment and enabling us to seek out areas of cross fertilisation of ideas revealed from a variety of real-world scenarios.
I chose to come here as I can have an impact for both the hospital and 2N Pharma at the same time. I get day-to-day contact with the researchers and so feel very connected to all parties. For me it’s the perfect job, a combination of patient interaction and research.
An average day during my PhD had a good deal of variety and I got to be very hands on. I handled emails in morning, and then got into the lab for animal studies and data analysis. My afternoons were for teaching, a key part of the job, helping inform and hopefully inspiring the next generation of life science innovators.
Please tell me more about the teaching.
I get to take the multi-systemic approach into the classroom, helping students view challenges from diverse perspectives. I feel this holds great potential as medicine becomes specialized and personalised to individuals, much more targeted and effective. Modern technology makes it much easier to find information, share and collaborate through different platforms, having all the knowledge at your fingertips.
Lots of students want to do projects with 2N Pharma, to be a contributor to this important work. From our point of view we’re keen to support and nurture that interest. Many graduates can follow Anne and my route into work and the university partnership can be a steady source of new talent and new perspectives for 2N.
I’ve been teaching medical students on how to test cancer patients and one inspired student joined the team doing a full research year. He’s now back in clinical studies, both learning and contributing at once. It’s a great opportunity to recruit from a pool of talented and motivated people right on the doorstep!
How do you foresee this influencing your future career?
I see my past and future as being very connected. Through luck and providence I got to work in ground-breaking areas as I studied and have found ways to continue focusing on this ever since. It’s all one career to me, morphing by small degrees in something that feels organic.
Going forward my main objective is to continue to be a consultant / advisor to both 2NPharma and the hospital, helping the development of the drug progress from animal models to the clinical testing stage in conjunction together.
I aim to undertake my residency for at least a year, and then longer term explore more of a mix of neurology and psychiatry and feel that longer term my future could also result in more work in biopharma.
And what do you like to do when you’re not working?
I enjoy the company of my girlfriend and daughter, together with our friends and perhaps a glass of wine and some music for general relaxation. I like books, especially getting stuck into a biography or two. I’m currently reading all about Barack Obama in his new biography. It seems between work and play I’ve just replaced one kind of papers with another!
Thank you Michael, and good luck with your residency!