After World War II, a group of chemistry enthusiasts was formed at the Czech Technical University under the leadership of Prof. František Šorm (1913–1980), who played a crucial role in the founding of IOCB. The institute was formally founded in 1953 as the Institute of Organic Chemistry, later renamed the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (1960–1992) and, since 1993, of the Czech Academy of Sciences.
Prof. Šorm established IOCB as an interdisciplinary institute at the interface of chemistry, biology, and medicine with a combination of chemical and biological groups and teams working in the same field. He identified key areas of research, such as nucleosides and nucleic acids, peptides and proteins, and terpenoids and steroids as well as a methodology-driven organic synthesis, to which IOCB has made significant contributions through its pioneering cutting-edge research.
In 2007, IOCB was transformed into a public research institution and acquired its current Czech name – Ústav organické chemie a biochemie Akademie věd České republiky, v. v. i.
- František Šorm (1953–1970)
- Vlastimil Herout (1970–1977)
- Karel Šebesta (1977–1986)
- Karel Martinek (1986–1994)
- Antonín Holý (1994–2002)
- Zdeněk Havlas (2002–2012)
- Zdeněk Hostomský (since 2012)
Success story and legacy of Antonín Holý
In addition to excellence in basic research, IOCB has always been active and successful in applied research and practical applications, particularly in medicinal chemistry. The tradition started in 1969 with an ointment called Dermazulen, which was followed by the development of several human peptide hormones and their analogues.
From a global perspective, the most significant contributions were the acyclic nucleotide phosphonate antivirals (especially tenofovir as a component of Truvada, Atripla, and other anti-HIV and anti-HBV drugs) discovered by Prof. Antonín Holý at IOCB and later developed and marketed by Gilead Sciences, Inc. (USA).
Prof. Antonín Holý (1936–2012) was the most famous and successful scientist in the history of IOCB thanks to his groundbreaking basic research in the synthetic and medicinal chemistry of modified nucleosides and nucleotides and also his discovery of antivirals used clinically in the treatment of viral diseases. Since 1976, he collaborated on the development of antiretroviral drugs with Prof. Erik De Clercq of the Rega Institute for Medical Research at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium) and John C. Martin, former CEO of Gilead Sciences.
In addition to this well-known antiviral drug story, several other nucleoside compounds developed at IOCB have gone on to become approved drugs. These include Decitabine, which is used in the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia, Azacytidine, which targets myelodysplastic syndrome (both discovered by Holý’s peer Dr. Alois Pískala), and 9-(2,3-dihydroxypropyl)adenine (DHPA), an acyclic nucleoside analogue discovered by A. Holý and used clinically in anti-herpes ointments.
The legacy of A. Holý in the chemistry of nucleic acids components is continued by several IOCB groups active in the areas of nucleotide chemistry and nucleic acid research. Other groups in medicinal chemistry focus on different approaches to tackle cancer and diseases of viral, bacterial, and fungal origin.
Bridging the past and present
The commercial success of these drugs and a significant income from patent royalties enabled IOCB to grow substantially and convert its campus into a modern institute with cutting-edge equipment. In January 2007, under the leadership of then director Zdeněk Havlas, IOCB changed its legal form to become a public research institution and was restructured with all group leader positions open to international competition. Since then, IOCB has implemented an ambitious policy of rigorous and regular evaluations of the research groups by an international advisory board and a tenure-track program for the establishment of independent junior research groups. The current IOCB director, Zdeněk Hostomský, further promotes out-of-the-box thinking in the sense of crossing barriers and exploring new paths. He emphasizes excellence in basic research together with support for technology transfer and capitalization of potential applications.
These new policies and strategies have transformed IOCB into an internationally recognized institute. With English as the working language, scientists at IOCB (including group leaders) come from dozens of countries around the globe. The traditional portfolio of research fields covering classical organic, bioorganic, and medicinal chemistry together with biochemistry has expanded to encompass theoretical and physical chemistry, materials science, bioconjugate chemistry, chemical biology, nanotechnology, and other related areas.
The long-term success of IOCB Prague can be described on several levels, but in general the institute thrives thanks to its ability to connect, fuse, and find new opportunities in the right combinations. Excellent basic research at the interface of chemical and biological sciences, the translation of results from basic research into applications and commercial assets, the combination of tradition, expertise, and knowledge with cutting-edge technologies, the pursuit of experimental and theoretical disciplines, collaboration with world-class partners from both the clinical field and the pharma industry, the opening of transparent calls for new junior group leaders while supporting productive senior groups, attracting the best PhD students from Czech universities and abroad, and promoting collaboration across groups within the institute in addition to stimulating healthy competition with other institutions are a few good examples. Diversity bolsters IOCB Prague as a whole and makes it more resilient, versatile, and progressive. Our ultimate goal is to continue to contribute to world-class science and to enable humanity to benefit from our discoveries and applications.
Collection of Czechoslovak Chemical Communications
The CCCC was an international scientific journal founded in 1929 by Emil Votoček (1872–1950) and Jaroslav Heyrovský (1890–1967) and published by IOCB. Since 2012, this peer-reviewed journal has been published under the name ChemPlusChem by Wiley-VCH.
The digital archive, which covers the years 1929 to 2011, is owned by IOCB Prague.