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Published: 11 Dec, 2018

With discovery as a driving force

NEWS The career of chemistry professor Anna Linusson Jonsson career may seem to be straight and mapped out. She herself believes that it has been controlled by coincidences – where she had the courage to say yes when she has received offers and has chosen to be better safe than sorry.

Anna Linusson Jonsson, professor of medicinal chemistry at the Department of Chemical Sciences has a passion for collaboration and wants her research to make a difference. I encounter a talkative and articulate blond woman from Småland in a bright, large and airy office.

Anna's latest challenge is as director of the university's Corporate Research School for Collaboration and Innovation.

"It feels great to be working with collaboration. We see tangible results when researchers collaborate with industry. The doctoral students contribute with their knowledge resource to companies and doctoral students come into contact with the business community and build networks for the future," she says.

She sees a great potential in the graduate school and would like to see that more doctoral students are taken in in the future and be appealing to more companies and, even to a greater extent, the public sector.

The joy of discovery

"Discovering things and matching the pieces of a puzzle has been my driving force as a researcher. All the time I try to figure out how things work. I like to work together and discuss my way to solutions".

Anna thinks that the greatest challenge with work with academic freedom is to hold one's own course and find one's own compass.

"I've gotten better at it. You have to stick to your guns, plan and prioritise. It is also about balancing jobs and leisure time and allowing oneself to slow down the pace," says Anna who lives a family life her husband, child and dog.

Studied chemistry

A course in analytical chemistry and multivariate data analysis at Gothenburg University in 1992 was the start of Anna's career.

"I felt that this was what I wanted to work with; it was a WOW experience! I studied more chemistry at Umeå University, which I heard was a leader in Chemometrics, and had good contact with the assistants and the now retired professors, Svante Wold and Michael Sjöström".

Anna went back to Gothenburg, graduated and had two job offers in Gothenburg awaiting her.

Her career starts

Then Svante Wold phoned her and tipped her off about a PhD position in organic chemistry in collaboration with Astra Hässle (now AstraZeneca R&D Mölndal). For Anna, who had finished her education and just broken off a relationship, it was really a good opportunity to do new things. Anna applied for the position and was accepted.

"I had a crisis one afternoon and then I decided to move up to Norrland. But what if I were to meet a new guy and stay here?"

Anna earned a doctorate in Chemometrics and developed methods to intelligently create libraries of substances that could be tested on conveyor belts in order to, for example, find starting points for new drugs. At the time, creating large collections of substances and using high-speed screening was really something new, and one of many "fads" within the pharmaceutical industry.

"Basically, I lived in the lab during my doctoral studies. It was like being at summer camp and you had all your friends there. I also met my future husband – a die-hard Norlander!"

After completing her dissertation, Anna obtained a permanent research position at AstraZeneca in Mölndal. She had had post-doctoral plans, but venturing out into the industry felt a bit better. Anna continued her research, but now with a focus on studying three-dimensional 3D structures and the visual form of molecules and how they move.

After a while she advanced to group manager. Anna thinks that this has been a useful experience.

"I learned a great deal, such as managing personnel and projects, recruiting personnel and last but not least presenting my research to different types of groups. It is knowledge that has benefited me later in life and I believe that more researchers should switch between academia and industry to broaden their competencies."

How to find the right tablet

Anna had commuted weekly from Jönköping to her job in Mölndal for several years and began to grow tired of this, when Professor Fredrik Almqvist phoned her one day to inform her of a vacant position as assistant professor position in computational chemistry in Umeå. Anna raised the question with her husband who replied "When do we move?". The couple took the risky venture of resigning from two permanent jobs telling each other "we'll give it five years."

Now ten years have passed and when Anna looks back she thinks things worked out very well. During the same period she has become a professor of medicinal chemistry, and has actually been able to make advances in academia without having to complete the "compulsory" post-doctoral period abroad. Today, Anna is devoting herself to basic research aimed at acquiring knowledge about the factors that control how small organic molecules interact with proteins and how this in turn affects biological processes.

"Usually I give the example of how a headache tablet finds its way in the body in order to do its job," she explains.

Wants to make a difference

This new knowledge is used to develop computer-based methods for designing and synthesising new substances in medicinal chemistry. She conducts her research in medical projects where the aim is to contribute to an increased knowledge of diseases and to the development of new molecules against rheumatoid arthritis, malaria and dengue fever. Anna and her colleagues work not only experimentally in the chemistry lab but also with the modelling of molecules in the computer.

"My vision is that my research will make a difference. I do not think I have undertaken any strategic planning, but I have been able to do lots of different things and my career has come along nicely".

Short Facts:

Name: Anna Linusson Jonsson
Lives in: Täfteå.
Things I always have in my medicine cabinet: Ibuprofen and Omeprazole.
Interests: running, skiing, hiking and cycling.
Unsuspected talent: Connoisseur of whiskey, helped to start the department's whiskey association.
Pets: A Nordica spitz called Lipton (thinking of taking up hunting again)