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doctoral thesis

New Doctor of Pharmacy wants to make life better for patients 

Profile of Professor René Holm on the occasion of his doctor's thesis, which builds on 25 scientific publications.

By Birgitte Svennevig, , 10/9/2023

"There are patients waiting." This was the mantra of Dr. Paul Janssen, who founded the pharmaceutical company Janssen, and it has also become a guiding principle for René Holm's career. Because that's what it's all about; developing better drugs for people who are in need.

During his student days, René Holm was often the first to arrive in the laboratory and was frequently on-site at 4 AM to work on his pharmaceutical studies. He usually made it home before bedtime, but if he missed the last bus, he would spend the night on a makeshift bed at the university. Today, he settles for getting up at 6:20 AM, and most days he makes it home in time for dinner. That's how it is when you're driven by passion, he claims.

As a researcher, René Holm is driven to find the most optimal methods for drug absorption. He believes that it should not be more painful or burdensome than necessary to be sick. Therefore, he is committed to developing, for example, an eye ointment that can replace injections in the eye or a long-acting injection for medications for diseases such as schizophrenia, tuberculosis, or other diseases that require extended treatment. This way, patients can get an injection from their doctor every six months instead of having to remember to take a tablet at a specific time every day.

Builds on 25 scientific articles

Initially, René Holm originally aimed to enter the pharmaceutical production and "get wooden shoes on," as he calls it, but when he started his specialization, he became passionate about research. It was during this journey that he became interested in the topic that has now, 25 scientific publications later, become a doctoral thesis: the study of drugs dissolved by cyclodextrins and their release in the intestine, which many had hypothesized to be limited. René Holm did not believe in those hypotheses, and with his thesis, he has now proven that drugs can indeed be absorbed in most cases when they are dissolved by cyclodextrins. This has implications for the development of new medicine.

After 20 years at companies such as Lundbeck and Janssen, where he was based in Belgium at the end, Holm returned to Denmark in 2021. There, he settled down in Nørre Søby, just outside Odense, with his Hungarian partner, Elisabeta, and their 9-year-old son, Daniel, after being appointed as a professor of pharmacy at the Department of Physics, Chemistry, and Pharmacy at the University of Southern Denmark. In Denmark, his two daughters also reside: Nadia, 26, who has completed her studies in sports and history, and Ida, 22, who is studying geophysics.

The students in the pharmacy program hold a special place in René Holm's heart. He enjoys developing projects together with the bachelor's and master's students, who are required at SDU to submit research-based projects as part of their education. Some projects are done in collaboration with industry partners because pharmacy is indeed an applied science, and it makes sense to René Holm that what the students work on can actually be used. Furthermore, it provides students with valuable insights into their future work and prepares them for it.

In addition to conducting research and teaching at SDU, René Holm takes on various Scientific Advisory Board and consulting tasks, including for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a non-profit organization working to combat poverty, disease, and inequality worldwide. Most recently, this collaboration has led to a project aimed at improving tuberculosis treatment. The project is funded with 8.5 million DKK from the Gates Foundation and is led by René Holm.

René Holm Short bio 

  • Professor of Pharmacy, SDU.

  • Former leader and scientific director in the pharmaceutical companies Janssen and Lundbeck.

  • Co-developer of 13 publicly available patents.

  • Co-author of 223 scientific articles and chapters in five scientific books.

  • Has supervised more than 40 Ph.D. students and 45 master's students.

  • His research is supported by organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Janssen, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation.Ph.D. from the University of Copenhagen.

Editing was completed: 09.10.2023