The Wistar Institute Will Launch International Postdoctoral Fellowship in Spring 2020

The Wistar Institute announced that it will partner with Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) to launch the Wistar-Schoemaker International Postdoctoral Fellowship in spring 2020. The program will provide LUMC’s recent Ph.D. graduates with the opportunity to advance their training under the mentorship of leading Wistar principal investigators.

Located in University City, The Wistar Institute was founded in 1892 and is the nation’s first independent institution devoted to biomedical research and training. Wistar was designated as a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center in basic research in 1972 and has retained this distinction to this day through its monumental contributions in cancer, immunology and infectious disease research. As an internationally recognized research powerhouse, its legacy of innovation includes discoveries that led to the development of vaccines for rabies, rubella and rotavirus; the identification of genetic and epigenetic mechanisms in cancer; the application of monoclonal antibody technology for cancer diagnosis and therapy; and other innovative research technologies and tools.

Wistar traces its relationship with LUMC back to the 1970s through its unique partnership with Dutch biotechnologist Dr. Hubert J.P. Schoemaker. In 1979, Schoemaker was one of the co-founders of Centocor, a biotechnology company that worked with Wistar to advance the Institute’s basic research on monoclonal antibodies into a commercial platform. Centocor wasacquired by Johnson & Johnson in 1999. According to Dr. Anita Pepper, Wistar Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Schoemaker’s Dutch roots, combined with Dutch governmental economic incentives to spur biotechnology growth in Leiden, Netherlands, led him to decide that the best location for Centocor manufacturing facilities would be in Leiden. “That really spurred the development of the entire Leiden Bio Science Park, and today it’s the fifth largest bioscience cluster in Europe,” said Pepper.

Hubert J.P. Schoemaker lost his battle to cancer in 2006. After discussing how best to build on Hubert’s legacy with his wife Anne Schoemaker, Wistar decided to establish a postdoctoral training program inspired by Schoemaker’s dedication to training the next generation of scientific leadership. This led to the creation of the Wistar-Schoemaker International Postdoctoral Fellowship. “Wistar has had a deep and internationally oriented culture, and has always been interested in global collaboration,” said Pepper. “This allowed the program to develop very organically into a recapitulation of this great spirit that we saw in the 1970s here again in 2020.”

The details for the program’s operations are still in the process of being solidified. As of now, an advisory committee from LUMC will match their brightest postdoctoral fellows with one of Wistar’s ongoing research projects. Next, Fellows will travel to Philadelphia where they will meet with Wistar’s advisory committee. With LUMC’s approval, Wistar’s advisory committee will select and award the top three candidates, who will then be placed in Wistar laboratories based on their research interests. Over the course of three years, the program will support the salaries and benefits of the selected candidates as they work on a research project, attend postdoctoral training workshops and participate in a training program led by Wistar’s Dr. Maureen Murphy. At the end of this three-year window, participants who want to return to the Netherlands to establish their own laboratory will receive a start-up package in research and secure an academic position. Through this international approach, the program will provide postdoctoral fellows with a varied training environment to promote a diverse and well-rounded research strategy.

Pepper believes that the program’s benefits extend beyond the opportunities it provides for participants; the program will deepen the relationship between Philadelphia and the Netherlands as a whole. In particular, Pepper was excited by the resources and technology she saw while she was in the Netherlands finalizing the program. Pepper believes that both Wistar and LUMC at their core are “engines of technology and innovation,” and that the program will in turn help both to elevate their global footprints. “It just aligned on all sides,” said Pepper. “Everyone sees all these additional connections that could be made, whether it’s shared technology resources; human capital; or international collaboration, especially in vaccines, immunotherapy and cancer.”

As the program prepares to launch, Pepper hopes that the Philadelphia community will be excited about the wealth of untapped knowledge that the collaboration will turn into the future of life science. “Wistar senses today the same opportunity for scientific collaboration that Schoemaker must have sensed years ago,” said Pepper, “Our meetings over there were filled with discussions about opportunities for future collaboration, what more we could do as partners, and whom else we could bring into this exciting venture.”


Article written by Amelia Winger on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association