Meet the researchers working on medicinal chemistry.
Jari Yli-Kauhaluoma

Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, Principal Investigator. I am a professor of medicinal chemistry with an innate interest in all biologically active substances and sustainable drug research. My research training is from the USA (The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge) and Finland (Technical Research Center VTT).  My team’s current research is centered around the discovery of new synthetic and natural product-based antimicrobial agents against biofilm-forming pathogenic bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Mycobacterium tuberculosis) as well as intracellular pathogens (Leishmania sp., Plasmodium falciparum). In addition, my team has a long-standing interest in studying new inhibitors and modulators of protein kinases, such as PKC, PKB, and Pim. I am also the dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy, a vice chairman of the Pharmacopoeia Committee of the Finnish Medicines Agency, and a member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters as well as the inspector of Satakuntalainen Osakunta at the University of Helsinki

Erik Wallen

Principal Investigator, Docent in Medicinal Chemistry. Erik Wallén obtained his M.Sc. in organic chemistry from University of Helsinki, and his Ph.D. in pharmaceutical chemistry /medicinal chemistry from University of Kuopio. After completing his studies, he has worked in Altana Pharma (Netherlands), University of Kuopio, University of Gothenburg (Sweden), and University of Helsinki. He has over 20 years of experience in drug discovery from developing prolyl oligopeptidase inhibitors, human sirtuin 2 inhibitors, mimetics of human kallikrein 3 activating peptides, mimetics of orexin peptides, prolyl oligopeptidase ligands, and midline 1 ligands. In addition to academic merits, Erik Wallén is also inventor in several patents and founder in Polku Therapeutics Ltd, a spin out from University of Helsinki. Erik Wallén is teaching medicinal chemistry, organic chemistry, drug synthesis, and pharmaceutical chemistry in the University of Helsinki.

Paula Kiuru

Docent in Medicinal Chemistry. I am currently part of the TRANSPHARM project, where I develop sustainable synthesis methods for known APIs and their transfer to flow chemistry. I am also a leader of Metallo-beta-lactamase project in collaboration with Prof. Päivi Tammela group and Prof. Chris J. Schofield (University of Oxford). Springboard project for excellence in advanced development of antibacterials is a collaboration with Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis. I also lead a project of simplifying bioactive marine compounds. I have acted a UH Chemistry hub leader in a large Innovative Medicine Initiative ENABLE (European Gram-negative Antibacterial Engine) project in 2014-2021. During my post-doc at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, I participated in several antiparasitic projects. As I have interest in natural products and plants, I am a vice chair of the Friends of the Botanical Garden.

Juri Timonen

Docent in Medicinal Chemistry. I am a Docent of Medicinal chemistry in the University of Helsinki and work as a senior researcher in the School of Pharmacy, University of Eastern Finland. I received my PhD in chemistry from the Department of Chemistry, University of Eastern Finland in 2013. I did my post-doc in the School of Medicine, University of Tampere and in the School of Pharmacy, University of Eastern Finland. My current research interests include 1) development and applications of deep learning methods and AI in organic and medicinal chemistry, 2) synthesis and biological evaluation of boronated amino acids for boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) of cancer, and 3) computer assisted drug discovery, synthesis and biological evaluation of TRPA1-targeting compounds for pain management.  In addition, my research topics covers e.g., synthesis method development, NMR, cancer targeting prodrug development and molecular modelling. Additionally, I am active in scientific societies and organizing conferences related to synthetic and medicinal chemistry as well.

Kirsi Savijoki

Docent in Biochemistry. I am a Biochemistry Docent with a PhD from the University of Turku in 2004. I have over 20 years of experience in molecular microbiology and omics, with research projects ranging from beneficial and harmful microbes to parasites and covering various topics, including biofilms, parasites, host-pathogen interactions, and resistance mechanisms. I conducted post-doctoral research at the University of Copenhagen and later at the Institute of Biotechnology and the University of Helsinki (Faculties of Veterinary Medicine as well as Agriculture and Forestry). Currently, my research focuses on advancing therapeutic strategies against microbial pathogens, specifically innovative antibiofilm and antipersister screening models, drug delivery systems to target difficult-to-reach biofilms, establishing proteomic tools for drug target identification, and in-depth analyses of mechanism of action.

Reijo Kärkkäinen

Visiting Researcher, LL.M. I was chairman of the stakeholder board in SRC-project SUDDEN (2018-2023). After the project and from 2024 the activities (pharmaceuticals in the environment) are continued as SUDDEN Forum. All the research institutions (UH, UEF, Aalto, LUT university, SYKE), Demos and relevant stakeholders (authorities and associations) are involved.

I am coordinating the SUDDEN Forum activities and stakeholder contacts. I have also the special interest in legal and regulatory framework, mainly EU legislation. UH pharmaceutical faculty is leading the SUDDEN Forum and it is also operated from Puistokatu 4 (Sustainable house).

Jayendra Z. Patel

University Researcher. I completed my M.Sc. in Organic Chemistry from Sardar Patel University, India, in 2001. Following that, I gained extensive experience from 2001 to 2009 in the Medicinal Chemistry Department at Zydus Research Centre, Ahmedabad, India. In late 2009, I joined the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) as a CIMO researcher (now EDUFI), where I pursued doctoral studies from 2011 to 2015. After defending my PhD with distinction, I undertook two subsequent short postdoctoral stints, first at UEF from 2015 to 2016 and then at Uppsala University, Sweden, from 2016 to 2017. In early 2018, I returned to Finland and began working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. Since 2023, I have been employed as a University Researcher at the same institution. Currently, I serve as the main supervisor for two doctoral students, co-supervisor for one doctoral student, and lab supervisor for one EDUFI researcher.

Niklas Johansson

Post-doctoral Researcher. I am a Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki, where I obtained my MSc degree in organic chemistry and PhD degree in pharmaceutical chemistry. My research revolves around designing, synthesizing, and characterizing novel compounds with antimicrobial potential. My particular focus lies in developing compounds that can combat parasitic infections like malaria and contribute to the development of antibacterial agents against tuberculosis.

Henri Pätsi

Post-doctoral Researcher. My PhD research at the University of Helsinki was focused on developing new small molecules with the aim to treat neurodegenerative diseases through targeting prolyl oligopeptidase (PREP). My role in the project was to design and synthesize new compounds, and through molecular modelling, investigate how these compounds modulate the target. After defending my PhD thesis, I continued as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki, with a new aim of developing ligands to target Midline-1 (MID1).

Paola San Martin Galindo

Post-doctoral Researcher. I obtained my B.Sc. and Licentiate degree in pharmacy and biochemistry from San Marcos Major National University (Peru). In 2023, I received my Ph.D. (Pharm) in pharmaceutical biology from the University of Helsinki. Throughout my doctoral studies, I investigated how the responses of bacterial pathogens change, particularly focusing on the formation of biofilms, when exposed to nanostructured material surfaces and newly developed chemical agents, as well as when interacting with other bacterial species. I am interested in antimicrobial resistance, including unraveling the mechanisms of new agents and strategies to combat persistent infections.

Ralica Arnaudova

Doctoral Researcher

Tanja Bruun

Doctoral Researcher. I graduated in 2018 with a Master’s degree in pharmaceutical chemistry from the University of Helsinki. The focus of my PhD research is at drug discovery with the aim to find small molecule compounds to promote cardiac regeneration. I design, synthesize, purify, characterize, and evaluate various new drug-like compounds for their biological activity. I am particularly interested in uncovering the molecular structures behind pharmacological activity.

Ahmed Elsagheir

Doctoral Researcher. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences (June 2017) from Faculty of Pharmacy-Assiut University-Egypt. Then, I joined Medicinal Chemistry Department as a demonstrator in 2019 and I obtained the master’s degree in pharmaceutical medicinal chemistry in 2022. I have been working as assistant lecturer at Medicinal Chemistry Department-Faculty of Pharmacy-Assiut University since October 2022.

I have joined Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technology Division-Faculty of Pharmacy-University of Helsinki since September 2023 as a PhD student with grant funded by Egyptian Mission Department-Egypt. My research work focuses on design and synthesis of new quinolone derivatives with antibacterial and antimycobacterial activity through targeting novel targets such as LpxC and NagA enzymes.

Darshitkumar Patel

Doctoral Researcher. I graduated in 2007 with a Master's degree in Organic chemistry from Gujarat University (India). Then I acquired over 16 years of experience in India’s top two pharmaceutical companies (Zydus Lifesciences 2007-2014, Piramal Pharma 2014-2023). During my professional carrier, I have worked on many targets like DNA Gyrase and Topoisomerase IV inhibitor, CB1 receptor agonist, CB2 receptor agonist, GPR-119 agonist, PCSK-9 inhibitor, PPAR pan/dual agonist, KRAs inhibitors and many others. In 2023, I joined the University of Helsinki as EDUFI grant funded researcher. My area of focus is to develop novel dual DDC & TyrDC inhibitors to increase brain uptake of L-DOPA for improved treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Riccardo Provenzani

Doctoral Researcher. Hei there! I am a Medicinal Chemist and Doctoral Researcher at the University of Helsinki with over ten years of experience in international and multidisciplinary research teams. I earned my Master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technology from the University of Pavia (2012), Italy. I moved to Finland to pursue my doctoral studies at the University of Helsinki, which I visited in 2011 for my Master’s thesis project, “Protein Kinase C: synthesis of a C1 domain-binding compound as an immobilizable tool for affinity chromatography”. I joined the Doctoral Programme in Drug Research (University of Helsinki) in 2014 and my research focuses on the design and synthesis of new allosteric modulators of protein kinase C (PKC) with potential pharmaceutical applications against cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and cardiac fibrosis.

Praveen Kumar Singh

Doctoral Researcher. I have finished my master degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry (2008) from University of Lucknow, India and then worked as synthetic medicinal chemist for more than five years (2008-2013) in India’s fifth largest pharmaceutical industry, Zydus Research Center, India. I also worked as senior research fellow at University of Lucknow for one year (2014-2015). I did bachelor degree in education (2015-2017) and gained teaching experience at school level in Delhi Public School, Lucknow, India (2018-2019). I joined University of Helsinki as EDUFI researcher in 2019 and from 2021, I am pursuing my doctoral studies as a grant funded researcher in the antibacterial project.

Katia Sirna

Doctoral Researcher. Ciao! I obtained my Master's degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and technology from the University of Pavia (Italy). I joined the University of Helsinki during my MSc thesis project through the Erasmus+ program. I became passionate about the possibility to create molecules that could modulate cell behavior and started my PhD in January 2022. Currently, I work in a multidisciplinary project discovering new allosteric modulators of protein kinase C (PKC), which may have potential as drug candidates for heart diseases or cancer. My focus is on the design and synthesis of new potential agonists in a sustainable way. In addition, I investigate the effects of PKC-binding compounds on biological models.

Manuela Vorácová

Doctoral Researcher. Hi! My name is Manuela and I am an enthusiastic PhD researcher experienced in multi-step syntheses of natural products and their analogs. In my short research career, I gained experience abroad in Japan, Sweden, Germany, Czech Republic and now, Finland. I am personally interested in the development of novel anti-cancer and anti-infective leads, and I am intrigued by phosphorus chemistry, glycome and lipidome. Currently, I am embarking on a multidisciplinary project focused on the synthesis of novel metallo-β-lactamase inhibitors.

Matej Zore

Doctoral Researcher. I obtained a Master's degree in Pharmacy from the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) in 2018. I first joined the University of Helsinki during my graduate studies through the Erasmus+ program. Later, in 2019, I returned to initiate my PhD studies. My research focuses on the development of new antibiotics, with particular emphasis on repurposing already existing non-antibiotic drugs. Within this framework, my research involves the screening of various commercial compounds against bacteria, aiming to identify potent candidates for further exploration. In parallel, I work on the design and chemical synthesis of novel antibacterial and anti-biofilm compounds, specifically targeting Gram-positive bacteria. Ultimately, I investigate the impact of these compounds on bacteria through diverse biological models.

Shabnam Heliölä

Senior Laboratory Technician. I graduated in 2012 with a Master’s degree from the University of Helsinki and currently I work in the Faculty of Pharmacy as a senior lab technician. My responsibilities include inventory management and equipment maintenance. I also take part in organizing the teaching laboratories and assist our researchers in their work by doing e.g., synthesis and other projects. I am currently doing my Bachelor’s degree from Metropolia University of Applied Sciences as a laboratory analyst.

Antti Lehtinen

Senior Laboratory Technician. I graduated from Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in 2019 as a laboratory analyst and since then I’ve bee working in the Faculty of Pharmacy as a senior lab technician. My responsibilities include ordering and storage of compounds and equipment and maintenance of certain instruments. I also assist our researchers in their work by doing synthesis projects.


Over the years, our dynamic research hub has welcomed a diverse array of talented minds from different universities and institutes. Within our collaborative environment, we take pride in the accomplishments of our researchers, with numerous PhD and MSc degrees attributed to our group. We have been privileged to host bright students both from our own Faculty and through renowned exchange programs such as Erasmus and the EDUFI program. Furthermore, our group benefits from the valuable perspectives of visiting researchers and post-docs, who contribute their insights gathered from their diverse experiences in various institutes.

A heartfelt thank you to all our alumni!