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The Janssen Prize for Creativity in Organic Synthesis was established in 1986 on the occasion of the first Belgian Organic Synthesis Symposium (BOSS). This prestigious recognition has a 30-year legacy of impressive winners and is awarded on a biennial basis, on the occasion of the BOSS, to a chemist under the age of 50 who has made a significant contribution to the field of organic synthesis in the broadest sense. The Prize consists of a trophy, a citation, and 20.000 Euros. The winner is also expected to deliver a lecture at the BOSS Meeting. The first Janssen Prize was awarded in 1986 to Barry Sharpless (Nobel Laureate 2001) during the first BOSS meeting.

Originally named the Dr. Paul Janssen Prize for Creativity in Organic Synthesis, the recognition also intended to honour Dr Paul Janssen, founder of Janssen Pharmaceutica – a man of exceptional vision and creativity who was convinced that organic synthesis played a pivotal role in the discovery and development of new therapeutic agents.

The incentive for the organization of regular meetings on subjects related to organic synthesis dates back with a series of Symposia organized in Leuven and then in Louvain-la-Neuve by José Jaz and Léon Ghosez later joined by Heinz Viehe when Jaz left Belgium. Originally these symposia dealt with “Small Ring Chemistry”, then they widened to “Small rings and activated multiple bonds”. The Louvain-la-Neuve chemists also organized in 1974 the first IUPAC symposium on Organic Synthesis which was chaired by Albert Bruylants. Later a symposium on “Organic Synthesis, Present and Future” was organized by L. Ghosez in Louvain-la-Neuve. This meeting (many named it “BOSS 0”) met so much success that several delegates suggested the organization of follow-up meetings in Louvain-la-Neuve in alternance with the Oxford-Cambridge meetings. Then L. Ghosez brought together Alain Krief, Jacques Nasielski, Maurits Vandewalle and Heinz Viehe to discuss the possibility of organizing an international symposium on organic synthesis every second year in a Belgian University. This was the start of a new series of internationally acclaimed conferences for which the name BOSS conference was proposed by L. Ghosez. A scientific committee was established with Pierre De Clercq and Gerrit L’Abbé joining L. Ghosez, A. Krief, J. Nasielski, M. Vandewalle and H. Viehe. The youngest members of the scientific committee, A. Krief (FUNDP) and P. De Clercq (RUG) were invited to organize BOSS 1 (Namur) and BOSS 2 (Ghent).

It was decided to adopt a non-conventional format. The five-day conferences would start with a one-day course consisting of 3-5 lectures delivered by an eminent scientist on a timely subject. The next four days would be devoted to a rather limited number of plenary lectures to allow ample time for discussion. The committee also realized that this meeting would be a unique platform to honor a chemist who had shown much creativity in the field of organic synthesis.

Alain Krief, with the help of Frans Meskens, a former co-worker of Dr. Paul Janssen contacted “Dr. Paul” to check if he was prepared to sponsor a prize in recognition of particular creativity in organic synthesis. Not surprisingly Dr. Paul immediately agreed. He had indeed often shown his interest in supporting high quality research in organic synthesis in Belgian universities. Then the committee convinced A. Krief to use his unique power of persuasion to obtain enough financial support from Paul Geuens, at the time head of Janssen Chimica. This was extremely important to make the prize attractive enough at an international level. As predicted A. Krief seconded by P. De Clercq and Laszlo Hevesi won the battle at a memorable meeting in Beerse which ended with champagne in appropriate glasses brought by the visitors!

Dr. Paul Janssen was very supportive of the idea that the prize would be awarded by an international committee. The first chairman of this committee was Nobel laureate Derek Barton. Sir Derek recommended that the prize be awarded to a chemist less than fifty years old to avoid competition with the Tetrahedron prize. The first scientific committee was composed of D. Barton, chairman, L. Ghosez, Marc Julia, Ulrich Schölkopf and Hans Wynberg, members and Dr. Marcel Janssen, head of Medicinal Chemistry at Janssen Pharma, secretary.

The importance of such a prize for the development of excellency in research on organic synthesis in Belgium was so clear that it was not too hard for L. Ghosez and Maaike Van Craen to convince the royal family in 1986 to patronize the first award ceremony. Prince Albert of Belgium came to Namur to present the prize to Barry Sharpless from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The choice of the committee was confirmed 15 years later when he became Nobel laureate. In a short biographical note, Barry Sharpless mentions that he kept vivid memories from this ceremony: “receiving the first Paul Janssen Prize for Creativity in Organic Synthesis presented by HRH Prince (now King) Albert of Belgium was a memorable event.

After Barton the following scientists: L. Ghosez, A. Krief, P. De Clercq, Ben Feringa followed Sir Derek as chairmen of the committee.

The list of awardees of the “Janssen Prize for Creativity in Organic Synthesis” is impressive and definitely put this award as one of the most prestigious in the field. All those who have been involved in this endeavor should be thankful to Dr. Paul Janssen and, now, to the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson for their support to the community of organic chemists.

The authors:

Em. Prof. dr. Alain Krief
Chairman BOSS-1 (1986), BOSS-5 (1994) & BOSS-9
(2002) conferences, Namur
Chairman of the Janssen jury in 2002, 2008
Em. Prof. dr. Alain Krief

Em. Prof. dr. Leon Ghosez
Chairman BOSS-3 (1990) conference, Louvain la Neuve
Chairman of the Janssen jury in 1990-2000
Em. Prof. dr. Alain Krief

Em. Prof. dr. Pierre De Clercq
Chairman BOSS-2 (1988) and BOSS-8 (2000) conferences in Ghent
Chairman of the Janssen jury in 2010, 2012.
Em. Prof. dr. Alain Krief

Last updated: June 25, 2018