Open Innovation


Anette Sommer: Improving the Lives of Cancer Patients

About one in three people will be affected by cancer; half of these cases will be fatal. The range of available, effective cancer drugs is still very limited. As a result, biochemist Anette Sommer searches for compounds to use in new medicines.

A tumor that can’t be treated by drug therapy? This topic makes me listen closely. I’m a Principal Scientist in Oncology Research at Bayer’s Pharmaceuticals Division in Berlin. My goal is to develop cancer drugs that are both effective and well-tolerated. Every tumor is unique, so each one has to be treated differently. This situation is something that spurs me on. While most cancer drugs are effective, and they prolong patients’ survival, they rarely improve their quality of life. Patients can suffer – from fatigue, severe digestion problems, painful nerve conditions like neuralgia, and also from hair loss. I want to develop active substances that cause as few side effects as possible while still successfully combating the tumor.

There is nothing I would rather do.

Dr. Anette Sommer has been working in cancer research for more than 20 years. She is searching for new cancer drugs.

A Strategy for Perseverance

My team and I are particularly interested in tumors where there is a high medical need – aggressive forms of cancer that have no effective treatment options at present, such as some forms of breast, stomach and pancreatic cancer. Drug research is an experimental science. That’s what makes it exciting, but – at times – it’s also extremely labor-intensive. And once you’ve decided to pursue something in research, you have to stick to it. I also need this stamina for my hobby: running. I train for 5 and 10 kilometer runs and regularly compete individually and with a team. For me, training is a lot of fun. It’s a good way of getting exercise to balance out my work. I need to remain determined in my research career, despite setbacks.

A Straight Research Path

Looking back, I’m very happy that I started by studying the basics of drug research. I think I’ve inherited my father’s empathy and concern for patients. He was an internist and gerontologist, specializing in pacemakers, and the way he took care of his patients was really special. I studied biochemistry instead of medicine, as my father did, but I also wanted to help patients – just not as a clinician at a hospital bed.

Today, my team tests only the most beneficial and best tolerated drug candidates out of hundreds of potential drugs that met a long list of criteria. No matter what we do, the patient must never be harmed. At some point during clinical testing, more than 90 percent of new approaches are rejected, but if one new drug can save lives, then all the work will have been worthwhile.


1988-1994 Biochemistry at the University of Hannover, Germany and the Department of Biochemistry, University of Glasgow, UK (supported by a scholarship from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) and a scholarship from the „Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes”)

1994-1997 PhD, Medical School Hannover (MHH), Institute for Molecular Biology, Germany. Thesis: “Myc-Max-Mad Network of Transcription Factors” in the group of Prof. Dr. Bernhard Lüscher.

1998-2000 PostDoc at Schering AG, Berlin on the topic of “Endocrine-resistant Breast and Prostate Cancer”.

2000-2006 Laboratory Head and Group Leader at Schering, Enabling Technologies/Genomics & Bioinformatics, focus on Target Identification in oncology and gynecological therapy.

2007-2010 Laboratory Head and Group Leader at Bayer Schering Pharma AG, Berlin, focus on Target Discovery and Target Validation projects in the field of Chromatin Modulation and focus on Innovation Sourcing.

2009- current Principal Scientist.

2012 Internal Bayer Award for Collaborative Innovation acknowledging “Validation of HDAC11 as a novel target for cancer therapy within the Bayer-DKFZ Strategic Alliance” together with M. Lessl, D. Mumberg, and B. Haendler

2011-2015 Laboratory Head at Bayer Pharma AG, Department of Immunotherapy and Antibody-Drug Conjugates

2016- current Laboratory Head at Bayer AG, Department of Antibody-Drug Conjugates (ADCs) and Targeted Thorium Conjugates (TTCs)

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