Welcome to 2021 – reflection and outlook

What is a society’s impact without bringing together its members? Without fruitful personal discussions, inspiring conferences, without social events and get-togethers with colleagues and friends? 2020 was an exceptional and demanding year for all of us. Let’s briefly condense and reflect what happened over the past year in our society, and share with you some forthcoming endeavours. We wish you happiness and health for 2021!

Many of us were looking forward to meet at the ICNPR joint conference in San Francisco organized by the American sister society ASP – however, the currently circulating SARS CoV-2 put a spoke in the organizers wheels, and the conference had to be cancelled. This was not only a bitter disappointment for the organizers, but also the hundreds of attendees and the many presenters of lectures and posters. And overall we could not duly honour our prestigious awardees in 2020, namely Prof. A. Douglas Kinghorn for the Egon Stahl award in Gold, Dr. Simon-Vlad Luca for the Egon Stahl award in Bronze, Dr. Nadine Kretschmer for the Dr. Willmar Schwabe-Award, and Prof. Susan Murch and her team for the Planta Medica best paper award.

Overcoming these challenges and adapting to the current pandemic, we decided to offer our members as well as others interested in natural product research alternative scenarios for communication, information and the transfer of knowledge. On the one hand, we now have regular postings of “news items” on our GA homepage; on the other hand, we are organizing regular eSymposia (at least two a year). The virtual communications allow us to engage with colleagues worldwide without any traveling, thus saving costs and greenhouse gas emissions. However, it definitely has its shortcomings in a personal point of view.

This digitalization, however, required new concepts, rethinking of conventional presentation tools and the set-up of a suitable infrastructure for virtual meetings. It was primarily our secretary Olaf Kelber and our scientific officer Cornelia Kern, who together spearheaded all the administrative and logistic challenges. Thus, we could start in September with our first eSymposium dedicated to “Novel Insights into Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids’ Toxicity and Implications for Risk Assessment”. The eSymposium was organized in collaboration with the KOOP and our expert colleagues in Kaiserslautern, Dieter Schrenk and Jörg Fahrer. Supported by excellent lecturers this meeting attracted more than 150 participants resulting in lively discussions.

Soon afterwards, in November, the second eSymposium took place. The first part gave a platform to all our laureates and was for sure a highlight in the GA year with awardee Prof. A. Douglas Kinghorn providing a splendid and hearty opening lecture followed by the excellent presentations of the other awardees. The day after offered a virtual stage to our young researchers giving them an opportunity to present their studies and to chat with colleagues. Special thanks go to the scientific organizer of this meeting, at the same time driving force and head of the YRW of this eSymposium, namely Robert Fürst and the YRW team (see also https://www.ga-society.org/ga-yrw-2020). The best two presentations were awarded with the Discovery Award given to Máté Vágvölgy, University of Szeged, Hungary, and the Bionorica YRW Award to Deborah Spiess, University of Basel, Switzerland – Congrats!

Even our members meeting last November had to be online, where we discussed the challenges including ongoing and future events, the members and financial status, upcoming GA awards, etc. In case you missed it, you will receive the protocol in the next members email.

And what can we look forward to this year?

A lot. This upcoming spring, we will all have a chance to participate in an eSymposium series dedicated to highly charged aspects of regulatory affairs organized by Anna Rita Bilia, Bernd Roether and Olaf Kelber; and this autumn an eSymposium (if possible combined with a f2f meeting) will be organized by Andreas Hensel and Judith M. Rollinger coming up with new aspects in epidemiology, virology, and natural product drug discovery related to “Corona & more”.

Further suggestions for future eSymposia (including volunteers as expert organizers) are highly welcome.

Unrelated to all these changes due to the pandemic, after five years, it was time to give the website an overhaul. We now have a well-developed draft version led by an external company and hope to launch the new website within two months. We can all look forward to enhanced features and you will also find it more user-friendly, we hope. More generally, we are actively looking at new ways of communication. Your expertise (especially of younger researchers) is needed to develop concepts, which will be sustainable for the next years. So, please send us your ideas (to the secretary) and this will help in developing the strategy.

Cica Vissiennon together with Namriata Lall (South Africa) has led the development of a LinkedIn group especially for African researchers (https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13843911/). It is now part of a developing   Global Engagement Group and we plan to establish regional networks in other regions. These networks are intended so support researchers in these regions and to facilitate local and global collaborations. So, again, suggestions are welcome.

Another tool for networking within GA members was recently initiated – the GA@net –  which will offer a platform with expertise from and for our members. This service will stimulate the collaboration among us, enable networking in an interdisciplinary way, and in particular boost translational research on natural product. It offers a tremendous opportunity for the development of high value products from natural resources for human and animal health and well-being. This initiative is an invitation to all our members working as principal investigators / key stakeholders in different environments, such as in academia, industry, and administration. If you would like to participate, you are invited to complete the form, which will be sent to all members via email, and to return it to our scientific officer, Cornelia Kern (c.kern@koop-phyto.org). She will collect the data and fuel the database. It will only be accessible by GA members.

Overall, it was a busy and demanding, but also rewarding year. We can facilitate change and use the new opportunities, while we must make sure that classical forms of scientific communication will soon be possible again, albeit presumably still with some changes. It was only possible to cope with this roller-coaster ride thanks to the help of a very engaged GA board of directors and our scientific officer. Many thanks to all of you for your time-consuming and inspiring work.

It is a strange time of optimism while surrounded by staggering loss. Let’s work together with concerted efforts and with confidence. It certainly does help to know that a vaccine is now on the way. Hooray science! We need to communicate it more rigorously, how essential it is to have science-based (health) policy not only at the time of a pandemic.

All the best for 2021!

Judith M. Rollinger
Michael Heinrich
Anna Rita Bilia

Judith M. Rollinger, Department of Pharmacognosy, University of Vienna, Austria.