PhD Position in Development and Preclinical Evaluation of Diagnostic and Therapeutic Radiopharmaceuticals for Pancreatic Cancer
Catholic University of Leuven

The work will be performed in the laboratory of radiopharmaceutical research under the direct supervision of Prof. F. Cleeren ( The lab is equipped with all the necessary state-of-the-at equipment for the development of diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals. For the pre-clinical validation of novel diagnostic and therapeutic radiotracers in small animals, dedicated imaging instrumentation can be accessed at the Molecular Small Animal Imaging Centre (moSAIC). Novel radiopharmaceuticals are translated to the clinic in direct collaboration with the Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (NMMI) unit of the University Hospital (UZ) Leuven. KU Leuven is one of the top 50 universities in the world (top 10 in Europe) according to the "Times Higher Education" ranking, and ranks #7 (top in Europe) in the "Worlds Most Innovative Universities" ranking elaborated by Reuters. KU Leuven offers an exciting multi-disciplinary research environment, a broad range of training courses for PhD students, and full social and medical insurance.


Using dedicated radiopharmaceuticals, nuclear medicine significantly contributes to all stages of cancer patient care, including early detection, diagnosis, therapy monitoring and treatment.  Apart from external high energy X-ray beam therapy, Targeted RadioNuclide Therapy (TRNT) is another approach to deliver radiation to cancer cells. In TRNT, the therapeutic radiopharmaceutical is distributed within the body by the vascular system and allows targeted irradiation of a primary tumor and all its metastases, resulting insubstantially less collateral damage to normal tissues as compared to external radiotherapy. TRNT represents an established, evidence-based treatment modality and its role has been enforced by the excellent results obtained in the randomized, controlled NETTER-1 and VISION trial using the radiopharmaceuticals 177Lu-DOTATATE and 177Lu-PSMA-617, respectively. 

The overall objective of this project is to develop and evaluate therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Our aim is to create an innovative pipeline of cancer-specific theranostics (therapeutic: ther; diagnostic: anostics) that will improve the treatment options for NET patients who are refractory to 177Lu-DOTATATE therapy, or have reached the maximum prescribed cycles of 177Lu-DOTATATE therapy and for PDAC patients with otherwise limited or non-existing treatment alternatives. 

We will realize this by using two different classes of vector molecules that have completely different modes of binding and we will combine them with potent radioactive payloads such as the alpha-emitter 213Bi and the promising radionuclide 161Tb. We hypothesize that this approach will lead to more localized and effective destruction of cancer and cancer-supporting cells compared to standard β--emitters (e.g. 177Lu), and this in both hypoxic as well as in normoxic tumor cell environments. To produce the diagnostic partners, we will use the well-established Al18F-method. As vector molecule we will use 1) Somatostatin analogues, including agonists and antagonists targeting SSTR2 which is overexpressed on most pancreatic NETs, and compounds targeting fibroblast activating protein that is abundantly present in the tumor microenvironment of PDAC. 

The project will involve, but is not limited to, organic synthesis, various analytical techniques (NMR, HPLC, HRMS, …), radiochemistry with diagnostic and therapeutic radionuclides, in vitro cell work, in vivo imaging studies in small animals, therapeutic efficacy studies in tumor models and preparation for clinical translation in collaboration with Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (NMMI) unit (Prof. C. Deroose).


  • Master degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Master of Science in Bioengineering, Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences, Master of Science in Biochemistry, or equivalent. Students in their final master year can also apply.
  • Fluency in spoken and written English is mandatory
  • Ability to work in an interdisciplinary and collaborative environment
  • Ability to write clear scientific reports and disseminate results
  • Good oral, interpersonal and written communication skills
  • Willing to apply for additional personal PhD grants (e.g. FWO)
  • You will engage yourself with enthusiasm and perseverance to a four-year research project
  • You are ambitious, dynamic, flexible and take an open attitude towards problems and evolutions.


We offer afulltime PhD position for 1 year, extendable to 4 years after initial positive evaluation. Training in safe handling of radioactive compounds is provided.  

Start of the PhD is foreseen September 2023.


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Frederik Cleeren, tel.: +32 16 37 72 37, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than March 31, 2023 via the
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: March 31, 2023
  • Tags: Farmaceutische en Farmacologische Wetenschappen
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