Wijbe Thomas Nauta was born on June 17th 1913 in Westdongeradeel in Friesland, the Netherlands. His academic studies were taken at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam from 1931 on.He received his doctoraal certificate(= masters) organic chemistry in 1939, with the judicium ‘cum laude’. The dissertation research was carried out under the supervision of the organic chemist prof. J. Coops and concerned the synthesis and properties of diarylmethylenes. The grade of Ph.D. was obtained in 1941.
After a short period (1943-1945) as an employee of Philips-Eindhoven in one of the research laboratories at Amsterdam, Nauta began his activities at Brocades-Stheeman and Pharmacia, a Dutch pharmaceutical house, when this company started its research efforts immediately after the war was ended. Summer 1948 he combined his research leadership with a managing function in the newly started chemical plant of Brocades, a function that continued until the end of 1952.
Nauta was also responsible for research activities of Brocades, which this Dutch pharmaceutical company had started under rather difficult circumstances. There was no history in research and no facilities. The chemical research was concentrated in a part of the chemical labs of the Vrije Universiteit, and the pharmacological work carried out within the facilities of the university of Utrecht (prof. U.G. Bijlsma). In this period, which lasted until the opening of the research facilities of Brocades in Haarlem a number of successful drugs, which are still in use, have been developed, e.g. cyclandelate and orphenadrine. His Royal Highness Prins Bernard inaugurated the research labs in Haarlem in 1953. These facilities were for their time very modern and well equipped; Nauta has always been stressing that for success inspiration only is just not enough.
Nauta kept his position as director of research of Brocades, until his retirement from industrial duties (1972).
Already in 1946 Nauta was appointed assistant professor in Organic Chemistry. Nauta then continued his work in Organic Chemistry, concentrating on chemistry of radicals. A number of about 20 papers, mainly in the field of diarylmethanes appeared in this field and two Ph.D. degrees were based on this work.
Gradually Nauta became interested in the chemistry of biologically active compounds, resulting in studies on expansine, an antibiotic (actually, studies on this compound started already in the last months of the world war) and later on para amino-salicylic acid and derivatives. It was during this period that Nauta realized earlier than many others, that successful research could only be carried out in a team of chemists, pharmacists, pharmacologists, and medical investigators.
The experience he obtained in industrial surroundings where it is so much easier to bring people together in teams, as compared to university institutes- were disseminated in his academic position, eventually resulting in the ‘Nauta-style’. This, at that time new approach, was used in studying in the influence of substitution patterns on the biological effect of diarylmethane derivatives, which at that time became known as very interesting molecules, e.g. the anti-histaminic diphenhyramine. His experience with the organic chemistry of this type of compounds proved to be most useful. Actually, these investigations lead to the origin of Nauta’s concern with modern structure activity relationship studies.
When in 1955 Nauta was appointed as an extra-ordinary professor at the Vrije Universiteit, his teaching and research duties were in the field of organic and pharmacochemistry. Nauta had introduced the term pharmacochemistr as he felt that the English medicinal chemistry puts too much emphasis on the medical aspects, whereas the prefix pharmaco does indicate that the chemistry concern is related to molecules with a certain biological activity, including for instance biocidal compounds. The success of Nauta’s activities resulted in a full professorship in 1972, now only dealing with pharmacochemistry. The program in Nauta’s department involves next to chemical sub disciplines also courses in (molecular) pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, metabolism and toxicology. The research program Nauta directed has resulted in almost 30 Ph.D. dissertations.
The scientific activities of professor Nauta are mirrored in a large number of papers. From purely organic chemistry the program switched to the new sub discipline of pharmacochemistry. This holds also true for the ~30 Ph.D. dissertations for which has has been the supervisor.
In the field of medicinal chemistry Nauta has been working on a number of subjects. His group has been very active with regard to the H1 antihistaminics, especially in the class of diphenhydramine analogues; a clear picture of the QSAR of this group of compounds has been the result of the work of Nauta and not to be forgotten his colleague Rekker. Another series of interesting molecules Nauta has been working with are the 2-arylphenylindandiones; starting to investigate these compounds as anticoagulants, the studies have been directed to anti-inflammatory and biocidal activities later on. The results show that by choosing the right substituents selectivity can be obtained. In the seventies Nauta became involved with chemotherapeutic agents, when in the class of substituted isoquinolines a Cu dependent antimicrobial activity was detected. As for Nauta usual, he started to investigate the activity of these compounds very much interdisciplinary, finding a number of very interesting results, especially on the role of Cu.
Next to his involvements in industry and university in the Netherlands professor Nauta played and plays an important role in the international chemical societies.
After having started in the Netherlands an organization on medicinal chemistry (actually a section of the Royal Dutch Chemical Society) with colleagues like Ariens, Faber and Zeelen and of which he has been chairman from 1970 to 1974. He became involved with the formation of the European Federation for Medicinal Chemistry (EFMC), together with European Scientists as Schulte, Pratesi, Thuillier. The EFMC has matured to a federation in which almost all European countries participate. The series of international symposia on medicinal chemistry, organized on initiative of the EFMC are very important meetings in the field of medicinal chemistry. From 1974-78 Nauta has been secretary of the EFMC.
Within the UIPAC Nauta played his role as secretary (since 1977) of the commission on medicinal chemistry, of which commission he was a member since 1975.
Nauta retired in 1982, to be succeeded by one of his former students, Henk Timmerman. In 1986 he died suddenly. From means received from his widow the Prof. Dr. W. Th Nauta Stichting was founded; this foundation enabled the EFMC to award the bi-annual W. Th. Nauta prize, presented for the first time in 1992