Thor Grundtvig Theander

Thor Grundtvig Theander


Member of:


Short overview 


Main scientific achievements 

Malaria is the main focus for Professor Thor Theanders research and his main scientific achievements involves a family of proteins called Plasmodium falciparumErythrocyte Membrane Protein 1 (PfEMP1). These proteins are expressed on the surface of infected erythrocytes, and mediate binding between these cells and cells on the vascular lining. In 2003 and 2004, Salanti and Theander identified VAR2CSA as the PfEMP1 responsible for placental sequestration. The group has since developed a VAR2CSA based vaccine to prevent placental malaria. The first GMP product was vialed in January 2015 and clinical phase 1 studies are set for November 2015 in Germany and Benin. In October 2015, the group published data in Cancer Cell showing that VAR2CSA binds to carbohydrates on a broad selection of cancer cells and can be used to deliver toxic compounds to these cells. These findings suggest that VAR2CSA could play a future role in cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

In 2012, Lavstsen and Theander identified particular PfEMP1 types as highly transcribed in children with severe malaria and a year later they identified endothelial protein C receptor (EPCR) as the human ligand for these highly expressed PfEMP1s.  This work also identified a specific class of PfEMP1 CIDR domains as mediating the EPCR binding. In collaboration with Matt Higgens’ group from Oxford, the Copenhagen group recently published the molecular structure of the EPCR-CIDR interaction. These findings have illuminated a molecular interaction of key importance to the pathogenesis of severe malaria opening new avenues for malaria vaccine research and novel adjunctive therapies.  

Thor Theander is a founder and Head of the Centre for Medical Parasitology ( The Centre employs about 80 scientists, students and technicians and has broad together malaria researchers from University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen University Hospital and the State Serum Institute. The Centre was rewarded the status of ”Centre of Global Excellence in Health” by the Capital Region of Denmark in 2015. 



MD (1982, University of Copenhagen), Physician (National health board 1988), DSc (1992, University of Copenhagen). 


Current position 

Professor in Parasitology and International Health, University of Copenhagen (since 2004). Head: Centre for Medical Parasitology. Deputy head: Department of Immunology and Microbiology.   


Positions and honours

1982-1988       Assistant Medical Doctor, Departments of Medicine, Gastrointestinal Surgery and Infectious Diseases, Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark

1983-1987     Clinical Research Associate, Dept. Infect. Dis., Copenhagen University Hospital, 

1988-2004     Assistant or Associate Professor, Medical Microbiology, University of Copenhagen

2004 -              Professor, Parasitology and International Health, Faculty of Health Science, University of Copenhagen

2015                                    Received the KFJ-price for preclinical research of 1.5 million Dkr.


Involvement in international research 

1987–1999 Main Danish counterpart in the research link on malaria and leishmaniasis between University of Khartoum, University of Copenhagen and University of Edinburgh. This research link produced more than 60 papers in international journals and 8 Ph.D. students were trained at University of Copenhagen. The link was sponsored through a Research Capacity Strengthening Grant from Danida (Enreca programme), and grants form EU, WHO and Welcome Trust.

1991–1995 Main Danish counterpart in the research link on malaria between Noguchi Memorial Institute on Medical Research and University of Copenhagen supported through a Danida Enreca programme. 

1999-2017  Main Danish counterpart in a Malaria Research link under establishment, which includes Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College, Moshi, Tanzania, National Institute of Medical Research, Tanzania, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and University of Copenhagen. During the last ten years been this platform has been instrumental in the development of a research centre in Tanzania which can conduct Phase 3 clinical trials in full GCP compliance and is equipped to conduct advanced laboratory research.

2004-2010 Main Danish counterpart for a Grand Challenges in Global Health and a pregnancy malaria vaccine grants funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  

1995-still     Danish counterpart in several projects funded by the European Union.   



Co-author on numerous patent applications and some patents issued. Co-founder of the following companies: Lica Pharmaceuticals (not currently active), VAR2 Pharmaceuticals (active, cancer therapeutics), VarCT (active, cancer diagnostics), AdaptVac (active, vaccine development). Board member in VAR2 Pharmaceuticals. 


Involvement in PhD education

1988-2018  Theander has supervised 51 successful PhD students of which 19 were from Africa. Five of these students have been appointed Professors at Danish universities and 3 of them outside Denmark. 

1998-2009   Head, Graduate School of International Health, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

2000-2009  Danish representative in the Gates Malaria Partnership PhD programme

2009-2017   Danish representative in the  Malaria Capacity Development Consortium (MCDC)  


Other experience and Professional Memberships

1998         Honorary Professor, University of Khartoum, Sudan

1999-2004  Member, Danish Ministry of Research Committee on the International Role of EU Research

1999-2002.  Member, The Scientific Advisory Committee, European Malaria Vaccine Initiative

1998-2001  Member, Coordinating Committee of the African Malaria Vaccine Testing    Network

2001-2002  Member, Scientific Advisory Committee for the 3rd MIM Pan-African Congress of Malaria

2002-2003  Member, Deans Strategy Committee, Faculty of Health Sciences, U. of Copenhagen

2002-2006  Deputy-chairman, Inst. Med. Microbiology & Immunol. University of Copenhagen

2004-2007  Member, Scientific Advisory Committee of the African Malaria Network Trust                     

2000-2017  Co-founder of and Coordinator for UC in the Joint Malaria Programme in Tanzania


Selected Research Support 

2004-2008 The Graduate School of International Health supported by the “Forskeruddannelsesrådet”. PI: Theander. Budget 4.35 million 

2000-2007  Gates Malaria Partnership (GMP) PhD stipend programme through London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Copenhagen PI: TG Theander. Copenhagen budget 6.2 million DKr. 

2000-2005 European malaria vaccine development consortium. One of 12 partners in a EU research cluster for malaria vaccine development. Danish PI TG Theander. Copenhagen budget 3.3 million Dkr. 

2003-2005 Malaria and Health in Northern Tanzania. A Tanzanian Danish collaborative research programme funded by The Danish International Development Agency. PI TG Theander. Budget 8 million Dkr. Danida committed 10 million Dkr. for this activity from 2005 – 2008. 

2004-2005 Development of a vaccines against pregnancy associated malaria. The European Malaria Vaccine Initiative. PI TG Theander. Budget 1.5 million Dkr.    

2002-2005 Centre contract for malaria drug development from the Research Councils and “Erhversfremmestyrelsen”. Budget 1.8 million Dkr.  

2005-2009 Grand Challenges in Global Health: Identifying the immunological basis for malaria immunity. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through Foundation of National Institute of Health. Danish PI TG Theander. Budget in Denmark 24 million Dkr. Total budget for the consortium led by Patrick Duffy, Seattle Biomedival Research Institute 19 million US$.

2011-2014  Danish Medical Research Council, 4.2 mio DKK, Var gene expression in patients, PI

2013-2017 Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), 2013-2016, 10 mio DKK, Malaria vaccine development, PI

2014-2016 Building Stronger Universities, Capacity building at KCMU, 8 mio DKK, Danish PI

2017-2019 Danish Medical Research Council, 2.4 mio DKK, Delivery of vaccine antigens on virus like particles for vaccine development                 

2018- Friis Fonden. VLP baserede vacciner.  600.000 Dkr.  


Publication statistics 

Author and co-author of 265 international peer reviewed journals as listed in PubMed. 

According to Google Scholar Citation the H-index is 68 and 231 papers are cited ten times or more. 

The total number of citations are 16.014


Most important publication 

Turner, L, Lavstsen, T, Berger, SS, Wang, CW, Petersen, JEV, Avril, M, Brazier, AJ, Freeth, J, Jespersen, JS, Nielsen, MA, Magistrado, P, Lusingu, J, Smith, JD, Higgins, MK & Theander, TG2013. Severe malaria is associated with parasite binding to endothelial protein C receptor. Nature,vol 498, nr. 7455, s. 502-5. DOI: 10.1038/nature12216. 253 citations.





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