ERC Proof of Concept Grant for MFPL researcher Bojan Zagrovic

07/05/2018

MFPL group leader Bojan Zagrovic (University of Vienna) is awarded a prestigious ERC Proof of Concept (PoC) Grant. The PoC, endowed with EUR 150.000, will support the work towards a potential commercial application based on findings from Bojan’s previously received ERC Starting Grant. 

Over the past 20 years, therapeutic monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) have become one of the most powerful pharmacological strategies in the treatment of various types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune disorders. Protein solubility presents a central challenge in developing the required high protein concentration formulations of mAb therapeutics. The current approaches that address this challenge typically involve using different osmolyte excipients such as salts, carbohydrates, amino acids or surfactants. However, these approaches pose different problems including insufficient activity, low specificity and allergenic reactivity among others. Clearly, there is a high demand for novel strategies to increase the solubility of mAbs in pharmaceutical formulations in an efficient, cost-effective and target-specific manner. 

Bojan and his team will address this challenge by exploiting one of the central biological interaction partners of proteins, the RNA molecules. More in detail, they will develop a computational software that designs RNA ligands which improve the solubility of aggregation-prone mAb therapeutics in a sequence- specific manner. In a second step, the researchers will commercialize this software for an application in a biopharmaceutical context.  
“Notably, the sequence-specific design of RNA ligands for a particular target protein is based on fundamental physicochemical principles of RNA-protein interactions, which were recently elucidated by my team in the context of our ERC Starting Grant project,”Bojan explains.  

Meet the researcher
Bojan Zagrovic, a native of Zagreb, Croatia, received a Bachelor's degree in Biochemical Sciences magna cum laudefrom Harvard University and carried out his PhD work at Stanford University. After his postdoctoral stay at the ETH Zurich between, he led the Computational Biology group at the Mediterranean Institute for Life Sciences in Split, Croatia. Bojan is a group leader at the MFPL since 2010 and has since been the recipient of several renowned scientific awards and grants, such as an FWF START grant, an ERC starting grant and several FWF standalone grants. 

This is the first Proof of Concept Grant at the institute. To date, MFPL researchers have obtained nine prestigious ERC grants. This once again highlights the high quality of research carried out at the institute and the Vienna BioCenter.