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Peter O'Donnell is a freelance journalist who specializes in European health affairs and is based in Brussels, Belgium.
An award made by the European Research Council allows Antonella Viola and her team at the University of Padova to be able to put funds into proof of concept work on using monoamine oxidase B inhibitors as novel drugs targeting NLRP3 inflammasome.
European research programs-like the $80 billion Horizon Europe strategy due to be agreed in Brussels later this year-are understandably perceived as large-scale and remote, and beyond the reach of individuals. But Antonella Viola and her team at the University of Padova in Italy are now able to put €150 000 ($166 000) into proof of concept work on using monoamine oxidase B inhibitors as novel drugs targeting NLRP3 inflammasome. They have been exploring promising potential treatments of NLRP3-related conditions with the existing drugs for Parkinson’s disease-holding out the prospect of cheaper and faster ways of developing a safer, tolerable and cheaper alternative for patients.
Viola, a professor of general pathology at Padua’s department of biomedical sciences, is one of 76 researchers to receive similar Proof of Concept grants. Altogether the value of the grants listed in the early-January announcement of winners is more than €11 million. The awards are made by the European Research Council, which was set up by the European Union in 2007 to fund frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds researchers to run projects based in Europe. These top-up PoC grants, each worth €150,000, are awarded to ERC grantees to explore business opportunities, prepare patent applications or verify the practical viability of their scientific findings.
Diether Lambrechts of the Flanders Life Science Institute is another beneficiary, for a project on circulating tumor DNA as an epigenetic biomarker for tumor response. So too is Sarah Verhulst of Ghent University, who is developing a diagnostic test for cochlear synaptopathy in humans. Sandra Hirche at the Technical University of Munich has won support for her project on control-oriented PD state modelling and estimation for precision medicine, as have Thomas Thum at Hannover Medical School for noncoding RNA MEG3 inhibitor for heart failure treatment, and Jose Luis Mascarenas at the University of Santiago de Compostela for targeting cancer stem cell metabolism with designed, reactive metal complexes. It isn’t just EU researchers that qualify, either. Roberto Coppari at the University of Geneva has received the PoC grant for compositions for use in the treatment of insulin deficiency conditions. The list rolls on through
Overall, during 2019, the ERC funded 200 Proof of Concept projects through this scheme. And since the scheme started in 2011, over 1000 projects have received funding. The latest list rolls on through prognostic tests for critical septic patients based in early detection of NLRP3 inflammasome impairment activation and computed tomography targets for efficient guidance of catheter ablation in ventricular tachycardia, to validation of a novel antiviral drug candidate against influenza, the use of IgY antibodies as alternative therapeutics, or early detection of melanoma using time-series analyses of evolution of naevi, in research institutes across Europe and beyond.
The overall budget of the 2019 competition was €30 million, and overall last year 498 proposals were evaluated, with an average success rate of 40%. Researchers working in 22 countries benefited-including in Israel 10 and Turkey. There will be three rounds for applications1 in 2020, with deadlines of 21 January, 23 April and 17 September.
Meanwhile, using the new grant, Viola plans to bring this discovery closer to market, assessing the efficacy of the new therapy for gout arthritis, solidifying the patent protection in Europe and worldwide, and developing a business plan for commercialization.