ERC Proof of Concept grant to Professor Vincenzo Cerullo

ERC Proof of Concept grants can be used by ERC grantees to explore business opportunities. PeptiCHIP is a microfluidic chip-based device that condenses the neoantigen purification steps into a single chip for immunotherapy.

Professor Vincenzo Cerullo from the Faculty of Pharmacy has received an ERC Proof of Concept grant for the project “PeptiCHIP: Streamlined identification of tumour neoantigens for personalised anti-cancer immunotherapy”.

"The majority of patients still fail to respond to immunotherapies because targetable tumour characteristics vary from patient to patient. A greater degree of personalisation is required to fine-tune immunotherapies to the specific vulnerabilities of each patient’s tumour.

While therapies that target tumour-specific antigens, so-called neoantigens invoke a strong and specific anti-tumour immune response, we are currently unable to accurately identify patient-specific neoantigens," Cerullo explains.

Current neoantigen identification and purification methods either require impractically large quantities of tumour material or are laborious, expensive, time consuming – spanning from weeks to months – and inaccurate.

As a part of his project PEPTICRAD (2016–2021), supported by the ERC Consolidator Grant, Cerullo had planned to use existing technologies to discover new tumour-associated antigens and neo-antigens to decorate viruses.

"However I soon realized the technical limitations of the existing state-of-the-art approaches that we were using or planning to use. I then looked for a solution and, together with Cristian Capasso and Sara Feola, a PhD student and a postdoc in my laboratory – with the help of another ERC investigator from our faculty, Tiina Sikanen – we invented PeptiCHIP. It is a novel microfluidic chip-based device that condenses the neoantigen purification steps into a single chip. The chip is capable of accurately analyzing minute quantities of human tumour tissue," says Cerullo.

Aiming towards a spin-off

In this ERC proof-of-concept project, a team of technological and commercial experts will ascertain the technical and commercial viability of the innovative PeptiCHIP device. The team will prepare the first steps toward a possible new start-up in defining the most optimal business models and the best strategy for getting started.

Furthermore, the team will explore the technical potential of the PeptiCHIP and solidify their IP-position. In addition, a solid business strategy based on the technological aspects, the market needs and trends is needed. During this project, the team will gain technical and commercial proof-of-concept, providing the necessary information for potential commercialization routes.

"One part of my work that I value the most is the possibility to impact society and the people around me. Already in 2016, with another idea described in my ERC grant, together with the University of Helsinki, I co-founded Valo Therapeutics. This spin-off company’s primary mission is to take our technology to clinics. I am now ready to do it again! I am, in fact, very grateful to the EU commission for this successful Proof of Concept grant, as it gives us the possibility to explore the commercial value of our invention," Cerullo says.

Vincenzo Cerullo

Immunovirotherapy Lab

Faculty of Pharmacy's Drug Research Programme

Doctoral Programme in Drug Research

Doctoral Programme in Biomedicine

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ERC Proof of Concept grant

ERC Proof of Concept (PoC) grants, worth €150,000 each for a period of 18 months, can be used for example to explore business opportunities, prepare patent applications or verify the practical viability of scientific concepts. The grant scheme is only open to ERC grantees.

Further info on ERC PoC's

All ERC Proof of Concept grantees 05/2019

 The previous ERC Proof of Concept grant in the Faculty of Pharmacy was granted to Hélder Santos.