Public engagement activities by Professor Vincenzo Cerullo

One of my main priorities is promoting science to non-scientific audience and I believe that it has never been a better time then now to do so. Science and society have detached themselves from each other and therefore I feel strongly, as a scientist, the responsibility to reconciliate us with our major stakeholders. Since the very beginning of my appointment at University of Helsinki in 2012, I have put great effort and time in activities directed to “reconciliate” the society with scientists. These activities can be subcategorized in: 1. Science Dissemination activities, where I have promoted research and explained to non-scientists the importance of scientific research and how this impacts their lives; 2. Societal impact activities, where I have emphasized the importance of transferring from our lab our discoveries to create a direct advantagefor the society, with clinical trials and/or new job positions or indirectly by promoting activities that lead to clinical trials and other advantageous elements for the society; 3. Education and Creative activities, where I have emphasized the importance of creative thinking to enhance the impact of scientists’ discoveries. Below is a short list and links to some of these activities.

Science Dissemination

In this section I will highlight all the non-academic activities that I have done as a speaker or as an organizer to promote science and to explain to non-scientists the importance of the work we do.

In 2015 I participated in the first ever Science pitch competition at Slush. Slush (https://www.slush.org) is a massive event (about 20000 visitors per year) originally made for startup in the high tech space. In 2015  they decided for the first time to open the event to promote science and science based ideas (not necessarily startups) and so what  is now called skolar award was born (https://skolaraward.fi). The video of that talk is available here: https://youtu.be/pijJcZBGhPU

 

In 2016 I have participated as a speaker at “Campus Seminar Helsinki” (https://campusseminar.com/en/helsinki), an event arranged around the world by the Finnish producer and writer Saku Tuominen to share among the high school teachers what frontline research is in some selected fields. This is part of a bigger project called HundrED. Here I presented my vision on the future of cancer gene therapy treatment. Video of  my talk is available here: https://youtu.be/lBCIZ2YV-  

 

In 2016, I have been promoting the scientific career in high school, more specifically aiming to explain to high school students how to become a scientist and why it is great to be a scientist. During my academic and non-academic career, I have had a lot of recognitions and accomplishments to be proud of, however the letter of appreciation that the students of the International School of Helsinki published in their journal after our meeting is one of the proudest moments in my career.

In 2017, I have conceived and have been part of the board that has arranged the first ever Slush Y Science (https://www.y-science.org) event. Slush Y Science is an official Slush side event focused on promoting and explaining the importance of basic and applied life science to non-academics, investors and other stake holders. World leaders, investors, decision makers and other stakeholders attend the meeting to invest, to learn or influence how the future will look like. Among other we have hosted Mr. Al Gore (who opened Slush in 2017), Arvind Gupta (who is the funder of one of the largest investment fund in India). I have had the great honor to close the event in 2017.

 

The event has been so successful that we have arranged it again in 2018 (program available at website above) and we are starting already to prepare for the 2019 edition. An important novelty that we have introduced in 2018 has been the early phase startup competition supported by several universities. To our knowledge all our 8 finalists were contacted by investors (182 meetings in three hours) and at least 3 out of 8 were offered investment.

In 2017 I have also participated as a jury member and commentator of the slush science pitch competition that awards one hundred thousand euros to the most original science idea.

 

In 2017 I have also participated to TEDx University of Helsinki as speaker. In this talk I highlighted the importance of creativity in science; are scientists creative enough? Should we be more creative, and how?!?! The video of the talk is available here: https://youtu.be/1btbElPnREI

 

In 2018, I have participated as speaker at a new initiative called “Fresh from Campus” (https://www.helsinki.fi/fi/tiedekulma/fresh-from-campus) where selected projects at University of Helsinki are explained to non-academic audience. After the talk, there is a discussion and people can ask questions or talk to the scientists. This is arranged in a BAR-like structure that belong to the university and it is mainly arranged to involve non-academic into our academic life and projects. Here I presented an overview of my lab’s projects. A video of my talk is available here: https://www.helsinki.fi/fi/unitube/video/78e24bcb-1a0d-4596-8298-4c435e9...

  

Societal impact activities

One of the motto in my laboratory is that “a nice paper is useless if it did not change the life of a single person”….well this is a joke and of course not entirely true, however, especially for us that work in gene therapy on applied science it become vitally important to see our research and our discoveries translated to clinical applications. 

This is the main reason why few years ago I have funded a spin-off company whose main goal is to bring to clinical trials what we have initially discovered in my laboratory. The company is called VALO Therapeutics and was established in 2015 (https://www.valotx.com). The company was initially supported by Tekes and NOVO Seed and later on found private investors from Australia and USA. To my knowledge, VALO has beaten all records in fund raising in Nordic countries for companies in similar field. VALO was also chosen as one of the success stories in Slush 2016 (picture below), video available here: https://youtu.be/elW7IZx2ux4

In addition to this spin-off my laboratory holds the record at University of Helsinki in inventions disclosures and has now received another pre-seed funding by Business Finland to eventually spin-off another company in the space of neo-antigen discovery. 

Vincenzo Cerullo University of Helsinki

 

As a consequence of my entrepreneurship activities I have taught in several different schools how to conciliate science and business sharing my own experience and explaining how these two activities can be parallel if ethic, scientific curiosity and willing to impact our society coexist. One example is at  NORDOC PhD school where I gave a talk titled “from idea to a multimillion startup company in 365 days”