The European Research Council (ERC) annually awards Advanced Grants for the most groundbreaking research in all disciplines of the sciences. The Advanced Grants are awarded for a period of five years and amount to 2.5 million euros. This year, one researcher from VUB and VIB will receive this prestigious European grant.

Professor Jan Steyaert, Scientific Director of the VIB-VUB Center for Structural Biology and professor at VUB, receives this support based on a groundbreaking idea with which he aims to revolutionise the foundations of current immunotherapy using Nanobody technology. All immunotherapies currently applied in medicine focus on blocking signals between different cells of the immune system. Although this approach in cancer therapy saves many lives worldwide, these inhibitors only help about 10% of patients, and the majority experience (persistent) side effects during treatment.

The successful ERC project is based on the observation that in nature - unlike current immunotherapies - brutally blocking molecular signals, akin to cutting an electrical wire, almost never occurs. In our bodies, molecular switch systems that can be adjusted as needed regulate cellular processes and overall metabolism. With this project, Jan Steyaert's team intends to use Nanobody technology to build and control innovative molecular switches themselves. VUB has a long tradition in the discovery and research of Nanobodies, but their potential as regulators of immune receptors is a recent and virtually unexplored field, says Professor Steyaert.

Earlier this year, Professor Steyaert received a Methuselah grant, the most prominent research funds in Flanders, to further develop his groundbreaking research. With the ERC project, the lab also continues to develop the Biotech sector in Flanders. Jan Steyaert has an exceptional track record in this area as the founder of Ablynx, Biotalys, and Confotherapeutics.