Researcher Alberto Fernández Tejada awarded ERC Proof of Concept grant

The European Research Council makes funds available to explore the commercial potential of research work

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded a Proof of Concept grant to Alberto Fernández Tejada, an Ikerbasque Research Professor and leader of the Chemical Immunology Laboratory at CIC bioGUNE, a member of the Basque Research & Technology Alliance (BRTA).

ERC Proof of Concept grants are aimed at researchers currently working on ERC projects who want to explore the commercial potential of their research. These projects are aimed at establishing proof of concept of an idea generated in the course of developing ERC-funded projects. The funding pool of EUR 150,000 is primarily for activities aimed at converting research findings into a commercial product.

On this occasion, the project funded by the ERC is called ADJUVACCINE and focuses on the development of a commercially valuable adjuvant candidate to explore its transfer to the vaccine production market.
Adjuvants are essential chemical ingredients in the composition and formulation of modern vaccines, enhancing their efficacy and effectiveness. They function as amplifiers (immunopotentiators), stimulating the immune system to induce a more potent, targeted and long-lasting response, multiplying it exponentially. Co-administration of the adjuvant also leads to considerable cost reductions in the manufacture of the vaccine, as less antigen (dose) is used to achieve the same immunity, thus increasing the cost-effectiveness of the vaccine.

The research of Dr. Alberto Fernández Tejada, conducted at the interface between chemistry and immunology, is focused on the development of new immunopotentiators and synthetic saponin-based molecular vaccines. The natural product is gaining particular prominence as a booster for preventive vaccines against malaria, herpes and Covid-19 (it is the adjuvant used in the Novavax vaccine). However, as it is extracted from a tree (the soapbark) endemic to Chile, its composition is not entirely homogeneous. Furthermore, it is difficult to obtain in large quantities and with a high degree of purity, and is associated with the appearance of certain mild adverse effects. Thus, one of the key objectives of Dr. Fernández Tejada's research is the production and preclinical development of two synthetic saponin-type adjuvants as improved and more accessible alternatives to the natural product, with the prospect of progressing to clinical trials in forthcoming years.

Alberto Fernández Tejada, PhD in Chemistry (2009) from the University of La Rioja, works on the development of synthetic strategies and innovative chemical tools for the discovery of new adjuvants and improved molecular vaccines with a translational approach. Furthermore, his research group also focuses on the study of the possible mechanisms of action of the developed candidates, with a view to obtaining key information to address the subsequent rational design of new optimised prototypes. 

Throughout his career, Dr. Fernández Tejada has been awarded prestigious research grants such as a Fulbright scholarship (2009) and Marie Curie (2010 and 2013, successively) postdoctoral contracts. More recently, he has obtained funding from important national and European programmes to conduct his independent research at CIC bioGUNE, including a Ramón y Cajal contract from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (2015) and the ERC Starting Grant (2016), to which the current ERC Proof of Concept project (2022) can now be added.

He has top-level research experience at the chemistry-biology interface in leading national and international research centres, including the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York, USA), the Centre for Biological Research CIB-CSIC (Madrid, Spain) and the University of Oxford (Oxford, UK). Since 2017, he has led his own research group as Principal Investigator in Immunological Chemistry at CIC bioGUNE (Bilbao, Spain).

About CIC bioGUNE
The Centre for Cooperative Research in Biosciences (CIC bioGUNE), located in the Bizkaia Technology Park, is a biomedical research organisation conducting cutting-edge research at the interface between structural, molecular and cell biology, with a particular focus on the study of the molecular bases of disease, for use in the development of new diagnostic methods and advanced therapies.

About BRTA
The BRTA is an alliance made up of 4 collaborative research centres (CIC bioGUNE, CIC nanoGUNE, CIC biomaGUNE and CIC energiGUNE) and 12 technology centres (Azterlan, Azti, Ceit, Cidetec, Gaiker, Ideko, Ikerlan, Lortek, Neiker, Tecnalia, Tekniker and Vicometch), with the aim of developing advanced technological solutions for Basque companies.

With the support of the Basque Government, the SPRI Group and the Provincial Councils of the three regional provinces, the alliance seeks to promote collaboration among its centres, to strengthen the conditions to generate and transfer knowledge to companies, contributing to their competitiveness, and to spread Basque scientific and technological capacity outside of the Basque Country.

BRTA has a staff of 3,500 professionals, accounts for 22% of the Basque Country’s R&D investment, generates an annual turnover of over EUR 300 million and files 100 European and international patents per year.

About Ikerbasque
Ikerbasque - the Basque Foundation for Science - was created as the result of an initiative of the Basque Government Department of Education to further strengthen its commitment to scientific research by attracting, bringing to the Basque Country and subsequently consolidating excellent researchers from all over the world. Today, Ikerbasque is a consolidated organisation with 290 researchers working in all fields of knowledge.

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