Vítor Cabral, from the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, was one of five researchers whose research project was distinguished in the 2nd edition of the InnOValley Proof of Concept Fund (IOV PoC), which took place on April 12 at the Palácio dos Aciprestes (Linda-a -Velha, Oeiras). With this funding, Vítor will study a next-generation probiotic therapy using a gut microbiota protective species that can target all three major symptoms of gut inflammatory diseases, by reducing inflammatory episodes, recovering the microbiota from imbalances, and resolving infections.
The PoC, a pioneering initiative in Portugal, highlights projects with potential for transfer to industry and assigns a total of €200,000 annually to support translational projects in life sciences proposed by researchers from two scientific institutions in Oeiras: the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (FCG-IGC) and the António Xavier Institute of Chemical and Biological Technology of the NOVA University of Lisbon (ITQB NOVA).
Although it was initially planned to award the prize to only four projects, exceptionally this year it was decided by the international panel of experts to distinguish five, given the quality of the submitted applications.
Together with Vítor Cabral, Maria Miragaia, Margarida Archer, Ana Pina and Mónica Serrano, all four from the António Xavier Institute of Chemical and Biological Technology at Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, were also awarded with a 2023 PoC. The research topics address the development of probiotics for inflammatory disease, precision antibiotics for pneumonia, proteins for diagnostic tests, biological batteries for electronic skin applications and a nanoplatform to detect pathogens. Projects must show promising results with potential for innovation, with the aim of creating new intellectual property and responding to societal needs.
Launched in 2021, PoC has, in its 2nd edition, a 50% increase in the number of applications submitted compared to the previous year, with a total of 21 proposals. The success of the initiative is visible in the projects selected in 2022, in the 1st edition, which were awarded an amount of €200,000, and which are promisingly developing the winning proposals.
As in the 1st edition, the projects were evaluated by a panel of twelve members, professionals with decades of international experience in innovation and leading organizations in seven different European countries. See more information about the panel members here.
PoC 2nd Edition Winners
Project name: Coll-Bat: Collagen-based bio batteries for electronic skin applications
Project leader: Ana Pina, ITQB NOVA
Topic: Medical Devices
Future electronics will take on more important roles in people’s lives, particulary, electronic-skin platforms appear as an attractive approach to enable advanced health monitoring, disease detection, and medical therapies. However, current electronics are rigid, nondegradable and cannot self-repair, while the human body is soft, dynamic, stretchable, biodegradable, and self-healing. The sensing components of electronic skin platforms usually rely on bulky power supplies to work, such as the traditional lithium-ion batteries, which are heavy, rigid, and toxic, limiting the practical utilization for electronic-skin. Other wearable power source include energy harvesting and selfpowered devices such as enzymatic biobatteries and biofuel cells, which are not suitable because they lack conformability, flexibility, thus restricting operational conditions. Coll-Bat aims to develop an innovative ultra-thin, flexible, and lightweight biobattery entirely made of collagen-like biomaterials able to supply electronic skin devices for health monitoring.
Project name: Novel next generation probiotic for treatment of gut inflammation, dysbiosis, and infection in IBD
Project leader: Vítor Cabral
Topic: Human Health & Disease, Microbiome
IBD affects over 5 million people worldwide, and over 900 million suffer from obesity. These diseases share symptoms like intestinal inflammation and susceptibility to infections. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications target these symptoms, but have the collateral effect of damaging native intestinal microbes (microbiota), reducing their capacity to protect the patient from consequent infections and promoting recurrent inflammatory episodes. Novel strategies are needed for therapies that target symptoms and/or protect the microbiota from damage, to complement or enhance antibiotic treatments. Probiotics have not yet been shown to be the solution to this issue. Here, we propose a next-generation probiotic therapy using a gut microbiota protective species that can target all three major symptoms of gut inflammatory diseases, by reducing inflammatory episodes, recovering the microbiota from imbalances, and resolving infections. This biotherapy has the potential to complement and enhance antibiotics, leading to patients’ faster and better recovery from disease state.
Project name: OMKP1: a new class of precision antibiotics against multidrug resistant Klebsiella pneumonia
Project leader: Maria Miragaia, ITQB NOVA
Topic: Human Health & Disease, Antibiotic resistance
Antimicrobial Resistance is one of the major public health threats worldwide. The situation is so serious that the world health organization (WHO) has established as a critical priority the development of new antibiotics against multidrug resistant (MDR) bacteria. Of particular concern are infections caused by MDR Klebsiella pneumoniae, for which therapeutic options are urgently needed. Herein we propose a new class of metal compounds (OMKP1), to use as a precision antibiotic against MDR K. pneumoniae infections. In this project we aim to take this compound into more advanced stages of development, namely by validating its activity in the lab and determining key physicochemical parameters and stability conditions. These data will guide the synthesis of optimized OMKP1 versions with increased activity and stability. Moreover, will enable to definitively establish OMKP1 as a promising chemical scafold for the treatment of MDR K. pneumoniae infections.
Project name: Computational engineered proteins for Flavivirus diagnostics and vaccine development
Project leader: Margarida Archer, ITQB NOVA
Topic: Human Health & Disease, Infectious diseases
As we all are experiencing, zoonotic viruses are unpredictable threats to human health. Innovative ways to identify, treat and prevent all viruses are in demand. Zika virus (ZIKV) is a newly emergent flavirus, closely linked to Dengue, Yellow Fever and Chikungunya viruses, mainly transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. To date, there is no prophylactic treatment nor vaccine available against ZIKV and disease control is limited to vector eradication strategies. Researchers from ITQB NOVA, IGC and Fiocruz-PE, Brazil joined complementary expertise involving de novo design of proteins, molecular simulations, protein production, biophysics, immunology, virology and structural biology to successfully address the identified problems. The goal of this proposal is to elucidate 3D structures of computationally designed proteins comprising unique ZIKV epitopes and mimicking human neutralizing antibodies to boost the development of high-fidelity diagnostic tools, treatment of ZIKV infections and vaccines to stop virus dissemination, giving our proposal a significant edge of timeliness and novelty.
Project name: A versatile and cost-efective nanoplatform for pathogens detection
Project leader: Mónica Serrano, ITQB NOVA
Topic: Medical Devices
The menace of emerging infections, the recurrence of previous pandemics and the rise in antibiotic-resistant pathogens makes the continuous surveillance of pathogens, a critical axis in health policies. Versatile, cost-effective and easy to implement diagnostic tests are urgently needed to enable routine environmental monitoring and their large scale deployment should a pandemic situation arise. We propose the use of a nanoplatform for the display of enzymes to be used in LAMP-based tests, faster and simpler alternatives to traditional PCR tests, for the detection of pathogens. The platform uses Bacillus subtilis spores to display the two polymerases. In preliminary work, we successfully displayed an active RT at the spore surface. We now aim at displaying both polymerases at the spore surface, and to use the resulting spores for the simple, cost-effective detection of relevant pathogens.