Main Field(s) of Research
The primary focus of my research activities since the beginning of my scientific career has been the use of molecular biology as a tool for improving health. After developing an immunologically “humanized” mouse model (“HHD mice”: knockout for endogenous MHC class I expression and transgenic for HLA-class I monochain) in 1998 in Paris, France, I used the model to compare vaccine formats, i.e., proteins, peptides and nucleic acids (plasmid DNA and messenger RNA), during my post-doctoral fellowship in Tuebingen, Germany. As messenger RNA is an innovative, safe and promising vaccine format, we further optimized its efficacy and implemented its clinical evaluation from 1999 to 2006. This was made possible through collaboration between research and clinical teams at the University Hospital of Tuebingen and a dedicated company that I co-founded, CureVac. Numerous pre-clinical and clinical studies (from Phase I to pivotal) evaluating different formulations of mRNA vaccines across several therapeutic (e.g., anti-cancer vaccines) and prophylactic (e.g., anti-pathogen vaccines) setups are ongoing. We foresee that mRNA-based formulations will soon be approved as therapeutic drugs and that many new formulations of mRNA will be used to address a wide range of health issues (e.g., cancer, infectious diseases, allergies, genetic diseases, regenerative medicine). Aiming to combine immunotherapies and chemotherapies for the treatment of cancer, I joined the University Hospital of Zurich in 2006. My current activities include the implementation of clinical studies (chemotherapy combinations) and, through the URPP, the pre-clinical optimization and clinical implementation of mRNA-based anti-cancer therapies. This later project comprises primarily (i) active immunotherapies using immunostimulating mRNA-based formulations that can boost natural anti-cancer immunities and (ii) passive anti-cancer immunotherapies using mRNA-coding immune receptors (e.g., chimeric antigen receptors “CARs” or TCR) that can endow any relevant lymphocyte with anti-cancer capabilities.