Prof. Dr. Roman Jerala, Head of the Department of Synthesis Biology and Immunology at the Chemical Institute, succeeded in obtaining a new project of the European Research Council (ERC), titled CCEdit, to develop the use of the improved CRISPR system for gene knockout in the genome.
This is an ERC Proof of Concept (PoC) grant, which is awarded by the European Research Council with a view to finance the initial phases of the transfer of fundamental scientific discoveries into use. The ERC PoC project, which can only be acquired by researchers who already have an ERC research project, promotes the transfer of scientific knowledge to elements with a market or social value. The project funds are used by the scientists to finance development, patent protection, market analysis, connection with potential partners, and the initial degree of commercialisation or transfer of fundamental scientific discoveries to wider use.
The newly acquired CCEdit project originates from the results of the current ERC Advanced Grant project, which was launched by Prof. Dr. Jerala’s group in 2018. Last year, with a significant contribution from Dr. Duško Lainšček, a group from the Chemical Institute filed a patent application to improve the CRISPR method, which represents one of the most important technological breakthroughs in the field of life sciences in recent years. The project is planning to develop technology and demonstration for treatment and biotechnological use for plants, micro-organisms, and mammalian cells. The project will take place for 12-18 months and will also include participation from Tomaž Bizjak, a technology transfer expert from the Chemical Institute, and external professionals linked to the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. By connecting to such high-tech business centres, the project can achieve greater commercial potential, and better potential for breakthrough on the world market. The quality of research in Slovenia is already recognised as a serious global competitor, and now we need to step forward to reach wider society. Thus, there is remarkable social and economic potential in the area of cellular and genetic therapies, which is one of the fastest growing fields in medicine, as it allows new approaches to treating diseases such as cancer. Such innovations are open to societal and regulatory challenges, such as security, accessibility, and further development. With this project, we also want to bring new views, and establish links to Slovenia which will contribute to the development of the domestic economy of new therapies.
This is the first ERC PoC project at the Chemistry Institute, where the researchers have already acquired three prestigious ERC research projects, and the first project of this type in the field of life sciences in Slovenia. The acquisition of the ERC PoC project being a significant achievement, is evident from the fact that less than a third of the 238 applications were granted, while the performance of ERC projects, which are a prerequisite for candidacy for the ERC PoC project, is around 12%. The success is new proof that fundamental scientific research can be very useful, and can lead to the transfer of scientific knowledge to practice.