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17 Jul 2017

News: CRAG researcher Maria Lois is awarded a CaixaImpulse grant to help transfer her research to the market

"la Caixa" Banking Foundation

On a press conference held on the 5th of July at the Palau Macaya, in Barcelona, “la Caixa” Banking Foundation and Caixa Capital Risc, presented the 23 projects that will be participating in the 2017 edition of CaixaImpulse, a program aimed at helping researchers to transfer their research to the market. The SUMOblock project led by the CSIC Assistant Professor at CRAG L. Maria Lois is among the 23 selected projects.

Dr. Lois’ objective with this CaixaImpulse project is to develop a new family of anti-cancer drugs, which will benefit for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) patients in a first instance. Currently, the standard treatment for AML patients relies on conventional cytotoxic agents, having changed very little for the past 40 years. “Finding a more specific drug to treat AML is crucial, especially for the older patients, who are often not eligible for the available aggressive treatments”, explains the researcher.

In last decade, a process known as SUMO conjugation, which involves the binding of the small SUMO protein to other cellular proteins for regulating their activity, has been identified as a valuable therapeutic strategy for those patients. A few years ago, Lois, who is an expert in SUMOylation in plants, identified a new molecular target for generating SUMO conjugation inhibitors. With the previous support of a Proof of Concept grant from the European Research Council (ERC) and a Llavor grant from the Generalitat de Catalunya, Lois developed a high-throughput screening that allowed for the identification of some drug candidates. Now, the CaixaImpulse program will facilitate the development of these candidates further, with the aim of providing efficient treatments for patients suffering this cancer. To do so, Lois has assembled a team of complementary skills, collaborating with researchers experts in AML, structural biologists, medical oncologists and entrepreneurs. The CaixaImpulse project, will not only provide funding, but will also provide training, mentoring and a network of contacts to generate business opportunities.

Furthermore, last week, Maria Lois was also awarded the “Pot d’Idees” second prize for this project. The “Pot d’Idees” call is managed by the Catalan Reference Network in Biotechnology and is addressed to the members of the Network who present innovative projects with a high potential to be transferred to the market.