World-class biotechnology: How 27-year-old ETH doctoral student Mikail Levasseur wants to revolutionize medicine and pharmaceutical research.
What does the term “protein engineering” mean to you, Mr. Levasseur?
For me, this term means tailoring properties of proteins to suit different applications. I was fascinated by the work from two of the top institutions in this field: Caltech and ETH. The group of Professor Donald Hilvert, in the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry at ETH, creates designer proteins to overcome challenges in medicine. That’s why I applied for a PhD position in Zurich.
The project you entered when you did the Business Concept course is about a “protein cage”. Can you explain what that’s all about?
Introducing chemical agents and biological material – genetic information, for example – into a cell, without damaging it, is difficult. To solve that issue, we developed something like a container or carrier, called OP, that allows us to efficiently transport and deliver a broad range of cargoes into cells.
You envisage two applications. Which ones?
In the Startup Campus training, we have presented OP as a versatile transfection technology that could facilitate and accelerate research, both in academia and industry. Another appealing application would be in medicine, especially in precision oncology: Our protein cages could penetrate cancer cells and release materials that help to kill or detect the tumor.
You are still conducting basic research. Nevertheless, you’ve already teamed up with a billion-dollar corporation as an industrial partner.
That’s right. We started an Innosuisse project with Lonza last June. I think the Lonza researchers see the same thing in the OPtimize project as we do: An opportunity to set new standards in life sciences and medicine.