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Client Case: Professor Ursula Grohmann about her successful ERC PoC application

February 05 2020

More often than not, scientific research discoveries are left on the shelf. Today we talk with Ursula Grohmann, professor of Pharmacology of the University of Perugia and awarded Top Italian Woman Scientist, as she elucidates on how she managed to push her discoveries a step closer to creating true impact.

Academic researchers struggle to find ways to use research results beyond the lifetime of the project, explore how best to transfer to the market, and create a business model. We discuss the main struggles and opportunities for scientists to overcome these hurdles with Professor Grohmann.

Passion for science since early childhood

Scientists typically are passionate people with a great love for their research topic that often starts at early childhood.

Professor Grohmann agrees: “I became interested in science when I was a young girl at high school. At the laboratory I developed a great love for chemistry and biology”.

Being patient and perseverant

Internal motivation is key for excelling in science as you need to be patient and come up with revolutionary approaches that are prone to a lot of trial-and-error.

“Our biggest breakthrough came with our discovery of an enzyme called IDO1 that performs a regulatory effect on immunity in cancer, metabolic diseases, allergies and chronic inflammation.  Professor Antonio Macchiarulo, who is an excellent medical chemist, and I then focused on finding ways to potentiate this enzyme, which is a revolutionary approach as up until now there are only ways to inhibit this type of enzymes. It was a very difficult task though.”, the professor reveals.

Challenges of transferring discovery to the market

Awarded an Advanced Grant by the European Research Council in 2014, Professor Grohmann and her group continued working on the development of molecules -positive allosteric modulators (PAMs)- that modify the regulatory enzyme IDO1 and alter the course of Multiple Sclerosis. Towards the end of this successful project, Professor Grohmann wanted to take the next step of creating impact but she was facing a new challenge.

“I knew I had an exceptional discovery in my hands, but marketing or business is pretty far from my bed. My university lacks the resources to conduct IP landscaping, market research analysis and business plan construction.”

One of the European Commission’s instruments available for researchers in a position like Grohmann’s is the ERC Proof-of-Concept (PoC) Programme. An ERC PoC grant gives the opportunity to truly discover the potential of innovative research. With the grant you can explore how best to transfer your research results to the market and create a business model. “As an ERC Advanced grantee, I was aware of the potency of ERC PoC but there was a lot to be done.” This is when she got in touch with ttopstart.

Strategic help on ERC PoC

Together, Grohmann and our ttopstart-team of consultants constructed a plan on how to assess the commercial and technical feasibility of the PAMs. This involves both assessment of efficacy, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, as well as verifying IP position and strategy, performing in-depth market and competitor analyses. The findings ultimately are consolidated into a business plan to establish the best path to commercialisation.

 “Rónán [McLaughlin, consultant at ttopstart] explained me how the application for an ERC PoC worked and how he could help me. He immediately knew what I needed and he had a lot of knowledge and experience in writing. I felt comfortable working with the consultants. The whole process went very easy and quickly, the idea was set up in just a few days. It gave me a completely different view.” – Professor Grohmann.

“Directly after discussing the project’s innovative concept and ambitious objectives with Prof. Grohmann, I was convinced we were onto something extremely valuable. This was clearly a product with the potential to fully address an entirely unmet medical need and thereby revolutionise the treatment of MS. Prof. Grohmann’s unrivalled enthusiasm to drive her discoveries towards the market for the benefit of MS patients, coupled with ttopstart’s flair for grant writing and market research expertise made for a very smooth and ultimately fruitful collaboration.”   – ttopstart consultant Rónán McLaughlin

Successful Granted PoC

Grohmann’s application was eventually assessed and rated very highly, resulting in her receiving the 150.000 Euro of funding. If the commercialisation route is deemed feasible after the market research and technical experiments, then a business plan will be made together with ttopstart. Ultimately, Professor Grohmann wants to cooperate with pharmaceutical companies at a later stage, but not before she has secured her IP and investigated the potential of her discoveries.

About Professor Grohmann

Ursula Grohmann is professor of Pharmacology at the Department of Experimental Medicine at the University of Perugia, Italy, and visiting professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. Professor Grohmann has been awarded Top Italian Woman Scientist 2016 and her group constitutes one of the top world leaders in research related to IDO1 (a crucial immunosuppressive enzyme found in dendritic cells) and immune regulation. Professor Grohmann received an ERC PoC grant once before, also with the help from ttopstart.

About ERC PoC

ERC grants are some of the most prestigious individual grants a researcher can receive. ERC PoC is available only for ERC grantees (Starting, Consolidator, Advanced or Synergy), giving excellent researchers a unique opportunity to cover activities at the very early stage of turning research outputs into a commercial or socially valuable proposition, i.e. the initial steps of pre-competitive development.

 If you want to find out more about the opportunities for bringing your discovery to the market, don’t hesitate to reach out to us by filling out the form below.


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