Andrii Gorelik, team member and postdoctoral research associate in Imperial’s Ed Tate Satellite Group at the Francis Crick Institute has won the Merck Innovation Cup 2020, working in an international team to create a novel platform that could lead to the development of new treatments for disease-causing proteins in cancer and other pathological conditions.
The Merck Innovation Cup is an annual week-long competition where PhD and MBA students and postdocs work in teams to develop innovative ideas with the potential to address unmet medical needs. Usually held at Merck headquarters near Frankfurt, Germany, this year the 10th anniversary competition was run virtually.
Over 2,000 applicants applied to take part in the competition, with 60 people selected based on their CVs and proposed ideas, which covered the fields of oncology, immuno-oncology, autoimmunity, drug discovery, digitalisation, electroceuticals, lithography, and novel COVID-19 treatments.
Throughout the week, 10 teams then developed either one of their team member’s proposals or a completely new idea, advancing the concepts from both a technical and business perspective, including building a business plan.
The competition was judged by a jury of senior Merck researchers and managers as well as external experts.
The winning Drug Discovery Technologies team designed a screening platform to identify and produce novel protein degraders. These are molecules which induce protein breakdown by harnessing cellular machinery and, if targeted correctly, can be used as a treatment against disease-causing proteins in conditions such as cancer, neurodegeneration and immune system disorders.
The team hope that new protein degraders could be more effective than those currently available, such as PROTACs (PROteolysis TArgeting Chimeras), and could also be used to target some pathological proteins, considered “undruggable” and for which there are currently no effective degraders.
As well as winning €20,000 the team will now work with experts from Merck to develop the project.
“It’s been such a privilege to be part of this fantastic team effort, working with some of the smartest and most humble people I've ever met,” says Andrii.
“I can’t wait to continue this project, collaborating with Merck, to see it through from initial concept to running effectively, hopefully producing new protein degraders that could be used in the clinic. This process of innovation and translation is vital to drug discovery moving forward.”
The six-person international team was also made up of researchers from Stanford University, University of Cambridge, University of California Berkley, Aarhus University and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
“I am a fan of creative thinking and the Innovation Cup allowed our team to do exactly that: think outside the box and develop a feasible proposal that nobody has implemented before,” continues Andrii.
The Crick is committed to encouraging a translational research culture through sharing ideas, expertise and experience. The Institute’s translation team work with many academic and industrial partners to take research forward to the point where it can be developed as new products and therapies.
Applications for the Merck Innovation Cup 2021 will open in November 2020, more detail about this will be available here.