News from the BioCity Campus

Renowned vaccine researcher comes to the University of Leipzig

Development of vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 and other corona viruses planned

One of the most valuable research prizes in Germany, the Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, is awarded to Dr. Torben Schiffner from the USA back to Germany. The award, worth 1,65 million euros, enables the virologist to set up a new working group and laboratory for vaccine development at the University of Leipzig over the next five years. The scientist uses the methods of computer-aided protein design to be prepared for upcoming new corona viruses.

"With Dr. Torben Schiffner, we are building a bridge between the new Institute for Drug Development at the Medical Faculty of the University of Leipzig and the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology for the rapid development of vaccines against emerging viral threats. There is currently no such link in Germany. However, it would be a crucial tool in our toolbox to effectively combat not only the current SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, but also future pandemics," says Humboldt Professor Dr. Jens Meiler, on whose initiative the 34-year-old is returning to Germany in December.

Corona threw the plans upside down

This is made possible by the Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which provides venture capital for innovative projects to young researchers at an early stage in their careers. Actually researching Dr. Torben Schiffner has been working on a vaccine against HIV in the USA for many years. But the current corona pandemic has also thrown his plans upside down, so that he has now completely shifted his research to developing a corona vaccine.

Develop a vaccine for the coming corona pandemics at the same time

Born in Hamburg, he wants to develop a wide range of vaccines that not only protect against the current corona virus, but also have a prophylactic and permanent effect on other strains of the corona virus. This would prepare you for the next pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 is the third new coronavirus outbreak in the past 17 years, and more are likely to follow, Schiffner said. “Our goal is to develop a vaccine that elicits so-called broadly neutralizing antibodies. Antibodies are able to prevent infection, but few antibodies are able to fight several different coronaviruses," says Dr. Torben Schiffner. Therefore, like the Institute for Drug Development, he relies on state-of-the-art computer-aided protein design and special in-vitro screening methods. "Computer-aided protein design helps us to develop vaccines that gradually teach our immune system to specifically attack the weak points of the virus," explains the virologist.

Stations in London, Oxford and California

dr Torben Schiffner has been working at the Scripps Research Institute in California, USA, for five years, where his main research is on HIV vaccines. He previously received his PhD in vaccine development from the University of Oxford. Schiffner studied at the University of Hamburg and at Imperial College London. After more than eleven years, I am very happy to be returning to Germany: “I am very happy to be living in my home country again from December. I've only been in Leipzig for a few days so far, but it looks like a great city and an excellent environment for my research."


Source: Press release 236/2020 of the University of Leipzig from August 31.08.2020, XNUMX

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