Fellows

Moustafa Ghanem

My name is Moustafa Ghanem and I come from Alexandria, Egypt. I started my scientific career in Alexandria where I got my Bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences at Alexandria University (Egypt). Throughout my bachelor program, my passion for scientific research started to grow particularly in areas related to drug discovery and development. Consequently, I travelled to Switzerland afterwards to pursue my studies and I obtained my Master’s degree in Medicinal and Industrial Pharmaceutical Sciences from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ).

At ETHZ, I did my research project and my master’s thesis in the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences where I joined the biophamacy group and worked under the supervision of Professor Stefanie D. Kraemer. During my master’s thesis, I focused on characterizing the rate limiting step governing the lipid bilayer permeation kinetics for a series of drugs and potential theranostic compounds with diverse physicochemical properties and structure-related descriptors. In addition, I worked on a related project that aimed to investigate the in vitro-in vivo binding behavior of a lead compound synthesized in the lab and designed to be the first NMDA receptor PET tracer.

During my PhD, I will focus on exploring and evaluating the impact of NAPRT inhibition with a Nicotinic acid-free diet with or without antibiotics on enhancing the activity of NAMPT inhibitors and other antineoplastic drugs in ovarian cancer mice models. Moreover, the role of extracellular NAPRT (eNAPRT) in mediating resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs, including NAMPT inhibitors, or promoting neoplastic features shall be also investigated and characterized.

Starting date: 12/08/2019

Elena Abbotto

My name is Elena Abbotto and I am Italian. I studied Chemistry at the University of Milan-Bicocca (Milan, Italy), where I discovered my interest for Organic and Medicinal Chemistry. I went on to pursue a one-year research activity at the University of Leiden (Leiden, the Netherlands), in the Molecular Physiology Group, under the supervision of Prof Mario van der Stelt. There, I specialized in inhibition of enzymes of the endocannabinoid system. After completing my studies, I worked for two years as a Formulation Development associate scientist at Janssen Vaccines and Prevention (The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson), in Leiden.

During my PhD I will focus on the development of modulators of sirtuin 6, a NAD-dependent deacetylase/deacylase, as skin cancer therapeutics. The aim of the research is the identification of novel, and the optimization of in-house developed, SIRT6 modulators, which may reduce skin tumorigenesis and exhibit pro-differentiating effects in cultured keratinocytes and skin squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cells.

Starting date: 03/06/2019

Mochammad Ichsan

My name is Mochammad Ichsan and I am of Indonesian nationality. I started my scientific carrier as a master student at the Universitas Negeri Malang, Malang, Indonesia where I studied structure-based drug design (cheminformatics) under the supervision of Prof. Dr. agr. Mohamad Amin, S.Pd, M.Si., and Prof. Widodo, Ph.D.Med.Sc. Given that in several types of cancers, p65, a transcription factor which is often significantly upregulated, during my study there, I identified a candidate of small molecule inhibitor that may inhibit p65's nuclear localization and subsequently its transactivity by binding (masking) its nuclear localization signal (NLS). I then pursued my second master degree at the Department of Bioengineering, School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan under the supervision of Prof. Ung-Il Chung, MD., Ph.D., and Assoc. Prof. Shinsuke Ohba, DDS., Ph.D. During my study, I worked with an orphan and robust osteogenic small molecule which may achieve its osteogenic activity by inhibiting a particular kinase. During my PhD, I will study about the potential of nicotinic acid phosphoribosyltransferase (NAPRT) inhibition-based strategy to sensitize pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) mouse models to several anticancer drugs, including a nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (NAMPT) inhibitor.

Starting date: August 1st, 2019

Melanie Walter

My name is Melanie Walter and I am of German nationality. I started my scientific career in the city of Basel, Switzerland where I studied Pharmaceutical Sciences. During my studies I developed a particular interest for Biomedical Sciences and in particular pharmacology and toxicology. Therefore, I participated in the Masters program Drug Sciences at the University of Basel, Switzerland. I started my Master thesis at the Department Biomedicine at the University Hospital Basel, Switzerland in the lab of Prof. Stephan Krähenbühl and Prof. Matthias Liechti. I investigated the pharmacologic and toxicologic mechanisms of para-halogenated new psychoactive substances in HepG2 and HEK 293 cells. Thereafter, I had the chance to develop analytical methods for cell and gene therapy as Postgraduate in Analytical Development at Novartis in Basel, Switzerland.

During my PhD at the University of Sheffield, UK I will focus on the identification and testing of novel small molecule inhibitors to target the emerging cancer target NUDT22. Cancer and non-cancer cells will be utilised for their effects on cell proliferation, replication, cell viability and susceptibility to nucleoside analogue therapies and radiotherapy. Furthermore, the project aims to further understand how NUDT22 is involved in nucleotide metabolism and the response of cancer and non-cancer cells to replicative stress.

Starting date: 1st July 2019

Paulina Biniecka

My name is Paulina and I am from Poland. I started my Bachelor studies at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, where I gained general and specific knowledge in different fields, especially in molecular biology and nanobiotechnology. During my second year I developed my interest for cancer research, especially for drug delivery systems. I had the opportunity to test the carbon nanoparticles as nanocarriers of the cytotoxic protein, melittin, to glioblastoma grade IV in in vitro cell culture.

Thereafter, I started my Master’s degree at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark where I studied Pharmaceutical Sciences. This programm let me advance my skills and interests in drug discovery and development. Furthermore, I began my Master thesis in the lab of Prof. Urs Hafeli at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. My research project was on the evaluation of an anti-mesothelin aptamer panel for the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

During my PhD I will focus on preclinical pharmacology studies, testing the activity of new NAMPT inhibitors in haematological cancer models. Specifically, the inhibitors will be tested for their ability to induce cell death in acute myeloid leukemia, multiple myeloma, and B-cell lymphoma cell lines. Moreover, biodistribution studies will be conducted with candidate compounds and their anticancer activity will be tested in cell-based assays and in xenografts of haematological malignancies. The project aim is to identify NAMPT inhibitors with an improved PK profile compared to already discovered ones.

Starting date: 1st October 2019

Benjamin Baffour Gyau

My name is Benjamin Baffour Gyau, a Ghanaian national and I’ve love for innovative drug design! My scientific career began at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana, where I majored in Clinical Biochemistry. Protein structure and function intrigued me greatly, and with an increasing passion for biomedical research, I enrolled in a master’s program in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Chester, UK. Under the supervision of Dr. Neil Pickles, I investigated how cancer cells exploit the chaperoning role of heat shock protein 90 in stabilising mutated, amplified and metastatic forms of oncoproteins, and the inhibitory profiles of Gentamicin. With an unquenched thirst for drug development, I picked up another intensive MRes Medical and Pharmaceutical Drug Innovations course at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. My first research project, supervised by Prof. Dr. Matthew R. Groves of the Drug Design Unit, was aimed at developing first-in-class senolytics to antagonise p53-FOXO4 binding; a crucial interaction reported to suppress apoptosis of senescent cells. As a proof-of-concept studies, I further examined the causal correlation between senescence and aging, and its deleterious role in the onset and progression of age-related diseases and cancers under the enviable tutelage of Dr. Jan van Deursen, a renowned Professor of Cellular Senescence at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, USA.

During my PhD however, I will focus on the identification and lead optimization of new CD73 inhibitors and explore their ability to induce leukemic cell death in cell cultures and in in vivo. In achieving the latter in particular, the pharmacological properties of the identified potent inhibitors would be initially assessed, and the cancer death-causing properties of successful candidates further studied in immunocompetent and immunodeficient mice models under the mentorship of Prof. Dr. Silvia Deaglio, University of Torino, Italy.

Starting Date: June 3, 2019.

Simone Fratta

My name is Simone Fratta and I am from Italy. I started my scientific carrier in the city of Rome, Italy, where I studied a 5-Year Combined BSc and MSc in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technologies. Since the very beginning of my studies, I developed a genuine interest in Chemistry with a powerful desire to deepen my understanding of medicinal chemistry. During my fourth year, since I was eager to build on my theoretical knowledge and gain practical skills, I started my master's thesis in April 2016 in the Di Santo’s Laboratory at Sapienza University of Rome, where I developed new histone acetyltransferase inhibitors. To experience all the benefits of an extremely multi-cultural environment, I decided to spend a research period abroad doing research in the Bracher’s Laboratory of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU), in Munich, where I focused on designing biologically active compounds through the organic synthesis of kinase Inhibitors.

After graduation, in order to foster my knowledge on the topic of drug discovery, I spent 6 months in Copenhagen, Denmark, as Research assistant in Ulven’s lab and 2 months at Italfarmaco, a pharmaceutical company located in Milan, Italy. During this period, I contributed to improve SAR of ligands both for the short-chain free fatty acid receptor FFA2/GPR43 and Histone deacetylases (HDAC).

During my PhD I will focus on the design, synthesis and evaluation of new analogues of the known NAMPT inhibitor and anticancer compound FK866, by parallel synthesis and combinatorial strategies. The main goal is to improve the activity and properties of the new FK866 analogues by combining the structural variations at the aryl moiety, the tether and the spacer groups (urea, thiourea, cyanoguanidine, triazoles, acrylamide). The investigation of the retro-Diels-Alder reaction on different Cys-azanorbornene-FK866 conjugated analogues as model systems for conjugation to anti-nanobody is projected. Through collaboration with other groups in the consortium, in silico optimization is planned as well as the evaluation of the anticancer activity of the newly synthesized compounds, in cancer (i.e. Jurkat, M2, and U266) and non-cancer cell lines. For active compounds, the IC50 on recombinant NAMPT will be determined in enzymatic assays and finally, the new candidate inhibitors will undergo preclinical pharmacology studies (pre-formulation, formulation, PK).

Starting date: 1.06.2019

Ágata Carreira

My name is Ágata Carreira and I am of Portuguese nationality. I started my scientific carrier in the city of Lisbon, Portugal where I studied Biochemistry. During my studies I developed a particular interest for Molecular Biology and Cancer research.

During my BsC degree, I had the chance to do an internship on the RNA Biology and Bioinformatics lab/ Gama Lab, at the Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon, Portugal. The project aimed at unravelling regulation mechanisms of microRNAs on the HIV-1 reactivation, specially focus on the modulation of the NF-kB pathway.

Thereafter, I started my Diploma/Master thesis at the Research Institute for Medicines and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Portugal. In the lab of Prof. Cecília Rodrigues, I developed an HTS method to identify compounds that modulate the cancer stem cells fate in colorectal cancer, and I dissect the molecular pathway of one of the hits obtained.

During my PhD I will focus on the area of cancer metabolism, specially on the investigation of the molecular mechanism leading to acquired pharmacoresistance to the NAMPT inhibitor FK866 in cancer cell models. Moreover, I am also interested in studying the presence of NAMPT and other metabolic enzymes in extracellular vesicles, thus understanding if their transport through EVs can modify the metabolism of recipient cells or leading to acquired pharmacoresistance.

Starting date:01/05/2019

Swati Ohol

My name is Swati Ohol and I am of Indian Nationality. I will be working with Dr. Ralf Fliegert’s group (The Calcium Signalling Group), Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Cell biology, Centre for Experimental Medicine, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) and enrolled as a doctoral student/Ph.D. student at the University of Hamburg in the department of Chemistry under the guidance of Prof. Dr. Chris Meier and Prof. Andreas Guse. During my Ph.D. the project aims at the “Development of novel non-nucleotide TRPM 2 inhibitors that targets the ADPR-binding NUDT9H domain as an anticancer approach”. In this project I am jointly supervised by Dr. Ralf Fliegert, Prof. Dr. Chris Meier and Prof. Andreas Guse.

I gained my undergraduate degrees (both diploma and bachelors) in Pharmaceutical Sciences at Maharashtra State Board Colleges, India in June 2014. And received my master’s specialization in Pharmaceutical Technology ‘Formulations’ at National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER), Mohali, India in July 2016. In my Masters, I had worked on “Co-crystals of Repaglinide for enhanced Dissolution”. The objectives of the study which we achieved were Bioanalytical method development and validation of the same, Material characterization of drug and coformers, Screening of coformers for this we developed our in-house software for the screening of coformers using CSD (Cambridge Structural Database) named as Coformer Screening Tool (CST), Preparation of co-crystal with screened coformers, Characterization of prepared co-crystals and Biopharmaceutical evaluation of co-crystals which includes in-vitro dissolution study along with the in-vivo animal study.

Before I starting of my Ph.D. programme, I was working with Pfizer Biologics Development Center, Chennai, India as a Scientist in Drug Product Formulations department where I was supporting roadmap for monoclonal antibodies (mAb, Large molecule) formulation development. Involved in biologics development processes with emphasis on biophysical characterization, pre-formulation, formulation development and process characterization of biosimilars. Previous to this I have been associated for a year with BIOCONTM Biopharmaceuticals Ltd, Asia’s leading biopharmaceutical company in India as a Scientist in Analytical formulations department. The team I was in was responsible for Solid state Advance characterization, Analytical method development and validation (Small molecule).

Starting Date: 08/07/2019

Irene Conforti

My name is Irene Conforti and I am of Italian nationality. I started my scientific carrier in the city of Rome, Italy, where I studied Pharmaceutical Chemistry. During my studies I developed a particular interest in Organic Chemistry and Pharmaceutical chemistry research. Therefore, during my academic career, I did my thesis in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at King’s College in London in Daniele Castagnolo’s research group for almost one year where I’ve been working on the synthesis of novel pyrrole substrates endowed with antibacterial activity and new antimicrobial siderophore-drug conjugates.

After my graduation at “La Sapienza” University of Rome, I took part in an Erasmus traineeship programme in Copenhagen at KU for three months, after which I got the position as a Research Assistant in the same laboratory or other three months. There I’ve been able to work on two different projects about the discovery and synthesis of new class of ligands selective for the GHB High-affinity binding sites in Bente Frølund’s group.

During my PhD I will focus on the synthesize and characterization of new potent imino-C-glycosides as NAMPT inhibitor and potential anti-cancer agents, followed by a study of the in vitro anticancer activity and of the pharmacological properties of the new synthetized molecules. The synthesis will be mainly focus on the obtaining of FK866 analogues: one family library in which the pyridine ring from FK866 will be replaced with a pyridazine ring, and a second family compound library where the pyridine ring has been exchanged for 1,4-imino-1,4-dideoxy-beta-D-ribitol
C-linked to a benzene group, with high hydrophilicity (Since the 1,4-imino-1,4-D-ribitol moiety mimicks the D-ribofuranosyl cation formed during the glycosylation process, it is expected to be a very potent inhibitor). For pyridazine analogues, modifications such as acrylamide exchanged for cyanoguanidine, urea and thiourea moieties, 4 or 5 carbon centers tether, various piperidine carboxamides, will be introduced. In parallel, the pyridine ring of FK866 will be exchanged for more heterocyclic rings. For 1,4-imino-1,4-D-ribitol analogues, hydrophilicity will have to be reduced through hydroxyl group esterification or/and by the synthesis of deoxy and dideoxy-derivatives, to allow cell permeation. Analogues in which the acrylamide group is exchanged for cyanoguadinine, urea and thiourea moieties will also be prepared. Our team will evaluate the activity of the new compounds as NAMPT inhibitors and as anti-cancer agents. Their toxicity toward healthy cells, water solubility and logP will also be measured.

Starting date 20/05/2019

Jorge Franco

My name is Jorge Franco and I am of Spanish nationality. My scientific career started when I chose to study the Chemistry Bachelor at the University of Zaragoza (Spain). During those years, I found Physical Chemistry and Biochemistry of special interest. The topic of my Bachelor thesis was the characterization of the aromatic profile of fruits, through Gas Chromatography – Olfactometry and Mass Spectrometry. I had the chance to perform this work under the supervision of Dr.Vicente Ferreira, a well-known scientist in sensory analysis. After concluding the Bachelor, I moved to Valencia to study a Master in Sustainable Chemistry, where I specialized in the synthesis and catalytic activity of Zeolites.

My PhD project will focus on the discovery of new chemical scaffolds that show potent inhibition against NAPRT. To achieve this goal I will use Computer Aided Drug Design techniques, in order to predict and improve the inhibitory power of chemical compounds present in a large molecule collection. The new inhibitors will aim at interrupting NAD+ synthesis in tumors.

Starting date: 06/05/2019

Elise Semerena

My name is Elise Semerena and I am of French nationality. I started my scientific studies with a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences at the University of Bordeaux in France. Thereafter, I did a Master’s degree at the ENSTBB, an engineering school in Biotechnology, still in Bordeaux. In this school, I was trained in monoclonal antibodies development, from the target discovery to the production and characterization of the purified antibody. During my education, I developed a strong interest in cancer research thanks to a 4-month internship in the lab of Dr. Talbot at the University of Montréal in Canada, where I studied the interaction between sensory neurons and melanoma cells. Finally, I specialized in this field by doing my Master’s thesis at the Pierre Fabre Immunology Center, in St Julien-en-Genevois, France, where I evaluated a new immune checkpoint target for cancer treatment.

During my PhD within the Novimmune company in Switzerland, I will focus on the development of anti-eNAMPT neutralizing monoclonal antibodies. eNAMPT is an enzyme involved in several inflammatory diseases including cancer. In collaboration with the laboratory of Prof. Alessio Nencioni at the University of Genoa in Italy, I will test the antibodies generated against this target in vitro, on cancer cells lines and monocytes from B-CLL patients, and in vivo, in a mouse breast cancer model.

Starting date: 1St October 2019

Pablo Ruedas Batuecas

My name is Pablo Ruedas Batuecas. and I am of Spanish nationality. I started my scientific carrier in the city of Pamplona, Spain where I studied Chemistry and Biochemistry. During my studies I developed a particular interest for Biomedical research. Therefore, during a two-year practice period, I participated in the research training program from University of Navarra, where I had the chance to investigate the role of several genes related to the locoregional failure after irradiation in breast cancer under the direction of Prof. Fernando Lecanda. Thereafter, I started my Master thesis in organic chemistry at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain. In the lab of Prof. María Ribagorda. I investigated and synthetized several selective fluorescent nano-sensors (based in hypoxia detection) optimized for their use as photo dynamic therapeutic drugs in solid cancer.

During my PhD I will focus on the development of NAMPT inhibitor-Ab conjugates for treating haematological cancers. The FP7 initiative Panacreas identified several new NAMPT inhibitors with striking anticancer activity in cancer cells of various histologies, including haematological cancers. NAMPT inhibitors can have systemic side effects, such as haematological and gastrointestinal adverse events. The selective targeting of NAMPT inhibitors to cancer cells as Ab-drug conjugates (ADCs) would allow maximizing the therapeutic benefit of these drugs while limiting their toxicity. A prerequisite for an effective ADC is the conjugation of the drug moiety to the Ab by a chemical linker group that provides high stability in circulation and substantial drug release after internalization into tumor cells. The newly generated ADCs will be tested for their activity in vitro against primary MM, B-CLL and AML cells and against a collection of haematological cell lines. The most active ADCs will be tested in vivo in established xenograft models of MM, B-cell lymphoma and AML.

Starting date: September, 1, 2019.