Bertarelli Foundation partners with EPFL for Gene Therapy Research

The Bertarelli Foundation has given EPFL an additional CHF 10 million donation to further accelerate research into the treatment of neurological disorders. Five million francs will be used to create a gene therapy platform at Campus Biotech, which is EPFL’s base in Geneva. The other five million will be placed in a “catalyst fund” that will promote further interactions between projects run jointly by the various research teams based at Campus Biotech.

Gene therapy research in the Lake Geneva region is about to get a shot in the arm thanks to a large donation from the Bertarelli Foundation. When a disorder is caused by a defective gene, doctors can attempt to either lessen the symptoms or treat the underlying problem. Gene therapy works by replacing parts of the DNA or directly correcting the mutations in the gene that affect how other genes function. One of the objectives of the new Bertarelli Foundation Gene Therapy Platform will be to develop viral vectors for delivering therapeutic genes in cases of neurological disorders.

A collaborative approach

The platform will be set up at Campus Biotech, where biomedical research is already being carried out by numerous research institutions: EPFL’s School of Life Sciences, the Center for Neuroprosthetics, the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering, the Human Brain Project, the University of Geneva and Geneva University Hospitals. The platform will also be able to count on the support of the new Swiss genome center and its extensive DNA sequencing capabilities.

The catalyst fund (Catalyst Fund @ Campus Biotech) will support projects conducted jointly by Campus Biotech research entities. It will be run by a scientific committee led by Patrick Aebischer, neuroscience researcher and former EPFL president.

A renewed commitment

The Bertarelli Foundation’s commitment to EPFL’s research is nothing new. Three chairs in the Center for Neuroprosthetics, held by Olaf Blanke, Stéphanie Lacour and Silvestro Micera, have already received CHF 20 million francs from the Foundation. Recruitment for the fourth chair, in the field of gene therapy, has now started.. The person who will eventually fill this post will have academic responsibility for the platform.

The Foundation also supports the Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering, a joint initiative run by EPFL and Harvard Medical School that began in 2011. “Our long-term commitment reflects our confidence in EPFL but also – and most importantly – our desire to support and drive forward the fields of research that will revolutionise tomorrow’s medicine,” said Ernesto Bertarelli.

Martin Vetterli, president of EPFL, said: “We are especially grateful to the Bertarelli Foundation for its advocacy and for its unwavering support, which allows EPFL and our partners to develop innovative technologies and treatments that benefit all of society.”