Published: 27-04-2020 12:30 | Updated: 29-04-2020 16:22

ERC Proof of concept for a new treatment for severe pneumonia and fibrosis

Professor Thomas Helleday, credit: Ulf Sirborn.

Thomas Helleday’s research group has been awarded a prestigious grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for the sixth time. The latest ERC Proof of Concept Grant is aimed at the development of new anti-inflammatory drugs for lung diseases such as fibrosis.

The aim of the grant is the further development of an OGG1 inhibitor. The function of the OGG1 enzyme is to repair oxidant damage to DNA and to trigger inflammation. In an article published in Science in 2018, the research group showed how OGG1 inhibitors could reduce signals that can be related to both inflammation and fibrosis, such as TNF-α. “We’ll now be teaming up with Lund University to investigate if it also works on severe pneumonia and fibrosis, areas in which no treatments are currently available,” says Thomas Helleday, Professor at the Department of Oncology-Pathology, Karolinska Institutet, and also affiliated to SciLifeLab.

The researchers believe that they are looking at a more general anti-inflammatory mechanism. “We’ve therefore started collaborating with other research groups specialising in rheumatoid arthritis, liver fibrosis and psoriasis,” says Professor Helleday.

The most successful group

Professor Helleday’s group already has three previous ERC Proof of Concept Grants and two ERC Advanced Grants to its name. “We’re currently the most successful group in Sweden when it comes to ERC grants,” he says. “The key has been to create a multidisciplinary group with expertise in a range of fields, like cell biology, biochemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmacology from both academia and industry. For this, the ERC grants have been absolutely essential.”

The discoveries concerning the OGG1 inhibitors are the product of the years of hard work that Professor Helleday’s group has devoted to researching how the body repairs DNA damage. The group hopes, amongst other things, to fight cancer by targeting the DNA of tumour cells and has reported several breakthroughs, the fruits of which include a new, highly effective treatment for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer that is used around the world.

ERC funding at KI

The European Research Council supports frontier research, cross disciplinary projects and pioneering ideas in new and emerging fields. It was set up to support  investigator-driven frontier research across all fields of research, on the basis of scientific excellence, through extensive, long-term funding schemes.

Here is a list of previous recipients of ERC grants at KI