'Falling Walls' Award for Nanobodies targeting Corona virus

September 15, 2021

picture: Volker Lannert / Uni Bonn


Cluster Member Florian Schmidt receives ‘Falling Walls’ award in the category Life Sciences for the development of a novel drug for Covid-19 therapy

In early 2020, Florian Schmidt and Paul-Albert König at the University Hospital Bonn and an international team of researchers developed a special kind of antibody against SARS-CoV-2 with strong potential for therapeutic use. Today, the cluster scientists and their international team are recognized for their groundbreaking success. A success that would not have been possible without the help of an alpaca and a llama.

In response to an infection or a vaccination, alpacas, llamas and other camelids generate peculiar types of simple antibodies. The target binding portions of these antibodies can in the lab be produced as ‘nanobodies’, which are 10 times smaller than human antibodies. Nanobodies are more stable and penetrate tissues better than regular antibodies. Their ability to bind and neutralize pathogens, on the other hand, is well-retained. As nanobodies are easier to produce, they are perfectly suited for therapeutical applications.

Florian Schmidt and his team succeeded in generating several nanobodies binding the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. By merging the two most potent candidates into one molecule, the scientists generated a composite nanobody. “To our surprise, the composite nanobody did not only bind the spike protein, but induced its destruction.” states Florian Schmidt. As this drug targets two sites of the virion at once, it is highly unlikely that individual changes of the spike protein, as they occur in emerging virus variants, render the composite nanobody useless.

To bring the composite nanobody into the clinic, the scientists around Florian Schmidt and Paul-Albert König have started a company (DiosCURE). “For therapeutic use, we plan the application of the composite nanobody as an inhaled drug” says Paul-Albert König. While most therapeutic antibodies are delivered into the veins as an infusion, the composite nanobody can withstand nebulization into small droplets without losing any of its activity. “We envision that our therapy can treat vulnerable patient groups such as cancer patients or organ transplant recipients, who cannot be vaccinated or do not develop an antibody response” Florian Schmidt explains.

Florian Schmidt has been selected as one of 10 winners in the Life Sciences category of the Falling Walls foundation. The award is based on a joint nomination by the ImmunoSensation2 Cluster of Excellence and the Transdisciplinary Research Area "Life and Health" at the University of Bonn. Florian Schmidt is a member of both of these research networks.


The Falling Walls Foundation

A nonprofit organization based in Berlin, the Falling Walls Foundation is dedicated to bringing together those who set out to break down the next walls in science and society. Beginning with the first conference to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009, Falling Walls has evolved into an ever-growing network of the most ambitious and forward-thinking minds from around the world. The initiative aims to address the greatest challenges facing this planet. It stands for freedom of thought and scientific research and for making groundbreaking ideas accessible to society. More https://falling-walls.com



Dr. Florian I. Schmidt
Institute of Innate Immunity
University Hospital Bonn, University of Bonn
Email: fschmidt(at)uni-bonn.de
Phone office: +49-228/287-51124
Phone lab: +49-228/287-54708
Cell: +49-176/70021810

Dr. Paul-Albert König Core Facility Nanobodies University Hospital Bonn, University of Bonn Email: pakoenig(at)uni-bonn.de Phone: +49-228/287-54760 Cell: +49-176/35387544