Morten Agertoug Nielsen
I may not have taken the normal academic path focusing to a high extend on scientific papers. In the University environment, it is not always easy to secure even salary, which has made me focus to a higher degree of public-private partnership than most other professors. Thus, I would advocate that a modern university should add three more items to the six evaluation criteria for scientific positions: Innovation, Collaboration with the Industry, Value Chain Creation. Combined funding to projects that I participated in, technology that I co-invented and investments into companies that I am co-founder of is currently more than €200M.
Research: I started in the area of research concerning antigens inserted into the red blood cell membrane by the infecting Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite. The clinical manifestations of malaria are several and due to the involvement of antigens in the precipitation of the syndromes, that work was focused on elucidating the identity of the antigens expressed during the different syndromes. The aim was that a basic understanding of the interactions could provide vaccines combating specific malaria syndromes. A particular syndrome of malaria is placental malaria. Here I was involved in the first identification of the antigen causing the disease, named VAR2CSA. Subsequently efforts have been to validate this initial finding. This entailed not least developing a high throughput system to test the ability of antibodies to inhibit binding to placental receptors. This assay was instrumental in the development of a vaccine by identifying, which parts of the large antigen to include in a vaccine candidate against placental malaria, and led ultimately to enabling taking this antigen, named VAR2CSA, from discovery to human clinical trials. During the placental malaria vaccine development I set up a group with a task to increase immunogenicity of subunit vaccines, acknowledging difficulties in inducing potent and long-lasting immune responses. This group has over the last decade invested significantly in developing novel methods to deliver vaccines, resulting in proprietary virus-like particle vaccine-platforms that holds the promise to deliver virtually any complex antigen to the immune system. This technology is now licensed to the company AdaptVac that I co-founded. In addition, the carbohydrate present on placental cells enabling infected erythrocyte accumulation in the placenta is also present on the surface of the vast majority of cancer cell types. Using the ligand for this carbohydrate termed ofCS we can diagnose and treat cancer and I am currently leading the effort on how to combine ofCS targeting and immune-therapy through bi-specific antibodies in cancer potentially using the highly hyped mRNA technology. This technology is owned by the company VAR2pharmaceutica,l which I co-founded.
Teaching: I have experience in teaching as well as course planning, but my emphasis lies in educational guidance of bachelors, masters and PhD students, demonstrated by the long list of main and co-supervisor of theses. I do regular peer assessment of grants applications, is associate editor in frontiers of Immunology, but my main peer assessment experience is as a peer reviewer for scientific journals.
Societal Impact: I have been highly involved in innovation, clinical translation and building value and impact in society both by creating very successful commercial start-up companies, but also focusing on translational research in non-commercial diseases with an extremely high medial need. I have gained a lot of experience with regard to communication of research results to the public (newspaper interviews, presentations for interest organizations, radio and television broadcast) especially due to my role as the principle investigator in a Horizon Europe COVID19 vaccine project.
Organisational contribution: At the University I contribute with mentoring from the bachelor to post doc level, participating in the Board of Innovation at the department, and the board at Centre for Medical Parasitology. I played a major role in organising the relocation of our laboratory from CSS to the Mærsk Tower, the planning of how the facilities at the Mærsk Tower was set up, I was member of the user group of the Mærsk Tower for 4 years and I was manager of the laboratories of Centre for Medical Parasitology through seven years.
External funding: Apart from smaller grants I have been or is PI in three major EU grants with a combined funding of €20M. The most successful of these is the Prevent-nCoV, which lead to the support by Danish government by €108M (Funding from MoHh) for a phase 3 trial performed byBavarian Nordic.
Leadership: Both in and outside of the University my organisational skills are demonstrated by my leading or participating role in large and small research projects, founding of spin-out and board membership of companies and negotiation of licences with universities as well as small [HER2 license] and large biotech companies [COVID license]. I am motivated by the intersection between basic and translational science, the collaboration between industry and academia, Thus I have endeavoured into each of these topics with equal enthusiasm, have or is leading three prestigious EU projects leading to “first in man” studies and supervising Bachelor students alike, developing immunotherapies and vaccines for highly commercial as well as non-commercial indications purely driven by the medical need.