On July 16, the i-Lab 2020 innovation competition unveiled the names of 73 winners, which this year included the D4Zin (Grand Prix) and AVATAR MEDICAL projects, both based on research carried out at the Institut Pasteur and supported by the Pasteur Microbes and Health Carnot Institute.
Sponsored by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation and organized in partnership with Bpifrance Financement, i-Lab is France's leading deep tech innovation competition. It supports promising projects for the creation of companies with a strong technological component by offering generous financial grants (up to €600,000) and tailored guidance.
Led by the future start-up V4C (Vaccine for Communities), the project D4Zin (Dengue 4 Zika Vaccine) is aiming to develop an innovative T-cell vaccine that provides long-term immunity against the four serotypes of the dengue virus and the Zika virus, while avoiding antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE), a phenomenon where antibodies actually worsen infection.
Unlike the only available vaccine for dengue or the vaccines currently under development, the D4Zin vaccine is not aiming for antibody-mediated immunity (a humoral response) but immunity mediated by T lymphocytes (a cell-mediated response).
This innovative approach is based on the 2017 discovery by the team led by Anavaj Sakuntabhai (Head of the Functional Genetics of Infectious Diseases laboratory at the Institut Pasteur) of an immunity mechanism involving T lymphocytes deployed in asymptomatic patients infected by the dengue virus, and on research to identify human T cell epitopes for each virus serotype. This research led to two patent applications.
Cell-mediated immunity, already explored in cancer research, represents an innovative approach in anti-infective vaccinology. The aim is to confer long-term protection and bypass the problem of ADE.
Dengue, transmitted by mosquitoes, infects 390 million people every year, with 3 million severe cases, 500,000 hospitalizations and 25,000 deaths, mainly young children. The Zika virus, which causes neurological disorders and congenital malformations, is also spreading worldwide.
There is currently no treatment, and the one available vaccine for dengue only protects previously infected individuals and is not indicated for young children and travelers.
"Our aim is to develop a vaccine that protects all individuals, including seronegative individuals who have never been in contact with the virus serotypes. Used on its own or in conjunction with the existing vaccine, with a short vaccination schedule of approximately 3 or 4 weeks between 2 doses, the vaccine should offer a solution for travelers and young children in endemic countries in particular," explains Anavaj Sakuntabhai.
With the support of i-Lab, the V4C start-up will be launched by the end of 2020 and hopes to begin preclinical development of the vaccine in 2020-21, with a view to starting clinical trials in 2022. The i-Lab grant will save precious time during the development phases, pending the launch of an initial dilutive financing process.
Winners: Anavaj Sakuntabhai (project leader and Head of the Functional Genetics of Infectious Diseases laboratory at the Institut Pasteur), Pascal Breton (future Chairman of the start-up), Angelita de Francisco (future CEO of the start-up), Cécile Artaud (Preclinical Project Manager, Institut Pasteur), Etienne Simon-Lorière (Head of the Evolutionary Genomics of RNA Viruses G5 at the Institut Pasteur) and Claude Roth (scientist in the Functional Genetics of Infectious Diseases laboratory at the Institut Pasteur).
Founding scientists: Anavaj Sakuntabhai, Etienne Simon-Lorière and Claude Roth.
AVATAR MEDICAL uses virtual and augmented reality to offer surgeons an immersive, interactive preoperative visualization of 3D medical images of patients obtained with MRI or CT scans.
The solution gives physicians the opportunity to view organs, blood vessels and tumors and to prepare for complex medical procedures by navigating effortlessly through all the data, with no pre-processing required.
This innovation in image analysis and visualization is based on Bayesian approaches to data processing. AVATAR MEDICAL uses DIVA technology, developed jointly over the past four years by the Decision and Bayesian Computation research team led by Jean-Baptiste Masson at the Institut Pasteur and by the Light-Based Observation and Control of Cellular Organization laboratory at the Institut Curie, previously led by the late Maxime Dahan.
As well as giving surgeons a way of preparing rapidly and intuitively for operations, the solution also enables them to change the display settings in real time and navigate in 3D through the upcoming operation. AVATAR MEDICAL also facilitates the exchange of information between radiologists and surgeons. Surgeons can see 3D views of structures annotated by radiologists to make sure they are in agreement about what will be discovered on the operating table.
Around 15 surgeons currently use the process and several patients have already benefited from the innovative solution.
"We have observed a real enthusiasm, especially among younger physicians. AVATAR MEDICAL can both improve the quality of surgical procedures and save surgeons time when preparing for complex surgeries," explains Xavier Wartelle, one of the five founders of AVATAR MEDICAL and future CEO of the start-up.
With the support of i-Lab, the AVATAR MEDICAL start-up will be launched in 2020 and the team will continue developing the artificial intelligence component of the product so as to propose more precise clinical modules (preset filters), especially for breast cancer surgeries, where tumor cells can be hard to identify. The aim of AVATAR MEDICAL is to help reduce the relapse rate and the number of mastectomies by improving visualization of complex cases.
Winners (left to right): Elodie Brient-Litzler (future Head of Operations for the start-up), Mohamed El Beheiry (Decision and Bayesian Computation research team, Institut Pasteur, and Light-Based Observation and Control of Cellular Organization laboratory, Institut Curie), Jean-Baptiste Masson (Decision and Bayesian Computation research team, Institut Pasteur), Xavier Wartelle (future CEO of the start-up) and Marie Buhot-Launay (future Head of Sales and Marketing of the start-up).
Founding scientists: Jean-Baptiste Masson and Mohamed El Beheiry.
DIVA is a software platform that was developed at the Institut Curie and the Institut Pasteur, respectively by:
• the team of Maxime Dahan† (PhD, former Head of the Light-Based Observation and Control of Cellular Organization team, Institut Curie), now led by Mathieu Coppey and Bassam Hajj;
• and the team of Jean-Baptiste Masson (PhD, Head of the Decision and Bayesian Computation laboratory, Institut Pasteur).
Mohamed El Beheiry (Decision and Bayesian Computation research team at the Institut Pasteur, former post-doctoral fellow in the Light-Based Observation and Control of Cellular Organization team at the Institut Curie) currently leads the DIVA project with a team of three people.