Emanuel Campoy, CSO of Epiliquid, won the Merck-CONICET award

The Merck-CONICET Innovation in Health Sciences Award was presented.

The winning project was “Development and validation of a highly sensitive technological platform for the early diagnosis of cancer,” led by Emanuel Campoy, a researcher at the Council. Words from the protagonists.

In a ceremony held in the Auditorium of the Science Cultural Center (C3), led by the President of CONICET, Ana Franchi; the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Daniel Filmus; the General Director of Merck Argentina, María Sol Quibel and the Chargé d’Affaires of the German Embassy, Peter Neven, CONICET and Merck Argentina, a leading German science and technology company, announced the winning team of the “Merck-CONICET Innovation in Health Sciences Award, 2022 edition.”

“Development and validation of a highly sensitive technological platform for the early diagnosis of cancer”, led by Emanuel Campoy, a CONICET researcher at the Institute of Histology and Embryology of Mendoza “Dr. Mario H. Burgos” (IHEM, CONICET-UNCUYO). This proposal received three million pesos in funding.

In recent years, the clinical management of oncology patients has shifted from an empirical treatment strategy based on the clinical-pathological profile of the patients to a treatment strategy based on biomarkers that define the molecular profile of the tumors. This paradigm shift leads to what is known as personalized precision medicine.

The group led by Emanuel Campoy works on the study of epigenetic biomarkers in human tumors related to cancer development. Based on the results of their research, they developed an algorithm for the selection of epigenetic biomarkers, which materialized in their own bioinformatics platform. This tool allows for the identification of biomarkers for early diagnosis and monitoring of cancer patients from diverse information sources, derived from thousands of tumors of different origins and locations in the body.

Alongside the platform, they devised a technology capable of detecting epigenetic biomarkers in the blood of cancer patients with high sensitivity and specificity. They recently validated the technology in an artificial system and are currently focused on achieving the validation of the clinical proof of concept, using samples derived from patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) through a partnership with a specialized center for diagnosing this disease. They started with CRC because there are already validated epigenetic biomarkers in clinical practice, such as the methylation of the SEPT9 gene.

The second prize was awarded to Smart Nanovehicles for Galectin-1 Inhibitors, led by Cintia Belén Contreras, a CONICET researcher at the Institute of Nanosystems (INS-UNSAM), and Alejandro Cagnoni, a CONICET researcher at the Institute of Biology and Experimental Medicine (IBYME, CONICET-F-IBYME).

The competition, which is supported by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Argentina, aims strategically to support Argentine science for the common good of society and the advancement of technology within our territory.

For the second edition of the award, 60 projects have been submitted, all with scientific and/or technological foundations in the field of health, which generate value for the community. The significant turnout for this initiative once again confirms the high level of interest and innovation capacity among Argentine scientists. Additionally, a special distinction was awarded to the second place, consisting of a subsidy to support the researcher’s mobility, valued at no more than one million pesos, for a mission to the Federal Republic of Germany during the year 2023. This distinction is awarded by the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation for the first time.

In his speech, Minister Daniel Filmus stated: “Projects like these contribute to the collaboration between countries. Our intention is to continue strengthening the ties with Germany, which are historical. We want our perspective towards the world to be focused on the contribution that Argentinians can make in terms of science and technology, on our people’s capacity to innovate. One of the objectives is to change the export matrix, and in that sense, cooperation can help create better conditions for our researchers“. Additionally, he assured that “the Law on Financing of the National System of Science, Technology, and Innovation will allow us to reach levels of public investment similar to those of Germany,” and that in this regard, “public investment is essential to achieve development, but private investment comes from public investment in basic science. The State has that responsibility.”

Filmus cerró su intervención destacando el aporte del Ministerio en cuanto a la distinción especial ofrecida por la cartera y afirmó que “nuestras investigaciones tienen que servir para satisfacer nuestra voluntad de conocer y mejorar las condiciones de vida de nuestra gente. Hoy estamos juntos aquí y sin barbijos gracias a la ciencia. Todas las encuestas muestran la confianza que ganó la ciencia durante la pandemia, y eso genera la responsabilidad de seguir apoyando. Es necesario persistir y colocar en lugar central a la ciencia y la tecnología”.

Filmus concluded his intervention by highlighting the contribution of the Ministry regarding the special distinction offered by the department and stated that “our research must serve to satisfy our desire to understand and improve the living conditions of our people. Today we are here together without masks thanks to science. All surveys show the trust gained by science during the pandemic, and that generates the responsibility to continue supporting it. It is necessary to persist and place science and technology at the forefront.”

In a conversation with Infobae, Quibel added: “Since the first edition of our awards, over 300 entrepreneurs have participated with various projects related to health. This time, we received 60 projects from across the country presenting innovations, solutions, and designs from different areas in the field of health, confirming once again the high interest and innovation capacity of Argentine scientists. At Merck, we continue to promote public-private partnership initiatives like this award, which allow the advancement of Argentine science through curiosity and new discoveries; and also manage to strengthen bonds, impact health, and add value to society.”

CONICET President Ana Franchi congratulated and praised all the projects, both those that were presented and those that were selected, highlighting the role and quality of the country’s scientific community: “Having 60 projects in health technology demonstrates the strength and future of our community. And being able to do so in a public-private partnership allows us to enhance the development of our society. And this is key to helping solve the problems of our country and improve the quality of life for everyone.”

Later, she stated: “We thank Merck for the joint work, the Embassy of Germany for the support, MINCyT for joining us on this occasion with financial support for the second place, for continuing to support science, and of course, the jury for their valuable work, evaluating the 60 projects and selecting the finalists.”

On the other hand, she highlighted the importance of public-private synergy, in this case, the Council with Merck: “Being able to carry out this award in partnership with a private company allows us to envision a growth where contributions from both the public and private sectors can improve the quality of life of the population and contribute to the progress of technology in our territory.” And she concluded, “Among the ten finalists, we have gender equality, a strong federal presence, which also opens up a virtuous path for more achievements in science and technology led by younger generations.”

Finally, the Chargé d’Affaires of the German Embassy, Peter Neven, stated: “This award also highlights the close bond between Argentina and Germany. Germany is a reliable and strategic partner of Argentina not only in the scientific and cultural fields but also in the economic sphere. With more than 350 years of history and over 90 years in Argentina, the family-owned company Merck is one of the many German companies that, for a long time with a long-term vision, and sometimes against all odds, have invested in the country and its growth. The award we are celebrating today, the alliance with CONICET, and the work of the Ministry are proof of this commitment.

“Presentation of the finalist proposals and selection of the winning project”

Before the celebratory event, in a room at the C3, the ten finalist entrepreneurs presented their proposals to a jury composed of four members. On behalf of CONICET: Dr. Vera Alejandra Álvarez, principal researcher of CONICET, and Dr. Claudia Lanari, senior researcher of CONICET. Representing Merck: Dr. Aria Assefi, Medical Director, and Dr. Jorge Correale, Head of the Neuroimmunology Service at Fleni.

The finalist teams participated in a mentoring program to prepare an effective presentation with Nicolás Tognalli, Pablo Lamas, Santiago Villa, and Leonardo Wehe. During the event, the authorities awarded diplomas and distinctions to the representatives of the finalist projects.

“Development and validation of a highly sensitive technological platform for the early diagnosis of cancer”: the winning project

After Pitch Day, Ana Franchi, Daniel Filmus, and María Sol Quibel presented the Merck-CONICET Innovation in Health Sciences Award, 2022 edition, to Emanuel Campoy, CONICET researcher and project director.

After thanking CONICET, Merck, and the Ministry of Science, Emanuel Campoy, CONICET researcher and leader of the winning project, expressed: “It is very valuable to be here; the federalism in the various projects has been evident. This award is not for me; it is for my team with whom we have worked a lot. Public-private interaction is important, but what lays the foundation is also the Argentine scientific and technological system. It has been many years; it is important not to overlook everything that happened before. In my case, I always wanted to be a scientist, and the truth is that the policies implemented to give me that opportunity make this reality possible. There is an effort by the National Government to build a framework that allows for this type of innovation and development; otherwise, this would not have been possible.”