Green light for eleven public-private LIFT research projects

23 January 2020

In 2020 eleven public-private consortia will begin research that has an impact on the business world. The consortia will work on a new therapy for cancer, safer and healthier sugars, and turning the greenhouse gas methane into a useful raw material. The projects were approved by the ENW PPS fund and are in line with the Top Sectors Chemistry, Agri & Food, and ICT. In all, about €3 million is being made available for these collaborations between the research world and the business community.

Overview of the LIFT awards (in alphabetical order):

Carb2Bio
Lead applicant: Dr. Thomas Boltje, Radboud University
Consortium: Radboud University and Royal Cosun
Radboud University and Royal Cosun will do joint research into building blocks in biomass waste streams, with a view to re-using these building blocks as new chemical compounds for industrial applications. With this aim in mind the researchers will develop new chemical reactions for processing sugar beet pulp. The proposed method will make optimal use of every part of the sugar beet, minimizing the waste stream – a positive result for the environment. Moreover, these products will be derived from the by-product of a renewable resource, possibly replacing petrochemical products.

Complex nutritional sugars
Lead applicant: Dr. Thomas Boltje, Radboud University
Consortium: Radboud University and FrieslandCampina

Radboud University and FrieslandCampina are joining forces to characterize complex mixtures of the sugars used as food ingredients. With this aim in mind the researchers will develop new methods to isolate and analyse these sugars, but also to replicate them. Ultimately this research will lead to safer and healthier sugars for use as food ingredients.

Resistance is internal: phloem phytochemicals for improving plant tomato resistance to pest insects
Lead applicant: Dr. Petra Bleeker, UvA
Consortium: UvA, Enza Zaden Research & Development B.V.

The tomato is a very important crop, but insect pests such as the white fly, which carries viruses from plant to plant, can destroy an entire harvest. Wild tomato varieties exist that are resistant to insect pests, but in the course of its cultivation this resistance has been lost because horticulturalists have actively bred tomatoes to possess other important qualities. Successful research has already been done into the phytochemicals produced in small glandular hairs on the green parts of tomato plants, and how these improve resistance to insect attacks. However, the metabolites present in plant vascular systems are still under-researched, even though the white fly drinks directly from the phloem. Plants appear to transport a wide variety of substances in the phloem, so identifying the metabolites that have a negative effect on the development of insect pests could eventually help to develop more resistant tomato varieties.

A road map for the application of lignin
Lead applicant: Professor Pieter Bruijnincx, UU
Consortium: Utrecht University, BASF

A circular economy needs non-edible biomass as a sustainable source of carbon for the production of materials we use every day. Lignin is a component of this second-generation biomass that has great potential for value creation, but its use also poses considerable technical challenges. In this project we will search for the relationship between lignin’s complex structure and its suitability for different material applications, in order to yield a rational, predictive choice for its ideal application.

Throwing light on serum antibodies
Lead applicant: Professor Albert Heck, UU
Consortium: Utrecht University, MSVision (NL), Genentech (USA) and Roche (Germany)

Our blood contains numerous antibodies that protect us against diseases. An infection causes a large and rapid rise in the concentration of certain antibodies, because they are directly involved in how the body tackles the disease. This proposal seeks to expand our understanding of patient-specific antibodies by purifying them directly from serum and characterizing them. To enable the characterization of serum antibodies we will implement new mass spectrometry methods that employ electrons and infrared and ultraviolet light.

Self-learning software to make train maintenance more efficient
Lead applicant: Dr. Herke van Hoof, UvA
Consortium: UvA, Nationale Spoorwegen, Hogeschool Utrecht

This project will research into how AI techniques, which can quickly derive plans to tackle complex problems, could be used to better plan train shunting movements. It will also examine how these techniques could take account of human planners’ existing preferences and how these plans, if necessary, could be efficiently adapted. It is expected that the use of AI will raise the capacity of shunting yards, allowing more trains to be parked and maintained there.

Stimulating the immune system with bacterial vesicles: a new cancer therapy
Lead applicant: Professor Yvette van Kooyk, AUMC
Consortium: AUMC, Abera Bioscience AB

Bacteria secrete small vesicles (OMVs, Outer Membrane Vesicles) that have a strong external resemblance to the bacteria themselves. These vesicles elicit strong immune responses, but are nevertheless harmless as they cannot replicate within the host. For this reason they are used as a vaccine against certain infectious diseases such as meningitis. Cancer cells disrupt the body’s immune system in such a way that they can proliferate unchecked. In this project we want to link the OMVs of harmless bacteria to proteins that occur only on the surface of cancer cells, and to test this therapeutic vaccine for its possible application in activating the immune system against tumour cells.

Using the greenhouse gas methane as a raw material for chemistry
Lead applicant: Dr. Chris Slootweg, UvA
Consortium: University of Amsterdam, Shell

‘Waste as Raw Material’ is a familiar concept today, but it remains crucial to develop the chemistry to make this possible if we are to actually achieve a circular economy. The researchers in this project will develop a fundamentally new, light-driven method to convert the greenhouse gas methane into useful products. This will help to reduce the environmental impact of methane, promote its efficient use as a raw material for the chemical industry, and contribute towards the realization of a sustainable future.

KColourless and odourless catalytic hydrogenation
Lead applicant: Professor Bert Weckhuysen, UU
Consortium: Utrecht University, Croda & VibSpec & BASF Nederland

Isostearic acid has numerous applications including cosmetics, foods and lubricating oils. Its commercial production is performed by hydrogenating the fatty acid isolein, which can be derived from vegetable oils. This process makes use of a combination of fixed catalyst materials, which catalyse the hydrogenation reaction and also remove any undesirable colour and odour components that might negatively influence the properties of the end product. In this research we will look for a new hydrogenation catalyst that allows the selective production of isostearic acid with a high degree of purity. This will be a search for the best catalyst material having the ideal balance of active sites with regard to both acid and metal properties.

Generating new candidate drug structures using multi-objective optimization and model fault estimation – EXPLORE
Lead applicant: Professor Gerard van Westen, LEI
Consortium: Leiden University, Galapagos NV

Identifying new medical drugs is an extremely complex, time-consuming, and expensive process. New computer models that use machine learning can offer useful benefits. Leiden University and the biopharmaceutical company Galapagos will work together to identify the best possible active components by developing software that can generate molecules by simultaneously optimizing several attributes (e.g. good biological activity, solubility, and metabolic stability). This software will also take prediction reliability into consideration in order to manage the 'design-make-test' cycle. The practical application of these techniques, both in academic and in industrial settings, will contribute towards the success and the applicability of the software. The expected end result is a new computer program that contributes towards better and faster design processes for new drugs.

PProteoform-resolved pharmacokinetics of biopharmaceuticals
Lead applicant: Professor Manfred Wuhrer, LUMC
Consortium: LUMC, Roche Diagnostics GmbH

Modern medicines are often proteins administered into the bloodstream. These proteins will often undergo changes after this administration; for instance, they may lose part of their molecular structure, or this may become modified. The LUMC, working together with two international companies (Roche and Sciex), will devise methods to map the changes undergone by administered proteins, and then examine the influence these changes have, not just on the lifetime of the drug but also on its activity. The project will contribute towards quality control, improved drug applicability, and the development of new medicines.

LIFT

The Launchpad for Innovative Future Technology (LIFT) is one of the forms of public-private cooperation within the ENW PPS fund. IPP is intended for public-private collaboration between at least one company and at least one knowledge institute. Applicants submit a single, comprehensive project proposal, but a LIFT project can be carried out and funded in either one or two phases. The cash contribution is lower in the first phase than it is in the second phase. The total project size can be between €150,000 and €300,000. The joint business contribution to the project cost is 20% while the NWO contributes 80%. The LIFT funding form was made available within the ENW PPS fund for new initiatives in line with the roadmaps set out for the Chemistry, Energy, Agri&Food Top Sectors in the 2018–2019 KIC. No new round will be opened within the ENW PPS fund for the 2020–2023 KIC.

More information on the ENW PPS fund is available at http://www.nwo.nl/enwppsfonds. More on PPS funding options in the 2020–2023 KIC is available at http://www.nwo.nl/kic.

Source: NWO