After seven intense years in Ernest Giralt’s lab, Laura Nevola (Benevento, Italy, 1980) is ready to undertake a new challenge in her career. “It’s time to fly on my own,” she says.
Some time ago, Laura confessed to In vivo that after her PhD in Pharmaceutical Science at Rome University, she was having doubts about a future in science and that she was considering a career devoted to her second love, art. But then, after a stay at Yale, she fell in love again with protein-protein interactions.
This enthusiasm is what brought her to IRB Barcelona in 2009, first as a postdoctoral fellow and later as a research associate. During this highly productive period, her passion has led to the publication of six papers. One of them, on photosensitive peptides, appeared in Angewandte Chemie in 2013. “Controlling a biological process from the outside is the future of chemistry,” she told In vivo at the time.
At the beginning of the year, she moved on to become Chief Scientific Officer at IDP Pharma, a drug discovery company that develops medicines that use intrinsically disordered proteins (IDP) as therapeutic targets, which she co-founded in 2015. “IDPs are a very special class of proteins,” explains Nevola, “because traditionally the function of proteins has been intimately linked to their 3D structure. But these proteins, discovered in the 90s, lack a well-defined 3D structure. This makes them very difficult to handle because traditional methods do not work”. And yet, they are becoming a highly attractive therapeutic target. According to a paper by Pellegrino et al. (2014):
A number of IDPs are known to be over-expressed in major diseases (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases), which makes them good prospective drug targets. A relevant feature of IDPs as therapeutic targets is that they can interact with a variety of molecules, some of them showing high specificity.
“Multiple myeloma is one of our first targets,” explains the Italian researcher, “and there is a lot of interest in this approach. We have obtained some initial funding from family, friends and folks, as they say in these cases, and we are now working with a business angel to secure a new round of funding.” According to this young scientist, the project has attracted much attention, and the four partners who founded the company (three scientists and a business-oriented person) are very optimist about the future. “We already have some active molecules that we have developed,” adds Laura.
In this new step of her career, she takes with her what she qualifies as a “very enriching and positive experience at IRB Barcelona”. Her top picks to mark her last years of research in Ernest Giralt’s lab are the “multidisciplinary experience,” “the many good friends” she made, “the great professional and personal relationship” with Ernest, “the freedom to investigate”, and the great “team spirit” in the group.
In her current job, Laura enjoys learning “new things every day.” “I never imagined I could end up working in a company,” she confesses, “but the truth is that I can now appreciate many things I had overlooked when I was looking at a cell through a microscope. And it’s fun.”
But she never forgets her other passions. As a side activity, she has taken numerous courses on film script writing and direction. And she is now ready to deliver. “I am directing a short film on prejudice that is due to come out soon. 2016 is going to be a very special year for me!”