Ulm University awarded the Cooperation Prize for Science and Industry 2023 to Prof. Dr. Jan Münch and AATec GmbH.

Prompted by the rapid spread of Covid-19 in early 2020, Professor Münch and his research group embarked on identifying novel antiviral compounds from bronchoalveolar lavage as part of the CRC1279 initiative. They uncovered antitrypsin, a naturally occurring protease inhibitor and found that the protein impedes the entry of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 into our cells by obstructing the activity of the enzyme TMPRSS2. TMPRSS2 facilitates viral entry by cleaving and activating the Spike protein. Antitrypsin inhibits the enzymatic activity of TMPRSS2 and thereby prevents viral entry.  

Additionally, their research demonstrated antitrypsin's ability not only to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 but also other respiratory viruses, including influenza A and common cold coronaviruses. Antitrypsin has long been approved for clinical use worldwide to address antitrypsin deficiency, highlighting its safety and efficacy. Clinical investigations have also supported the beneficial effects of intravenous administration of antitrypsin in severe Covid-19 cases, indicating its potential therapeutic value in combating respiratory infections.

However, current production of antitrypsin suffers from limitations, due to the need to isolate the molecule from healthy donor plasma. Based on this current constraint, and Professor Münch's ground-breaking discoveries, PD Manfred Stangl, Dr. Rüdiger Jankowsky, and Dr. Michael Strassmair were inspired to establish the AATec Medical GmbH in 2022. This innovative venture holds a patent for the production of recombinant antitrypsin and aims to advance the compound into clinical settings for targeted therapy against severe respiratory infections and other indications.

In recognition of their exemplary endeavour bridging the gap between academia and industry, Ulm University honoured the initiators of the collaboration with its prestigious Cooperation Prize for Science and Industry at this year’s Dies academicus.

Recording of the event

Photos: Uni Ulm