Chemistry Professor Rainer Haag Honored with ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council

Scientist at Freie Universität will receive 2.85 million euros over five years for a project to research the prevention of viral infections

Chemist Rainer Haag from Freie Universität Berlin has been awarded a prestigious Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). He will receive funding of 2.85 million euros for his project to conduct research on an innovative method for the prevention of virus infections. The funding will begin in 2023 and run for five years, according to the ERC in Brussels. Chemist Rainer Haag says, "My approach is to investigate and work with self-assembled surface-active supramolecules that efficiently and dynamically mimic the surface of the respective host cell of a virus. I am convinced that in the near future multivalent supramolecular nanosystems will offer a possibility to efficiently block even rapidly mutating viruses and prevent infections."

Virus pandemics pose major risks to the current and future health of humanity and thus also to world trade. Novel viruses can appear in a wide spectrum. For example, they can have spherical or rod-like shapes, and their spike proteins can have different lengths and densities, as evidenced by the architecture of coronaviruses and influenza viruses. In addition, viruses can rapidly mutate under evolutionary pressure, leading to changes in so-called antigenic epitopes. These mutations reduce the effectiveness of drugs and vaccines.  Rainer Haag emphasizes, "The differences between the viruses and the mutations pose a great challenge. They make broad-based protection against infection more difficult and reduce the effects of vaccinations. However, a number of viruses have in common that they attach to cell surfaces with the help of heparan sulfate and polysialic acid, and this behavior offers us an attractive opportunity for far-reaching interventions. This is where our SupraVir project comes in." The aim is to investigate a new concept for multivalent supramolecular systems and to create universal virus blockers that can adapt to a virus depending on its architecture. The new virus inhibitors should self-organize dynamically and thus adapt to viruses of the most diverse morphologies and mutations and then dock on their surface. The inhibitor should use a combination of different receptors. A large majority of all known viruses are to be bound by imitating the surface receptors of the host cell of a virus.

Rainer Haag is a professor of organic and macromolecular chemistry at Freie Universität Berlin. Since 2020 he has been the spokesperson for the Collaborative Research Center CRC 1449 "Dynamic Hydrogels on Biological Boundaries." His main areas of research are biodegradable and multivalent macromolecules, supramolecular architectures, nanotransporters for drugs, and sustainable polymer syntheses. In 2014 he won the Teaching Award of Freie Universität Berlin for his project "Translation of Project Ideas." Together with Dendropharm GmbH, he received the Berlin-Brandenburg Innovation Award in 2016. He has been a member of the German Academy of Technology (Acatech) since 2019. His scientific performance is documented by more than 580 peer-reviewed publications and 40 patent applications.

The ERC is the premier European funding organization for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants, and Synergy Grants. ERC Advanced Grants allow exceptional established research leaders to pursue ground-breaking, high-risk projects that open new directions in their respective research fields or other domains.

Rainer Haag, Department of Biology, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Freie Universität Berlin, 30 838-52633,

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