Josefine Tratwal wins the 2022 Lopez-Loreta Prize

© 2022 Josefine Tratwal

© 2022 Josefine Tratwal

Researcher-turned-entrepreneur, Josefine Tratwal, a former EPFL SV graduate now co-founder and CEO to-be of miniMarrow biomedical, was awarded the generous 2022 Lopez-Loreta Prize. The EUR 1 million endowment will support the development of injectable cell factories, so-called miniMarrows, initially aimed for patients suffering from blood cancer.

The miniMarrow vision originated during Dr Tratwal’s work while a doctoral candidate at EPFL in the Laboratory of Regenerative Hematopoiesis. “Combining facets of stem cell biology and bioengineering, together with co-founder Fabien Bonini from the Braschler lab at the University of Geneva, we wanted to replicate a simplified bone marrow in a dish for research applications. Our first experiments revealed that these injectable cultures also mimicked bone marrow capable of generating blood, in mice. When we discovered the significance and potential for clinical translation, that was it.”

The results were accepted for publication without review, generally unheard-of in the scientific community. “We were spurred on to show that it is possible to design human-compatible blood cell factories, or miniMarrows, to meet an unmatched medical need for patients whose own bodies cannot produce sufficient blood components themselves”, says Dr Tratwal. Indeed, these patients fight against compromised blood cell production becoming dependent on up to three weekly platelet transfusions in hospitals. Instead, a single miniMarrow injection would aim to provide enough platelets for potentially months at a time, thereby greatly improving the quality of life of patients, while reducing treatment costs and freeing precious transfusion products for other patients in need. Thus, this approach could drastically change the future of transfusion medicine, with a multitude of applications for oncological supportive care and far beyond.

“Bridging the gap between academic research and advanced cell therapy is not always evident. With the backing of a strong multidisciplinary team, the generous support of the Lopez-Loreta Foundation affords us the opportunity to address this interesting challenge over the next years. This prize enables us to recruit new team members in order to drive forward the critical research that is needed to reach the clinic. Receiving the Lopez-Loreta Prize is a beautiful acknowledgement of the work achieved thus far by all collaborators involved, and inspires confidence in our future vision.”

The miniMarrow startup project is now hosted at the University of Lausanne (Laboratory of Regenerative Hematopoiesis) and University Hospital of Lausanne (Department of Oncology), where Dr Tratwal previously received a CHF 100,000 InnoTREK/FIT award. At the same time, the miniMarrow startup project was also named winner of the Innosuisse Business Concept program and then runner-up amongst the MassChallenge Finalists, validating the first iterations of its business approach. Strong with the EUR 1 million Lopez-Loreta fund, Dr Tratwal will develop miniMarrows for human use over the next five years, combining fundamental biological demonstrations and scale-up toward clinical trials in this ambitious translational project.