Proof of Concept ERC-Grant for Olivia Merkel

Feb 21, 2022

The LMU pharmacist has received a grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to make RNA nanoparticles inhalable and to improve their storage and transport conditions.

Olivia Merkel, Professor of Drug Delivery in the Department of Pharmacy at LMU, has been funded by a prestigious Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) since 2014. Now the pharmacist has been awarded a Proof of Concept Grant to build on this work. With this program, the ERC helps researchers translate their results into practice.

Olivia Merkel carries out research in the area of novel nano delivery systems for the targeted local administration of drugs. Her principal focus is on the therapeutic application of short RNA segments that are able to silence the genes involved in pathogenesis in certain cell types. In her ERC project “Novel Asthma Therapy,” the pharmacist is working on the development of better asthma therapies based on so-called siRNAs, which can interrupt several immune cascades. Due to the poor stability and high immunogenicity of RNA, conventional RNA drugs can generally be used only for limited indications. Furthermore, RNA nanoparticles accumulate in the liver and do not reach other organs well. Merkel has managed to overcome these drawbacks by developing RNA nanocarriers that can be stabilized by means of spray-drying, producing a dry powder. In her new project “RNhale,” Merkel wants to advance the targeted application of the powder through inhalation and improve the storage and transport conditions by optimizing the spray-drying protocols. The project aims to establish proof of concept for the methods and develop a platform technology with the long-term goal of concluding licensing agreements with pharmaceutical companies for large-scale implementation.

Olivia Merkel studied pharmacy at the University of Marburg, where she also completed her doctorate. From 2009 to 2011, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher in Marburg, before becoming a tenure track professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Since October 2015, she has been a professor at LMU.