Prof. Niek Sanders received his master degree in pharmaceutical sciences in 1997 and his PhD degree in 2001. During his PhD research, at the laboratory of Prof. dr. Stefaan De Smedt and Joseph Demeester (Ghent University, Belgium), he studied the barrier properties of cystic fibrosis (CF) lung mucus towards CF gene therapy. From 2002 onwards, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) at Ghent University (Belgium), at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Munich, Germany), and at the University of Utrecht (the Netherlands). The main focus of his postdoctoral research was the development and in vitro evaluation of delivery systems for DNA, siRNA and mRNA. In 2008 he became research professor at Ghent University and started to build-up the Laboratory of Gene Therapy from scratch. The design and preclinical evaluation of mRNA therapeutics, mRNA vaccines and cancer immunotherapies are the cornerstones of his current research team. His research on cancer immunotherapies focuses on the design and preclinical evaluation of mRNA vaccines and mRNA encoding immune stimulating proteins. These cancer immunotherapies are evaluated in murine models and pets with spontaneous tumors. Our research on mRNA therapeutics received a huge boost since our collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Boston, USA). With regard to the design of mRNA therapeutics we are now one of the leading teams in the world. During the past 8 years we made several synthetic mRNA platforms (unmodified, chemical modified, UTR-sequence optimized and self-amplifying mRNAs) and engineered smart mRNAs that can be switched ON and OFF on-demand. Moreover, since 2019 we are also focusing on the development and in vivo evaluation of novel delivery systems for mRNA vaccines and therapeutics. This unique and broad knowhow and the possession over this wide range of synthetic mRNAs enabled us to initiate several ongoing projects. In more detail Sanders’s team is evaluating mRNA-based immunotherapies against cancer (e.g. breast cancer, melanoma), viral infections (e.g. Zika virus, SARS-CoV-2) and bacterial infections. Moreover, mRNA that encode therapeutic proteins are also made and applied in different fields.
Prof. Niek Sanders is the author or co-author of more than 125 A1 paper in high impact journals and he was an invited speaker at several international meetings. He has also several patents or patent applications and his research has been awarded with several prizes. Prof. Niek Sanders is the scientific founder of Ziphius Vaccines, a Flemish start-up company that focuses on development of mRNA vaccines and mRNA therapeutics.