Xavier Duportet, successful researcher-entrepreneur
Xavier Duportet did his PhD thesis within the project team Lifeware (Inria Paris - Rocquencourt) and at the Boston MIT. He has recently received several scientific awards for his project on the antibiotic of the future. He also won the Concours mondial d’innovation 2030 (Worldwide Innovation Challenge 2030). What inspires this entrepreneurial researcher?
2014: A vintage year for Xavier Duportet! Doctoral candidate in synthetic biology at the MIT and Inria, Xavier Duportet developed a methodology that could revolutionize the approach to the therapeutic use of antibiotics. On 21 March 2014, his project 'PhageX' gained both the AEF Club – ‘Doctors-Entrepreneurs’ Award (AEF doctors-entrepreneurs) and the University Meets Business public prize, Rencontres Universités Entreprises 2014. “I was very pleasantly surprised to see our work receiving awards after only a few months of existence,” Xavier commented. His pleasure was all the greater since, the previous day, project PhageX had also been one of 58 projects selected by the Concours mondial d’innovation 2030 to be awarded an endowment of 200,000 euro, from among 626 candidates.
The antibiotics of the future
“I set up project PhageX in collaboration with David Bikard, post-doctoral student in microbiology at the Rockefeller University in the United States”, Xavier explains. “PhageX counters the danger of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by combining two technologies: a vector that targets the bacteria and a genetic circuit that scans their chromosome.” At its heart is a new type of antibiotic that Xavier Duportet and David Bikard have christened 'eligobiotics'. “A genetic circuit is injected in the pathogenic bacteria. Its purpose is to discover, within the chromosome of the bacterium, an antibiotic-resistant gene. Once detected, this gene is cut out and the bacteria die, without the rest of the microbial flora being affected, unlike the behaviour of current antibiotics.” This technology has already been proven in mice infected with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): a bacterium responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the world each year.
The soul of an entrepreneur
PhageX has earned the young researchers an award of 200,000 euro through the Concours mondial d’innovation 2030. Xavier Duportet has decided to invest this sum in a start-up that will be incubated at the Pasteur Institute. At only 26, he already has strong entrepreneurial experience behind him. In 2011, Xavier launched his first start-up project, Omeecs, based on a natural antifungal that he discovered in New Zealand. The same year, he created the SIE Network ("Science Innovation Entrepreneurship Network" ), an association present in more than 40 countries. Its goal is to enable students and young scientists to network with each other and to meet investors to enhance their work. “Young researchers are not used to sharing their creative projects, but it is important that their discoveries do not just remain in the laboratory”, he stresses.
For the first time this year, Xavier organized a European innovation contest, the "Hello Tomorrow Challenge". Inspired by the MIT's innovation contest, the MIT $100K, the challenge aims to create a stimulating ecosystem for French and European young researchers and entrepreneurs. With a total budget of EUR 400,000 in prizes, the contest is open to researchers under 36 years old, who are working on interdisciplinary projects. "It is obviously a success, since 1,300 people have registered!” says a delighted Xavier. The final will be held on 18 April next at the Cité des Sciences during the First Day of Tomorrow, an international conference dedicated to technological innovations. The event is supported by many private and public sponsors, including Inria.