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Pablo Gluschankof

Using Yeast to Fight AIDS

pablo gluschankof

© E. Perrin/CNRS Photothèque

"Of course, listening to a tango fills me with emotion. But I can also be moved by the songs of the French singer Edith Piaf. I feel very much in tune with French culture, and above all with Marseille, a very eclectic city which fiercely defends its right to be different. And this right to being different is something I uphold, both at work and in life." After a few words in French, Pablo Gluschankof's Argentinian roots resurface. Currently working in Marseille, he is both CEO and scientific director of AmiKana.BioLogics, a CNRS spin-off company created in December 2007, that specializes in the diagnosis of viral diseases. For now, the company is hosted by the Faculty of Medicine's unit on infectious diseases (URMITE).1
The 52-year-old biochemist first arrived in France in 1982. After starting a degree in chemistry in his hometown of Buenos Aires in the mid 1970s–“a time when to be young in this country was dangerous,” as he puts it–and then getting his Master's degree at the University of Jerusalem, he moved to Paris for his PhD and joined CNRS in 1985. Yet four years later, he had left for Stanford University in California. “I became extremely interested in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a unicellular organism which resembles a human cell, both in struture and biology,” Gluschankof recalls. “It's easy to alter its own genetic information to make it produce exogenous proteins, like those, for example, expressed in a cell during viral infections.”
When he returned to Europe in 1992, Gluschankof started using yeast and their “protein factory” capabilities to investigate the mechanisms of budding and replication of the AIDS virus. “In 2003, while working at URMITE, I started using yeast to study HIV resistance to certain antiretroviral drugs,” he explains. Because HIV protease, an enzyme that takes part in the synthesis of certain viral proteins in infected cells, is often a target in the design of antiretroviral drugs, he specifically expressed this protein in yeast. In this way, he could easily test the effect of various drugs on this type of genetically modified yeast. “The advantage is that the cellular response is much easier to interpret in this simple micro-organism. Besides, there is no need to manipulate the yeast expressing HIV protein in an L3 containment lab,2 as must be done for HIV infected cells,” he adds.
This approach turned out to be very successful and propelled Gluschankof's research to the forefront. A patent was registered in June 2004 by both CNRS and the University of Aix-Marseille-II. Wishing to “escape the cocoon of academia” as he puts it, he gradually accepted the idea of becoming an entrepreneur. Hosted by various business incubators and rewarded with several prizes, AmiKana.BioLogics is currently developing a diagnostic kit based on Gluschankof's principle. The objective is to help physicians prescribe the right treatment at the right time by offering a test that can rapidly, reliably, and at low cost determine whether strains of HIV or the hepatitis C virus are resistant or not to specific drugs.
In 2006, Gluschankof took a training course in management at the French business school HEC. He is also working on the design of other products and services aimed at improving antiviral treatment that will be offered to both hospital departments and the pharmaceutical industry. He hopes that the first of the kits currently in development phases will reach the market by the end of 2012, “but it all depends on raising the necessary funds,” he concludes.

Philippe Testard-Vaillant

Notes :

1. Unité de recherche sur les maladies infectieuses et tropicales émergentes (CNRS / Université Aix-Marseille-II).
2. A restricted containment laboratory required for the handling of highly pathogenic biological agents.

Contacts :

Pablo Gluschankof ,
URMITE, Marseille.


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