The Institute for Research in Biomedicine has gained an international reputation as a leading center of excellence in immunology research. In addition to immunology, the institute hosts researchers active in the fields of DNA repair, rare diseases, structural and cell biology.
IRB group leaders have established an effective network of collaborations with leading institutions all over the world. Consequently, researchers from all over the world have joined the IRB to establish their own laboratories or to perform their training.
Some IRB researchers are among the most cited scientists in the world, they are awarded some of the most prestigious prizes and are members of the most prestigious National Academies of Sciences in the world. The IRB hosted 5 European Research Council (ERC) grants.
Currently 13 groups occupy two facilities in Bellinzona employing 125 people, and more than 700 papers have been published in leading academic journals.
A vibrant doctoral (PhD) program at the IRB allows students enrolled in universities around the world to carry out their thesis in one of the IRB research groups. The program also includes lecture series of world-renowned scientists. So far, 103 IRB students have successfully defended their thesis and obtained excellent positions in leading institutions all over the world.
Since 2009, the IRB is affiliated to the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) and is now fully part of the newly created Faculty of Biomedical Sciences, which is currently setting up a Master of Medicine.
The constant growth of these research activities has regularly forced the IRB to search for additional spaces, forcing to locate laboratories in separate buildings in the centre of Bellinzona, due to lack of space in the main building. This had foster the construction of a new building, which will host all researchers in a single location, and that should be effective by 2021.
The IRB was founded in 2000 with the goal of advancing the study of human immunology and with particular emphasis on the mechanisms of host defense. Four independent groups set up their labs in Palazzo Fabrizia, at the foot of Castelgrande.
For 20 years, the Institute has been led by Prof. Antonio Lanzavecchia, founding Director of the IRB. Lanzavecchia’s contributions to human immunology include fundamental discoveries on antigen presentation, T cell activation, immunological memory and human monoclonal antibodies. His accomplishments were recognized by several prizes (1988 EMBO Gold Medal, 1999 Cloetta Prize, 2017 Robert Koch Prize, 2017 Sanofi-Institut Pasteur Award, 2018 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine) and elected memberships (EMBO, Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences, US National Academy of Sciences). The methods to isolate human monoclonal antibodies that were developed in his laboratory at the IRB were licensed to Humabs, a Swiss antibody therapeutics company that is now a subsidiary of Vir Biotechnology. Some of the human monoclonal antibodies that were discovered at the IRB are being developed as therapeutics against important infectious diseases, such as Ebola.
The IRB is a founding member of the Swiss Vaccine Research Institute (SVRI) and the Sclavo Vaccine Association (SVA). The SVRI comprises the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne (EPFL), the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, and the University of Lausanne, while the SVA involves 12 institutions from 6 Countries (https://www.sclavo.org). In 2009, the IRB signed a memorandum of understanding with the Polytechnic Institute of Zurich (ETHZ) and in 2010 it was affiliated to the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI). At USI, the IRB contributed to the establishment of the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences and to the creation of the PhD program (doctoral school) in Immunology and Cell Biology.
Director of the Institute
A native of Ticino, Davide Robbiani obtained a medical doctorate from the University of Bern, Switzerland, in 2000 and a PhD in immunology from Cornell University, New York, in 2005. During his medical training, he was a research intern at the Theodor Kocher Institute under the guidance of Marco Baggiolini and at the Rockefeller University in Ralph Steinman’s laboratory. Robbiani returned to Rockefeller in 2005 to start his postdoctoral training in Michel Nussenzweig’s laboratory, where he continued as a member of the faculty from 2009 to 2020. Robbiani’s research focuses on two areas of human immunology: the sources of DNA damage underlying the development of cancers of the immune system and the immune response to emerging pathogens, with emphasis on flaviviruses and coronaviruses. Robbiani joined the IRB in 2020, succeeding the Institute’s founding Director, Antonio Lanzavecchia. At the IRB Robbiani heads the laboratory of Immunology and Infectious Disease and he is Professor in the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences of the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI).
Research Group: Immunology and Infectious Disease
IRB Foundation Council
The Foundation Council is the governing body of the Institute. It oversees all activities of the IRB, defines the structure and organization of the institute, and nominates the members of the Scientific Advisory Board. The Foundation Council approves the scientific direction and appoints the Director, the Vice-Director, the group leaders and associate members.
* Member of the Executive Committee
first President of the IRB, is Honorary President of the IRB Foundation
Scientific Advisory Board