The change at the helm of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB, affiliated to USI) has occurred at the end of July, with Prof. Antonio Lanzavecchia succeded by Prof. Davide Robbiani, who returns to Ticino after a brilliant career in the United States.1
The announcement was already made in June 2019, when the Foundation Board of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine and the University Council of Università della Svizzera italiana appointed Prof. Davide Robbiani as the new director of IRB and Full Professor at the USI Faculty of Biomedical Sciences, as of 1 August 2020. Many are the challenges that lie ahead of him. First of all, maintaining and consolidating the high level of scientific results, which have enabled the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland to position itself on the global map of leading research in the important field of basic research in biomedicine. The recent public health crisis has provided yet another proof of the importance of research activity in the IRB’s field of specialisation, human immunology. The Institute based in Bellinzona has been – and still is – active in the fight against the coronavirus from the outset. Prof. Robbiani brings considerable expertise in this field of research, having worked extensively on coronavirus-related projects at Rockefeller University in New York. In this respect, in June the scientific journal Nature published the results of a critical study carried out by Prof. Robbiani with his fellow researchers at the US-based University on the discovery of very powerful antibodies capable of neutralising the SARS-CoV-2 virus, thus paving the way for clinical trials in the autumn.
Leading international research in the regional context
In addition to the extensive international network of research institutes with which IRB collaborates, the coordination between all players in biomedical research is particularly important at the regional level. In fact, it is important to further consolidate the integration of the research institutes located in Bellinzona – the IRB the Oncological Research Institute (IOR, also affiliated to USI) – in the cantonal research context (with particular attention to the EOC) and a gradual but decisive further approach to USI as part of the activities of its Faculty of Biomedical Sciences. An important role in fostering new synergies will be played by the new building “Nel Parco”, designed by a team led by architect Aurelio Galfetti, which will be opened in 2021. The construction of the new facility was made possible thanks also to the contribution of the community – the Confederation, the Canton of Ticino and the City of Bellinzona. In addition to the IRB, the premises will host the IOR and a numbero of research groups that are part of the EOC.
According to the Director of IRB Davide Robbiani: “IRB is a top and internationally renowned institute, especially – but not only – in the study of human immunology. The work carried out in the laboratories in Bellinzona to study and find answers to infectious diseases is well aligned with my interests as an immunologist and researcher. Moreover, the current developments in the field of biomedicine represent for me a strong incentive to contribute to the scientific and academic development of Ticino. An example of this is the strengthening and creation of new synergies. In this regard, the IRB has recently initiated an important study on the novel coronavirus that also involves some cantonal actors (Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale, Clinica Luganese Moncucco, Servizio Trasfusionale della Svizzera Italiana and USI Institute of Public Health).
According to the President of the IRB Foundation Gabriele Gendotti: “Davide Robbiani’s great challenge will be to fill the shoes of a world-renowned scientist like Antonio Lanzavecchia, whom I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart for guiding IRB to the highest international levels in the field of basic scientific research. It is a pleasure to see the return to Ticino of a native researcher after all the experience and success in the field of immunology and microbiology in the United States”.
The Rector of USI Boas Erez comments: “I am particularly happy that Prof. Robbiani has chosen to bring his energy, passion and international background to the benefit of scientific research in Ticino. There are many challenges awaiting him, but he will not have to face them alone. By now, the Canton’s biomedical research has reached sufficient maturity to know that it is necessary to work as a team in order to continue developing the fine initiatives of the last thirty years.”
Born in Ticino, after studying medicine in Bern, Robbiani earned his PhD in Immunology at Cornell University. Since 2005, he has been active at Rockefeller University, New York, where he has been Research Associate Professor and Group Leader until last month. He is back in Ticino after a brilliant academic career in the US, with a load of experience to share and help the Bellinzona Institute grow.