The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) is a non-profit institute with the mission of advancing biomedical research and graduate teaching. Emphasis is given to studies of human biology in health and disease, which may lead to a better understanding of pathophysiology and to novel therapeutic approaches to infectious, inflammatory, degenerative and tumour diseases.
Currently, approximately 150 individuals at the Institute support the activities of 13 research groups. Over 850 scientific papers were published by IRB scientists so far, many of them in leading academic journals. To date, the IRB hosted 6 European Research Council (ERC) grants and was part of numerous scientific networks.
A vibrant doctoral (PhD) program at the IRB allows students enrolled at universities around the world to carry out their thesis in one of the IRB research groups. The program also includes a lecture series with world-renowned scientists. Over 120 students successfully defended their thesis and obtained excellent positions at leading institutions all over the world.
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 was led by Antonio Lanzavecchia. Lanzavecchia’s contributions to human immunology include fundamental discoveries on antigen presentation, T cell activation, immunological memory and human monoclonal antibodies. His accomplishments were recognised 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). Methods to isolate human monoclonal antibodies that were developed in his laboratory at the IRB were licensed to Humabs BioMed, a Swiss antibody therapeutics company located in Bellinzona that is now a subsidiary of Vir Biotechnology. Some of the human monoclonal antibodies discovered at the IRB or using IRB-licensed technologies are undergoing clinical development, and in some cases have already reached clinical approval (e.g. Ansuvimab against Ebola and Sotrovimab against COVID-19).
The IRB is a founding member of the Swiss Vaccine Research Institute (SVRI, 2006) and of the Sclavo Vaccine Association (SVA, 2011). The SVRI comprises the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV), and the University of Lausanne (UNIL), while the SVA involves 12 institutions from 6 Countries.
In 2008, the IRB signed a memorandum of understanding with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) and since then maintains an active research agreement with ETHZ. In 2010 the IRB was affiliated to the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI). At USI, the IRB contributed to the establishment of the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences (2014) and to the creation of the PhD program (doctoral school) in Immunology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry. Some IRB Group Leaders have professorial or lecturer appointments at ETHZ and USI.
Collaboration agreements were also established with the National Institute of Molecular Genetics (INGM, 2013) and with Humanitas University (HU, 2019), both in Milan. In 2021, the IRB joined the United World Antiviral Research Network (UWARN), an organisation that brings together researchers from leading institutions in several Countries around the globe to spot and confront emerging pandemic viruses. In 2023, a partnership was established with The Rockefeller University in New York City (RU) for the advancement of studies on infectious diseases.
In 2021, the Institute moved to new headquarters in Bellinzona (owned by the IRB Foundation), with modern laboratories and updated core facilities. In addition to the IRB, the new building also hosts the Institute of Oncology Research (IOR) and Laboratories of Translational Research of the Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale (LTR-EOC).
Also in 2021, IRB and IOR formed the association Bellinzona Institutes of Science (Bios+). Bios+ aims to promote, support and coordinate the scientific research and teaching activities of its members to facilitate the establishment of a national and international research center for life sciences in Bellinzona.
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. 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).
The IRB Foundation Council is the governing body of the Institute. It oversees activities of the Institute, defines its budget, structure and organisation, and nominates the members of the Scientific Advisory Board. The Foundation Council also approves the scientific strategy and appoints the Director, the Deputy Director and the Group Leaders.
Gabriele Gendotti* – President
* also Member of the Executive Committee
Giorgio Noseda – First President of the IRB, is Honorary President of the IRB Foundation
The Scientific Advisory Board meets regularly to provide guidance and oversight on the quality of the scientific programs and activities at the Institute.