Luca Varani graduated in chemistry at the University of Milan (Italy) and obtained a PhD degree at the prestigious MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology (University of Cambridge, UK) using molecular and structural biology to study RNA-protein interactions. He contributed to show the key role played by RNA in regulation of gene expression and how RNA itself can be a valid therapeutic target against dementia. His numerous high caliber publications, culminated in the determination of the largest NMR structure available at the time, allowed him to move to Stanford with a “long term EMBO fellowship”, reserved to the best young molecular biologists in Europe. In California Luca Varani completed the first magnetic resonance study on TCR/pMHC, key proteins of the immune system.
Since October 2007 he leads the Structural Biology group of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (Bellinzona, CH). They strive to understand the molecular properties allowing antibodies to eliminate a pathogen, merging molecular and cellular biology, biophysics and computational simulations for structure-function studies. This information is used to engineer new antibodies with desired properties. Projects involve mainly rare and neglected diseases such as Dengue or Zika virus, Prion, Acute Myeloid Leukemias and, more recently, COVID-19.
Last authorship for design, production and characterization of bispecific antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 (Nature, headed for phase I clinical trial; Science Imm), Zika (Cell) and Prion (Plos Path; Nat Struc Mol Biol) as well as describing the role of target affinity modulation in Chimeric Antigen Receptors against Acute Myeloid Leukemia (Mol Therapy). Collaborative work to determine the antibody response to infection in Dengue (Cell Host and Microbe), Zika (Science), Malaria (Nat Med) and SARS-CoV-2 (Nat Imm). Shorter term collaborative work included characterization of intermolecular interactions in cytokines (J Ex Med), nanoparticles (Small) and autophagy (Nat Cell Biol).
The group uses a highly multidisciplinary approach, varying from structure determination to cellular experiments, from computational biology to confocal microscopy, from nanoparticles to protein and antibody production and engineering. It is one of the few groups with high impact publications attesting the ability to approach antibody-pathogen interactions both experimentally and computationally.
Reviewer for high impact scientific journals and international granting agencies, he is also an evaluator for European start-up accelerator programs and a consultant for antibody biotech.
He is the founder of CLBiotech (2022), a start-up focused on nanobody discovery and engineering.