Adrián’s stellar Cambridge story earns KTP ‘future leader’ tag
Later this month Adrián Rodríguez-Bazaga, a research engineer at STORM Therapeutics, will find out if he’s been selected as a ‘future leader’ winner in the final of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) awards.
The Knowledge Transfer Programme is run by UK Research and Innovation, which is funded through the science budget of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to help UK businesses innovate and grow by linking them with an academic or research organisation and a graduate.
The academic partner – in this case the University of Cambridge – helps develop the project, provide academic input and recruit a suitable graduate, known as an associate. They act as the employer of the associate, who then works at the business for the majority of the project. The scheme can last between 12 and 36 months.
The categories in this year’s KTP awards are Engineering Excellence, Business Impact, Future Leader, Societal Impact Award, and Highlighting Inspiring stories of Knowledge Base support for an Associate/Partnership.
Adrián’s story interfaces the glorious complexity that is the Cambridge healthcare technology hub. While a student at university in Barcelona, and after being a successful student in the 2018 Google Summer of Code, he was proposed to mentor projects in the Google Summer of Code 2019 programme. The Google Summer of Code is available to students aged 19 and over. Students work with an open source organisation on a 10-week programming project during their break from school. 1,292 students were accepted into the Google Summer of Code 2021.
“I was selected to do one of the internships in the Google Summer of Code, sponsored by Google, during May to August 2018,” he explains. “It happens that the project I applied and was accepted to work on was from InterMine, which is the biological data warehouse from Cambridge University that is also being used in the current KTP.
“What happened is that the Cambridge people seemed to like what I did during that internship and at the end of that year – around September/October 2018 – a vacancy was posted at Cambridge University, which was precisely this KTP between STORM and the university.
“They sent me an email just saying that they had opened a vacancy and that I could apply if I wanted to. I did that as I found the job interesting and after some interviews, I got selected and started the KTP job in February 2019. At that time I still had my master’s thesis left, so what we did was to use the ERASMUS+ programme so that I could do my Master’s thesis as part of the KTP in Cambridge University, extending upon what was intended to be the project initially. This was extended substantially further in October 2019 when I got accepted in Cambridge’s PhD programme.
“Then, after I started the job, I was offered to become a mentor/supervisor in the Google Summer of Code during the 2019 edition – where I was an intern in the previous 2018 edition – and I did supervise a one-person project there.
“So basically me doing the Google Summer of Code internship in 2018 didn’t directly result in my employment now, but rather it allowed me to establish connections with people in Cambridge that were my mentors at that time and became colleagues afterwards.”
Adrián has now completed his MSc on ‘Machine learning to predict candidates for drug discovery in cancer’ and is intending to finish his PhD next year: his KTP contract has been extended to next February. His current role is to write software, mostly in Python, to help STORM identify suitable RNA candidates for new drug therapies.
“It’s just maths and statistics created from scratch, that’s me,” he says. “I love maths, I’m not a biologist.
The relatively new field of RNA epigenetics, which STORM specialises in, facilitates RNA drug candidates which involve stable and heritable changes in gene expression without altering the DNA sequence.
“You don’t change the base genome,” says Adrián. “There’s no clinically validated drug treatment yet but it’s getting close.”
The role at Babraham Research Campus-based STORM Therapeutics is full-time.
“It’s a 37-hour week,” he says. “My actual employer is the University of Cambridge. The KTP arrangement runs until the end of February 2022; the plan is to employ me for longer after that to finish my work, so I have assurance of work after that.”
Hendrik Weisser, principal scientist bioinformatics at STORM Therapeutics, said: “I am delighted that Adrián has been selected as a finalist for a ‘Future Leader’ KTP Award. We nominated him to recognise his dedicated work and the potential he has shown in the associate role – especially for someone so early in his career. I am happy that the selection committee for the KTP Awards agreed with us.
“The KTP project ends in February next year, and we are in the final stages of building the InterMine-based data management system for STORM. Adrián has just completed the integration of a new type of our proprietary experimental data, which was an important step. When he presented the prototype in a recent meeting, this was met with enthusiastic responses from our scientists. Overall, it is great to see that the project is on track to be a success and that the results are being appreciated.”
STORM Therapeutics’ first-in-class inhibitor of METTL3 is expected to be the first RNA epigenetic drug programme globally to enter the clinic in 2022.
The KTP Awards final will be held online on September 23.