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A Conversation with UCL's Gabriele Lignani on gene therapy innovations, Epilepsy GTX, and entrepreneurship

with Prof. Gabriele Lignani, Scientific Advisor, EpilepsyGTx​

Deeptech UCL Tech Fund

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Founder Stories University Edition is a collection of fireside chats with the leading academic founders backed by the AlbionVC team. Having invested in over 30 university spinouts from the leading UK universities including UCL, Imperial College London, University of Oxford and University of Cambridge, the series highlights personal stories of those who made the leap from academia to entrepreneurship.  


Simon Goldman, partner at AlbionVC, chats with Gabriele Lignani, Professor of Translational Neuroscience at UCL, about his work on gene therapy and treating epilepsy.

Gabriele is the co-founder and scientific advisor of Epilepsy GTX, a biotechnology company focused on research and development of cutting-edge gene therapies to treat focal refractory epilepsy.

With a background in biotechnology and neurophysiology, Gabriele joined the epilepsy research program at UCL in 2014, which is world renowned in this space, and describes developing new tools like using CRISPR gene editing instead of classical gene therapy. 

Initially his work was more basic research, but conversations with Simon helped him realise the importance of considering the translational pathway and patenting ideas early on. This advice fundamentally changed Gabriele’s approach to work and was a crucial turning point in his career. Since then, the translational pathway is also front of mind from the start of his experiments, combining the blue sky thinking that he is passionate about with the clinical application and longer term plans.

Mentors like his co-founders at UCL and advice from Simon helped guide Gabriele in considering translational aspects earlier in the research process. The interdisciplinary nature at UCL, combining clinicians, patients, and basic researchers,also  allows translating important patient needs into early research directions.

“I remember after the nice coffee with you, I was speaking about the research and you were saying ‘Yes, I understand, but what next?’ and ‘How you want to get there?’ and then making me feel that I needed to do something different at that point.” ​

Prof. Gabriele Lignani, Scientific Advisor, EpilepsyGTx

Gabriele lists several proud achievements in his journey from research to entrepreneur, including filing their first patent in 2009, then an additional four with two more in process. This shift towards patenting represents a significant mindset change for him.

The publication of significant research on epilepsy genetics, which involved collaboration with many postdocs and labs, stands out as a peak achievement.

In founding EpilepsyGTx, the process involved learning a lot from UCL Business and patent attorneys. It received a major European award and the EFC Consolidator Grant. 

He advises others to engage with both basic science and translational projects, and communicate with experienced individuals in commercialisation to understand the process, as practical experience is more valuable than theoretical knowledge, but also collaborate across different expertise areas to drive projects forward.

For 2024, Gabriele plans to focus on a five-year grant, pursue two pending patents, advance a gene editing program to start a new company, striving for continued innovation and the potential for clinical applications to drive further research.

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