Basis for intelligent therapeutics

Professor Heinz Koeppl involved in founding of new start-up Dirac Biosciences


A new start-up with significant participation of etit professor Heinz Koeppl is dedicated to the computer-aided design of innovative gene circuits in synthetic biology. In addition to Koeppl, partners of the new company Dirac Biosciences are the TU Darmstadt and the investment company eureKARE, which finances and develops innovations in the field of synthetic biology in Europe. The founding of the start-up was supported by the Innovation and Start-up Center HIGHEST of the TU Darmstadt.

The interconnection of genes contained in gene circuits to form a functioning therapeutic network is complex.

The goal of Dirac Biosciences is to develop artificial gene networks that can be inserted into human cells and perform a kind of local diagnosis and therapy there. The network can read out certain molecular markers of a human cell. From the profile of these markers, it recognizes whether the cell is suffering from cancer, for example, and can initiate countermeasures in real time. “These can consist, for example, in the production of certain molecules that either cause the cell to return to a 'healthy' state or lead to the controlled death of this cell,” explains Professor Koeppl. The gene networks could thus serve as a basic technology for adaptive or intelligent therapeutics.

Computer aided design methods

However, the interconnection of the genes contained in such gene circuits to form a functioning therapeutic network is complex and error-prone. For more reliable results, Dirac Biosciences is relying on the development of a computer-aided design process for the circuits here. Both biophysical models and data-based AI models are being used. “This should make the design of these therapeutic gene circuits safer and faster,” explains the researcher, whose initiative led to the founding of Dirac Biosciences.

Koeppl is the spokesman and founding member of the renowned Center for Synthetic Biology at the Technical University of Darmstadt, on whose interdisciplinary research of recent years the foundation of Dirac Biosciences is based. The young company is the first to be supported by eureKARE's biomedical start-up studio in Brussels, where it will also be based.

HIGHEST CEO Harald Holzer expressed his excitement about the start-up's formation. “With the joint founding of the company, we are following our TU Darmstadt xchange strategy and are convinced that through the trusting cooperation of powerful partners from science and industry, important innovations are created that make our lives a bit better,” he said. “The partners eureKARE, Professor Koeppl and TU Darmstadt bring the best prerequisites for a corporate success of Dirac Biosciences.”

About Professor Koeppl

Heinz Koeppl studied physics at the Karl Franzens University in Graz, Austria. In a cooperation with Infineon Technologies, he received his PhD in electrical engineering from Graz University of Technology in 2004. After postdoctoral stays at UC Berkeley and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), he was appointed assistant professor at ETH Zurich in 2010. In 2013, Koeppl additionally founded and led the systems biology group at IBM Research Zurich.

Since January 2014, he has headed the Self-Organizing Systems group at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at TU Darmstadt and is a second member at the Department of Biology. In 2017, he received an ERC Consolidator Grant for his project CONSYN, and in 2020 and 2022, he received a Proof of Concept Grant for each of his projects LONGSENSE and PLATE, respectively.