22. July 2013

A young scientist, Pavel Plevka of the Central European Institute of Technology of Masaryk University (CEITEC MU), has received the most prestigious European scientific grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). This makes him the only scientist working in the Czech Republic who has received financial support from the ERC in the category of “Starting Grants” this year. ERC awards “Starting Grants” to the most talented European researchers based on the scientific excellence of their innovative research proposal. Pavel Plevka has succeeded with his project entitled “Structural Study of Human Picornaviruses” and he is only the sixth ERC “Starting Grants” recipient in the Czech Republic since 2007 and the very first in Brno.

The ERC “Starting Grants“ are awarded each year to support researchers who intend to establish their own research teams and commence their own independent research in Europe.“Obtaining an ERC grant is very difficult, because the usual success rate is 10% for applicants from all over the world and only 3% for applicants from the Czech Republic. The important thing is to prepare a research project that has the potential to shift the frontiers of human knowledge in one of the key research areas,” explains Pavel Plevka, head of the Structural Virology research group at CEITEC. In total, there were 3,329 applications filed for ERC “Starting Grants“, of which 287 have received funding in the aggregate amount of €400 million. The grant awarded to Pavel Plevka is a 5-year grant and amounts to approximately €2 million (CZK 52 million). “ERC grants represent an important indicator of the quality of research institutions, as well as the quality of research in various countries. Obtaining this grant represents a confirmation for CEITEC that we are on the right track and that we are competitive with all other scientific institutions,” says Markus Dettenhofer, the Executive Director of CEITEC.

“We will study viruses of the family Picornaviridae, that cause a number of human illnesses, from common cold to life-threatening encephalitis. We are interested in structures crucial for the virus’s reproduction in the infected cells”, explains Plevka. At the moment, there are no drugs to treat infections caused by picornaviruses. The objective of the research will be to conduct a structural analysis of the life cycle of picornaviruses, the understanding of which could contribute to the development of new medicines. “The interesting part of our research project is the combination of structural methods we use to study the life cycle of picornaviruses. To obtain the grant, it was also important that we intend to study viruses causing human disease, which means that our results could contribute to improving the general quality of human life,” adds Plevka.

Pavel Plevka graduated from Charles University in Prague where he specialised in molecular biology and virology. In 2009, he earned a PhD from Uppsala University in Sweden. In the period of 2009-2012, he worked as a post-doctoral researcher at Purdue University in the USA. Since July 2013 he has been working as the head of the Structural Virology group that is a part of the Structural Biology research program at CEITEC MU. Pavel Plevka focuses on the study of molecular structure of human picornaviruses, viruses contributing to the exacerbation of Leishmaniasis disease symptoms, and viruses contributing to the collapse of honeybee colonies. He is the author of a number of scientific papers in reputable scientific magazines, such as Science, PNAS, EMBO Reports, or the Journal of Virology.


ERC – European Research Council

Set up in 2007 by the EU, the European Research Council is the first pan-European funding organisation for frontier research. It aims to stimulate scientific excellence in Europe by encouraging competition for funding between the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age. The ERC also strives to attract top researchers from anywhere in the world to come to Europe. It funds young, early-career top researchers ('ERC Starting Grants'), already independent excellent scientists ('ERC Consolidator Grants'), and senior research leaders ('ERC Advanced Grants'). Substantial funding is awarded based on peer review evaluation and can amount to max. €2 million for a 'Starting Grant', €2.75 million for a 'Consolidator Grant, and €3.5 million for an 'Advanced Grant'. The ERC is led by the ERC Scientific Council, composed of 22 renowned scientists and scholars and the ERC President is Prof. Helga Nowotny. The ERC Executive Agency implements the "Ideas" Specific Programme and is led by Director Pablo Amor.