When resilience brings rewards

Appreciating every step on the journey to success might not be an automatic process, but most of the time is the key to better dealing with the challenges we face, overcoming obstacles, and, mostly, achieving our goals.

This is the positive approach of Ilaria Mosca, an InnovaXN student who recently published her paper entitled “Biophysical Determinants for the Viscosity of Concentrated Monoclonal Antibody Solutions” in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics.

She is working on a project that involves collaboration between the ILL, ESRF, Lonza, and the University of Tubingen.

Here follows our interview with Ilaria, which gives an insight into life as an InnovaXN PhD student with a project that links between industry and academia.


Hi Ilaria, first of all, congrats on this great achievement! How does it feel to have your research published in “Molecular Pharmaceutics”, with your PhD still ongoing?                                   

Many thanks! I am really happy to see that all the efforts we put into this study have been rewarded. I have to admit that when I joined the work team, part of the experiments had already been carried out, but I struggled a lot in the hard job of data analysis and interpretation, in which I have been guided and mentored by my supervisors and collaborators.

What is your background and what inspired you to pursue a career in science?                                                                              

I studied Physics during my Bachelor’s, with a focus on Condensed Matter Physics during my Master’s. I started being fascinated by the possibility of applying Physics to complex and living matter during my Bachelor’s thesis and ended up in a summer school in Grenoble, where I first got to know large-scale facilities like the ILL and the ESRF. After that experience, I promised to myself that I would have to return to Grenoble somehow; and now, here I am.

What are the main objectives and research questions addressed in your study?

Our research aims to provide a deeper understanding of the link between the microscopic dynamics and the macroscopic viscosity of therapeutically relevant monoclonal antibody (mAb) solutions. We investigated the self-association of these interesting proteins employing neutron scattering techniques, specifically quasi-elastic (QENS) and small-angle scattering (SANS), supporting our results with viscometry, MD simulations, and sequence-based analysis. To our knowledge, our work constitutes the first systematic QENS study of an unprecedentedly large number of different mAbs.

Why did you choose InnovaXN? Did the possibility of carrying out your experience in a neutron facility influence your choice?

I had the feeling that the programme was well built for young scientists. I really liked the idea of spending some time in a pharmaceutical company and being part of the academia-industry collaboration. For sure, the possibility of doing a PhD in a neutron facility was crucial for me to apply for the position.

Were there any unexpected or surprising results that emerged during your research?

Indeed, yes. The most surprising result is that we observed differences in the diffusion coefficients and in the nature and intensity of protein-protein interactions of the various monoclonal antibody solutions studied, although their primary structures are more than 90% identical. Apparently, small modifications in the aminoacidic sequence in the antigen-binding region may lead to different protein-protein interactions and consequent repulsive or attractive behaviours.

What do you find most challenging and rewarding about your work?

I feel that the challenging part of this work is facing different problems every day and trying to find the right tools to approach them. Also, I believe that being a Ph.D. student is somehow practicing patience and resilience. Sometimes it can be hard to find an immediate reward, so it may be useful to be proud of and celebrate all the small objectives that one has achieved.

InnovaXN aims to prepare its students for academia and industry. You are now getting close to the completion, but if you would have to choose tomorrow, which would be your path?

I would probably choose academia because I have the feeling there is more freedom in the research one conducts. At the same time, I really had a good experience during the months spent in industry and I got the impression that the research performed there is more targeted to solve specific problems, which is extremely useful and powerful.

What advice would you give to someone just starting a PhD in science?

Be determined to apply what you already know, and be willing and motivated to learn something new when you are lacking knowledge. Always choose to pursue objectives based on your personal leanings and passions.

Last but not least: where do you see yourself after InnovaXN?

After this experience, I see myself going back to my country – where all my closest people are – with a wealth of knowledge, skills, and new tools that can certainly be useful for my next work experience. I really hope to pursue my passion for science.

We wish Ilaria all the best in her future endeavors and we hope that her valuable insights might inspire other students who are facing a similar experience.



Mol. Pharmaceutics 2023,20,9,4698-4713 
Publication Date: August 7, 2023 | https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.molpharmaceut.3c00440
Copyright © 2023 American Chemical Society