Javier received his MSci from the University Complutense in Madrid (Spain). He then moved to Prague (Czech Republic) where he earned his PhD degree in Chemistry from Univerzita Karlova under the supervision of Dr Petr Beier at IOCB, working on the synthesis and derivatization of hypervalent sulfur fluorides. During this period, he also took part as ESR of FLUOR21 initial training network led by Prof Graham Sandford (Durham University) and collaborated with F2 Chemicals Ltd. Later, he joined the University of Oxford (UK) as a postdoctoral research fellow to work on the synthesis and biological evaluation of F18-labeled ATM inhibitors under the supervision of Prof Bart Cornelissen. In 2021, he joined Ferrara lab as a postdoctoral scholar to work on the development of radiochemistry methods and the synthesis of therapeutics for medical imaging.

Honors & Awards

  • Young Investigator Award, 8th International Symposium on Focused Ultrasound (Focused Ultrasound Foundation) (2022)
  • Poster award - Ultrasound-enhanced delivery of [64Cu]Cu-AAV assessed by PET, World Molecular Imaging Congress (WMIC) (2022)
  • Poster award - Improving access to sulfur pentafluorides by direct fluorination of disulfides, 23rd Winter Fluorine Conference (2017)

Stanford Advisors

All Publications

  • PET imaging of focused-ultrasound enhanced delivery of AAVs into the murine brain. Theranostics Ajenjo, J., Seo, J. W., Foiret, J., Wu, B., Raie, M. N., Wang, J., Fite, B. Z., Zhang, N., Malek, R., Beinat, C., Malik, N., Anders, D. A., Ferrara, K. W. 2023; 13 (15): 5151-5169


    Rationale: Despite recent advances in the use of adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) as potential vehicles for genetic intervention of central and peripheral nervous system-associated disorders, gene therapy for the treatment of neuropathology in adults has not been approved to date. The currently FDA-approved AAV-vector based gene therapies rely on naturally occurring serotypes, such as AAV2 or AAV9, which display limited or no transport across the blood-brain barrier (BBB) if systemically administered. Recently developed engineered AAV variants have shown broad brain transduction and reduced off-target liver toxicity in non-human primates (NHPs). However, these vectors lack spatial selectivity for targeted gene delivery, a potentially critical limitation for delivering therapeutic doses in defined areas of the brain. The use of microbubbles, in conjunction with focused ultrasound (FUS), can enhance regional brain AAV transduction, but methods to assess transduction in vivo are needed. Methods: In a murine model, we combined positron emission tomography (PET) and optical imaging of reporter gene payloads to non-invasively assess the spatial distribution and transduction efficiency of systemically administered AAV9 after FUS and microbubble treatment. Capsid and reporter probe accumulation are reported as percent injected dose per cubic centimeter (%ID/cc) for in vivo PET quantification, whereas results for ex vivo assays are reported as percent injected dose per gram (%ID/g). Results: In a study spanning accumulation and transduction, mean AAV9 accumulation within the brain was 0.29 %ID/cc without FUS, whereas in the insonified region of interest of FUS-treated mice, the spatial mean and maximum reached ~2.3 %ID/cc and 4.3 %ID/cc, respectively. Transgene expression assessed in vivo by PET reporter gene imaging employing the pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM2)/[18F]DASA-10 reporter system increased up to 10-fold in the FUS-treated regions, as compared to mice receiving AAVs without FUS. Systemic injection of AAV9 packaging the EF1A-PKM2 transgene followed by FUS in one hemisphere resulted in 1) an average 102-fold increase in PKM2 mRNA concentration compared to mice treated with AAVs only and 2) a 12.5-fold increase in the insonified compared to the contralateral hemisphere of FUS-treated mice. Conclusion: Combining microbubbles with US-guided treatment facilitated a multi-hour BBB disruption and stable AAV transduction in targeted areas of the murine brain. This unique platform has the potential to provide insight and aid in the translation of AAV-based therapies for the treatment of neuropathologies.

    View details for DOI 10.7150/thno.85549

    View details for PubMedID 37908737

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10614693

  • Radiofluorination of a highly potent ATM inhibitor as a potential PET imaging agent EJNMMI RESEARCH Fraser, C., Ajenjo, J., Veal, M., Dias, G., Chan, C., O'Neill, E., Destro, G., Lau, D., Pacelli, A., Gouverneur, V., Hueting, R., Cornelissen, B. 2022; 12 (1): 50


    Ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) is a key mediator of the DNA damage response, and several ATM inhibitors (ATMi) are currently undergoing early phase clinical trials for the treatment of cancer. A radiolabelled ATMi to determine drug pharmacokinetics could assist patient selection in a move towards more personalised medicine. The aim of this study was to synthesise and investigate the first 18F-labelled ATM inhibitor [18F]1 for non-invasive imaging of ATM protein and ATMi pharmacokinetics.Radiofluorination of a confirmed selective ATM inhibitor (1) was achieved through substitution of a nitro-precursor with [18F]fluoride. Uptake of [18F]1 was assessed in vitro in H1299 lung cancer cells stably transfected with shRNA to reduce expression of ATM. Blocking studies using several non-radioactive ATM inhibitors assessed binding specificity to ATM. In vivo biodistribution studies were performed in wild-type and ATM-knockout C57BL/6 mice using PET/CT and ex vivo analysis. Uptake of [18F]1 in H1299 tumour xenografts was assessed in BALB/c nu/nu mice.Nitro-precursor 2 was synthesised with an overall yield of 12%. Radiofluorination of 2 achieved radiochemically pure [18F]1 in 80 ± 13 min with a radiochemical yield of 20 ± 13% (decay-corrected) and molar activities up to 79.5 GBq/μmol (n = 11). In vitro, cell-associated activity of [18F]1 increased over 1 h, and retention of [18F]1 dropped to 50% over 2 h. [18F]1 uptake did not correlate with ATM expression, but could be reduced significantly with an excess of known ATM inhibitors, demonstrating specific binding of [18F]1 to ATM. In vivo, fast hepatobiliary clearance was observed with tumour uptake ranging 0.13-0.90%ID/g after 1 h.Here, we report the first radiofluorination of an ATM inhibitor and its in vitro and in vivo biological evaluations, revealing the benefits but also some limitations of 18F-labelled ATM inhibitors.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/s13550-022-00920-z

    View details for Web of Science ID 000840309900001

    View details for PubMedID 35962885

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC9375819

  • Multimodal imaging of capsid and cargo reveals differential brain targeting and liver detargeting of systemically-administered AAVs. Biomaterials Seo, J. W., Ajenjo, J., Wu, B., Robinson, E., Raie, M. N., Wang, J., Tumbale, S. K., Buccino, P., Anders, D. A., Shen, B., Habte, F. G., Beinat, C., James, M. L., Reyes, S. T., Ravindra Kumar, S., Miles, T. F., Lee, J. T., Gradinaru, V., Ferrara, K. W. 2022: 121701


    The development of gene delivery vehicles with high organ specificity when administered systemically is a critical goal for gene therapy. We combine optical and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of 1) reporter genes and 2) capsid tags to assess the temporal and spatial distribution and transduction of adeno-associated viruses (AAVs). AAV9 and two engineered AAV vectors (PHP.eB and CAP-B10) that are noteworthy for maximizing blood-brain barrier transport were compared. CAP-B10 shares a modification in the 588 loop with PHP.eB, but also has a modification in the 455 loop, added with the goal of reducing off-target transduction. PET and optical imaging revealed that the additional modifications retained brain receptor affinity. In the liver, the accumulation of AAV9 and the engineered AAV capsids was similar (15% of the injected dose per cc and not significantly different between capsids at 21h). However, the engineered capsids were primarily internalized by Kupffer cells rather than hepatocytes, and liver transduction was greatly reduced. PET reporter gene imaging after engineered AAV systemic injection provided a non-invasive method to monitor AAV-mediated protein expression over time. Through comparison with capsid tagging, differences between brain localization and transduction were revealed. In summary, AAV capsids bearing imaging tags and reporter gene payloads create a unique and powerful platform to assay the pharmacokinetics, cellular specificity and protein expression kinetics of AAV vectors in vivo, a key enabler for the field of gene therapy.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2022.121701

    View details for PubMedID 35985893

  • Closing the gap between 19F and 18F chemistry. EJNMMI radiopharmacy and chemistry Ajenjo, J., Destro, G., Cornelissen, B., Gouverneur, V. 2021; 6 (1): 33


    Positron emission tomography (PET) has become an invaluable tool for drug discovery and diagnosis. The positron-emitting radionuclide fluorine-18 is frequently used in PET radiopharmaceuticals due to its advantageous characteristics; hence, methods streamlining access to 18F-labelled radiotracers can make a direct impact in medicine. For many years, access to 18F-labelled radiotracers was limited by the paucity of methodologies available, and the poor diversity of precursors amenable to 18F-incorporation. During the last two decades, 18F-radiochemistry has progressed at a fast pace with the appearance of numerous methodologies for late-stage 18F-incorporation onto complex molecules from a range of readily available precursors including those that do not require pre-functionalisation. Key to these advances is the inclusion of new activation modes to facilitate 18F-incorporation. Specifically, new advances in late-stage 19F-fluorination under transition metal catalysis, photoredox catalysis, and organocatalysis combined with the availability of novel 18F-labelled fluorination reagents have enabled the invention of novel processes for 18F-incorporation onto complex (bio)molecules. This review describes these major breakthroughs with a focus on methodologies for C-18F bond formation. This reinvigorated interest in 18F-radiochemistry that we have witnessed in recent years has made a direct impact on 19F-chemistry with many laboratories refocusing their efforts on the development of methods using nucleophilic fluoride instead of fluorination reagents derived from molecular fluorine gas.

    View details for DOI 10.1186/s41181-021-00143-y

    View details for PubMedID 34564781

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC8464544

  • Preparation of (Pentafluorosulfanyl)benzenes by Direct Fluorination of Diaryldisulfides: Synthetic Approach and Mechanistic Aspects CHEMISTRY-A EUROPEAN JOURNAL Ajenjo, J., Klepetarova, B., Greenhall, M., Bim, D., Culka, M., Rulisek, L., Beier, P. 2019; 25 (48): 11375-11382


    Direct fluorination of ortho-, meta- and para-substituted aromatic thiols and disulfides using elemental fluorine afforded substituted (pentafluorosulfanyl)benzenes. This work thus represents the first study of the scope and limitation of direct fluorination for the synthesis of new SF5 -containing building blocks. Fluorinations in batch and flow modes were compared. A comprehensive computational study was carried out employing density functional and wave function methods to elucidate the reaction mechanism of the transformation of ArSF3 into ArSF5 . Eliminating various nonradical pathways, it has been shown that the reaction proceeds by a radical mechanism, initiated by the attack of the F. on the ArSF3 moiety, propagated via an almost barrierless F2 +ArSF4 . →ArSF5 +F. step and terminated by the ArSF4 . +F. →ArSF5 . Most of the calculated data are in very good agreement with experimental observations concerning the ortho-substituent effect on the reaction rates and yields.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/chem.201902651

    View details for Web of Science ID 000479224000001

    View details for PubMedID 31231878

  • Synthesis and nucleophilic aromatic substitution of 3-fluoro-5-nitro-1-(pentafluorosulfanyl)benzene BEILSTEIN JOURNAL OF ORGANIC CHEMISTRY Ajenjo, J., Greenhall, M., Zarantonello, C., Beier, P. 2016; 12: 192-197


    3-Fluoro-5-nitro-1-(pentafluorosulfanyl)benzene was prepared by three different ways: as a byproduct of direct fluorination of 1,2-bis(3-nitrophenyl)disulfane, by direct fluorination of 4-nitro-1-(pentafluorosulfanyl)benzene, and by fluorodenitration of 3,5-dinitro-1-(pentafluorosulfanyl)benzene. The title compound was subjected to a nucleophilic aromatic substitution of the fluorine atom with oxygen, sulfur and nitrogen nucleophiles affording novel (pentafluorosulfanyl)benzenes with 3,5-disubstitution pattern. Vicarious nucleophilic substitution of the title compound with carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen nucleophiles provided 3-fluoro-5-nitro-1-(pentafluorosulfanyl)benzenes substituted in position four.

    View details for DOI 10.3762/bjoc.12.21

    View details for Web of Science ID 000370131600001

    View details for PubMedID 26977178

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4778532