IMI’s co-operative approach to research is a game changer for global health (Guest blog)

For decades, pharmaceutical companies operated in silos, guarding their secrets from one another with the aim of producing an effective and rewarding therapy.

The effects of working together are changing that – easing the burden of research and leading to better healthcare solutions, faster.

Collaboration has never been more important. Research and development challenges and costs continue to grow, straining budgets and spurring the need for the smaller more highly-focused research teams. At the same time, complex multisystem diseases require greater diversity of knowledge and technologies to solve.

The Innovative Medicines Initiative – the world’s largest public-private partnership in the field of Life Sciences – provides a compelling model for research collaboration. Its success is engendered in part by the European Commission’s drive to give IMI wings and promote Europe’s position as a leader in the Life Sciences field. The European Commission’s financial contribution is a pivotal element to the success of this project. Its second phase, IMI 2, has a total budget of €3.3 billion, with €1.638 billion (half the budget) coming from the European Commission’s ‘Horizon 2020’ – this is the EU’s framework programme for research and innovation – €1.425 billion from EFPIA companies, and up to €213 million from other life science industries or organisations.

IMI’s programs include its Ebola+ program, which was launched in response to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak that started in western Africa in 2014. The program houses eight separate projects, bringing together a total of over 40 partners from the pharmaceutical and diagnostics industries, public health bodies, academia, aid organisations, and small biotech companies in Europe, Africa and the United States. The Ebola+ program will continue for years to come to share information and expertise and identify efficiencies to tackle a wide range of challenges in Ebola research, including vaccines development, clinical trials, storage and transport, as well as the development of diagnostics and treatments.

Another important consortium, IMI’s EPAD, the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia, aims to tackle a disease for which there is still no cure and little in the way of treatments. The EPAD project, launched in September 2015, is pioneering a novel, more flexible approach to clinical trials of drugs designed to prevent Alzheimer’s dementia. By employing an ‘adaptive’ trial design, we hope to be able to deliver better results, faster and at lower cost.

In traditional clinical trials, half the people are given the drug under investigation and the other half placebo. Trials may last years and cost a lot of money. By contrast, in adaptive clinical trials, several candidate drugs are compared simultaneously to each other and to a placebo, meaning that more patients benefit from a potentially active treatment. Moreover, the trial can be adapted according to emerging results.

Similar to the Ebola+ program, EPAD harnesses the expertise of more than 36 organizations across Europe including universities, regulatory agencies, pharmaceutical companies and patient organizations. In contrast to several pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions pursuing their clinical trials’ program in isolation, this joint effort clearly has advantages: the identification and referral of the concerned patients is accelerated and several treatment options can be tested rapidly within one same trial.

The EPAD project does not operate alone. Together with IMI’s European Medical Information Framework-Alzheimer’s Disease (EMIF-AD) and AETIONOMY projects, it forms the IMI Alzheimer’s disease platform. EPAD also collaborates closely with other, similar initiatives worldwide, including the US-based Global Alzheimer’s Platform. What’s more, all data collected from the EPAD cohort and trial will be made available publicly for analysis to help researchers everywhere improve their understanding of the early, pre-dementia phase of Alzheimer’s disease.

Integrated approaches like these serve as important models of collaboration among sectors – including the imaging, medical devices, IT, diagnostic and animal health industries. By working together, we can speed up the development of an impressive range of resources to deploy against the many diseases and medical conditions that we have not been able to address until now.

Paul Stoffels

Dr. Paul Stoffels is Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson. In this role, he works with R&D leaders...
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