IMI Impact: progress driven by partnership (Guest blog)
Some challenges are too big to take on alone. Just look at the pandemic. No company, no government, no academic or civil society group has the intellectual capacity or financial firepower to respond. Every inch of progress has been achieved through collaboration – between governments, between companies and through public-private partnerships.
For the more than 5,000 participants in IMI projects, this lesson was learned by working with others on one of the 167 projects that have been funded through IMI1 and IMI2 since 2008. Together, academics, patient organisations, regulators, SMEs and established companies have transformed a budget of €5.3 billion into a wealth of innovative tools designed to improve the lives of people in the EU.
From an industry perspective, this experience has been hugely enriching. Not only have more than 160 research-driven companies worked hand-in-hand with 40 patient associations and 600 public sector researchers, but they also found fresh ways to set aside traditional competitive instincts. A typical IMI project involves 10 companies focused on a shared mission to remove research bottlenecks. The benefits of their success will be enjoyed by all.
IMI is an admirable example of uniting multiple stakeholder groups and producing tangible impacts, raising the status of EU health research and innovation. Projects bring additional benefits to EU competitiveness and Europe’s role as a global innovation leader. 70% of IMI projects include education and training activities, supporting the development of a highly skilled workforce.
The reputation of European research has been boosted by the publication of high-impact peer-reviewed papers written by IMI scientists. Based on how frequently they are cited, IMI papers are on the top 10% of academic literature. This is further evidence that collaboration drives quality.
Delivering for patientsThe collaborative spirit and vision that define the IMI offer hope that unmet needs can be addressed by bridging medical research programmes and public health priorities. The IMI Scientific Committee requires that projects have a clear public health benefit, while the IMI Strategic Agenda is designed to address the EU’s health research priorities and the WHO’s Priority Medicines for Europe and the World report.
By focusing on what matters to our societies, IMI researchers are working together to address unmet needs in areas where demand is high and rising, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and vaccination. At the same time, scientists are aiming to deliver meaningful benefits in some of the most challenging fields in 21st century medicine, including antimicrobial resistance, Alzheimer’s disease and rare diseases.
Many of the IMI’s key projects are improving the research and development (R&D) process as a whole by, for example, increasing the success rate of clinical trials. Making medicines development more efficient through the use of biomarkers and safety checks in early testing can get new therapies to patients more quickly and ensure resources are used wisely.
Concrete resultsWhile IMI projects can deliver benefits that move medicines development forward, but may not yet be tangible, many also lead to specific tools that are now in use. Take biomarkers, for example. IMI1 projects explored 2,863 biomarkers in oncology, asthma and neurodegenerative diseases. By improving diagnosis and clinical understanding of disease progression, these biomarkers have the potential to reduce the cost and duration of clinical studies.
Similarly, the 784 laboratory and computerised models used in Alzheimer’s, diabetes and vaccines help to save time and increase the safety of medical research by better predicting responses to treatment. They also support the wider goal of reducing the need for animal testing.
Some of the biggest steps forward come from deepening our collective understanding of the body and mechanisms of disease. A total of 238 potential drug targets and delivery systems have been identified by IMI researchers to date, potentially unlocking further advances in the years ahead.
New infrastructure, including biobanks and database, assays and software tools, and best practice guidelines will further raise standards of research and care across Europe. The same can be said of collaborative projects that streamline regulatory pathways – potentially bringing patients the new therapies they need more quickly.
Just the beginning The full impact of IMI projects will take time to evolve, but many have already shown great promise. While these cover a diverse range of disease areas, they share a common feature: behind every success story is a unique partnership. Together, the combined efforts of European scientists can bring benefits to society and strive to make the EU a leader in medical innovation.