Rheumatoid arthritis one of many focuses of new drug innovation projects

New patient treatments for rheumatoid arthritis as well as cancer and infectious diseases, will be developed through eight new projects funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a public-private partnership between the European Union and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). These eight new projects are the second wave of major investments made by the IMI in a Joint Technology Initiative funded under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). This brings the number of up-and-running projects to 23. A total of EUR 450 million has now been earmarked for the research and development of innovative drugs in Europe.

"The uniqueness of what IMI is doing to facilitate innovation in the biopharmaceutical sector is the scale of the collaborative research now being undertaken and it is changing how drug development happens," says Michel Goldman, Executive Director of IMI. "It is clear that IMI is performing a vital role in working towards finding better solutions for patients across Europe."

The focus is very much on collaborative research, as all the projects funded by the IMI and the EFPIA involve consortiums drawn from all over Europe. This means that each project is made up of different research groups from pharmaceutical companies, academic teams, small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and patient organisations. The 8 new projects, with a total budget of EUR 172 million, involve 103 academic teams, 23 SMEs and 2 patient organisations, all working towards the overarching aim of the second call for projects; they are developing treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and infectious diseases.

One of the eight new projects is 'Be the cure' (BTCURE), which aims to develop new therapies against rheumatoid arthritis. With a total budget of EUR 38 million and 34 partners from all over Europe, it is hoped that by combining academic and industrial resources, basic understanding of disease processes and therapeutic development will be enhanced.

"BTCURE will study the molecular mechanisms that drive development of disease persistency in rheumatoid arthritis. By doing so we expect to separate the different forms of rheumatoid arthritis and develop new curative treatments in contrast to current symptom modifying treatments," says Tom Huizinga, Professor at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands and one of the two academic coordinators of the BTCURE consortium.

By uncovering the disease causing molecular events which make up the early forms of the disease, functional deterioration can be slowed down and immunity re-regulated, which could in turn lead to a cure. Developing tools to separate the different forms of the disease is also a key aim of the BTCURE consortium, as outlined by Lars Klareskog, Professor at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Managing Coordinator of the project.

The researchers will take samples from biobanks and analyse them in vitro - a controlled environment experiment. From these results, models of the different variants of the disease will be established.

Three other projects, 'New models for preclinical evaluation of drug efficacy in common solid tumours' (PREDECT), 'Methods for systematic next generation oncology biomarker development' (ONCOTRACK), and 'Quantitive imaging in cancer: connecting cellular processes with therapy' (QUIC-CONCEPT), all focus on developing better tools for detecting and treating lung, prostate, ovarian, breast and colon cancers. 'Drug disease model resources' (DDMORE), 'The open pharmacological concepts triple store' (OPEN-PHACTS) and 'Electronic health records systems for clinical research' (EHR4CR) will develop new methods dedicated to common standards and sharing data for more efficient drug development and patient treatments; researchers working on the 'Development of rapid point-of-care test platforms for infectious diseases' (RAPP-ID project) will develop a trustworthy point-of-care test which could rapidly detect tuberculosis.

The call for tender process for the third wave of projects is currently underway. This time the projects will focus on autism, tuberculosis, diabetes and the safety of drugs and vaccines.

This type of public-private collaboration can deliver results which make a remarkable difference to how drugs are developed as well as improve the efficiency of pharmaceutical companies, according to the partnership's architects.

M√°ire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science said: "By speeding up drug development across Europe, the investments made by the IMI will ultimately save and improve lives, as well as making a major contribution to the Innovation Union and to growth and jobs."

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