European Drug Research Takes on A Wider Perspective

One of the novelties of the year ahead will be the inception of the European Union's new multi-billion public private partnership for drug research, the Innovative Health Initiative, which is expected to launch its first call for proposals in early 2022.

IHI is the successor to the EU's Innovative Medicines Initiative, which has ploughed billions into nearly 200 projects in early drug research over the last 15 years and acquired in the process a reputation for effective collaboration between commercial pharmaceutical companies and public authorities. The difference between the old IMI and the new IHI is a widened membership, with a deliberately more comprehensive approach to drug development that aims to take account of the changes since the early years of the century, and bringing on board the medical technology, biotechnology, digital health, and vaccine industries.

The concept is a response to science driving new avenues of interdisciplinary research and development within the life-science community, increasing the importance of cross-sectoral discoveries based on medical device / drug combinations, diagnostics deploying artificial intelligence, digital health, big data, and imaging. That is why the initial IMI membership—EFPIA, bringing together the research-based drug industry in Europe, and the European Commission—has been expanded to include four other associations—COCIR, for the medical equipment industry, MedTech for the devices sector, EuropaBio for the biopharma sector, and Vaccines Europe. These partners will cooperate with universities, companies of all sizes, patients, regulators, and other stakeholders, allowing organizations that want to support specific areas of research to become contributing partners.

The IHI vision is to promote Europe at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary, sustainable, patient-centric health research and innovation, and its declared goal is to translate health research and innovation into real benefits for patients and societies. It claims to offer – in addition to access to funding—access to new networks and partnerships, to knowledge and resources at the cutting edge of cross-sector health research and innovation, with early access to project results, and reputation.

A Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda details the areas IHI should work on and helps to guide IHI’s decisions on which ideas should be turned into call topics. A science and innovation advisory body will bring together the scientific community and the wider health sector, such as regulatory bodies, patients, and end users, as well as representatives of the European Commission and the industry partners. It may also invite additional ad-hoc experts to join in discussions of specific subjects. The agenda will have an additional focus on disease prevention and on seeking a better understanding of the determinants of health and priority disease areas. Its $3 billion budget for 2021-2027 is funded jointly by the EU and by industry associations representing Europe’s life science industries, primarily through 'in-kind' contributions. Like IMI, IHI will work by running open, competitive calls for proposals, publishing draft topic texts before the call launch to give applicants time to work on their proposals. And the executive director until September 15, 2022, is Dr Pierre Meulien, who has been head of IMI for the last decade.