With the launch of its first call for proposals, the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) got underway on 30 April. Joining forces, the European Commission and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) hope to bring Europe back to the forefront of medical innovation.

Over the next five years, those two primary partners in the IMI Joint Undertaking (IMI JU) will invest €1 billion each, with an initial €123 million being channelled into research projects already in the 2008 funding period.

Following ARTEMIS (Embedded Computing Systems), ENIAC (Nanoelectronics Technologies 2020) and Clean Sky (Aeronautics and Air Transport), IMI is the fourth Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) to be launched.

IMI's scientific priorities determined by the European Commission and the EFPIA for this first call for proposals are the following:

  • improve predictivity of immunogenicity;
  • non-genotoxic carcinogenesis;
  • expert systems for in silico toxicity prediction;
  • improved predictivity of non-clinical safety evaluation;
  • qualification of translational safety biomarkers;
  • strengthening the monitoring of the benefit/risk of medicines;
  • islet cell research;
  • surrogate markers for vascular endpoints;
  • pain research;
  • new tools for the development of novel therapies in psychiatric disorders;
  • neurodegenerative disorders;
  • understanding severe asthma;
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patient recorded outcomes;
  • European Medicines Research Training Network;
  • safety sciences for medicines training programme;
  • pharmaceutical medicine training programme;
  • integrated medicines development training programme;
  • pharmacovigilance training programme.

EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik in his speech expressed the hope that as many stakeholders as possible would get involved in the initiative in order to 'make Europe a very attractive place for pharmaceutical research and development' once again.

Europe's pharmaceutical industry still produces 35% of the world's pharmaceutical output, making it the second largest player in medicines manufacturing behind the US. The industry is also an important contributor to the European labour market: In 2004, the number of employed exceeded 612,000 with 103,000 highly-skilled employees in the research area.

However, Europe has lost a lot of ground in the area in recent years. Commissioner Potocnik stressed the fact that Europe once used to be called 'the world's pharmacy' with seven out of ten new medicines developed and produced in Europe some ten years ago. Today, however, a mere three out of ten new medicines come from Europe.

"IMI is about pooling public and private efforts so that Europe can be a big player," Mr Potocnik underlined. "We want to be the best in the world and become a champion's league for biopharmaceutical research by moving from individual project-funding to joint programme funding involving industry and public stakeholders."

Speaking on behalf of the EFPIA, the federation's president Arthur Higgins pointed out that there is a growing concern in society about the need to spark pharmaceutical innovation. At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry is faced with increasing regulatory hurdles in a strategy of risk avoidance, he said, adding that "there cannot be therapeutic roses without thorns."

Meanwhile, the average cost for bringing a pharmaceutical product to the market has risen to approximately €1 billion. In addition, the challenges in biomedical sciences were increasingly more complex. "We are the first to admit that we cannot solve all of these problems alone," said Mr Higgins. He therefore called on all stakeholders including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), academia, research centres, patient groups, public authorities and the research-based pharmaceutical industry to actively participate in new JTI.

For further information, please visit: http://imi.europa.eu/

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