The end of the dead end
In addition to excellent brainpower, the development of effective cancer medicines requires hospitals and a little help from the pharmaceutical industry. Researchers at the Meilahti Medical Campus have a plan to put all of these together.
Cancer researchers Juha Klefström and Emmy Verschuren have long been concerned about major efforts in high quality medical research not resulting in better cancer treatments. After an initial rush of breakthrough drugs, the pharmaceutical industry is finding that increased investment in product development is not resulting in new, more effective drugs.
Klefström and Verschuren, formerly colleagues in the San Francisco Bay Area, decided to join forces in Finland to address this bottleneck in drug development.
The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) – a joint funding organisation of the European Union and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) –is an establishment that identifies key pharmaceutical issues in need of comprehensive solutions by researchers. Its panel of experts evaluates the proposals sent to IMI in response to each call and invites the winning team to create a public-private partnership with industry partners.
PREDECT, the project coordinated by Verschuren, got the nod from IMI and was launched last autumn to address why 90 percent of drugs in clinical trials prove ineffective.
“We aim to create new cell and animal models that will better predict how cancer drugs will behave in clinical trials. This would make it possible to eliminate ineffective drugs at the beginning of the drug discovery process, reducing cost and effort,” Verschuren explains.
“We could never achieve this on our own, but we may be able to succeed by collaborating with pharmaceutical companies. Although all of our members have their own agendas and interests, we have one common goal: to fight cancer,” says Klefström.
The consortium consists of nine universities, three biotechnology companies and nine pharmaceutical companies. Three departments from the University of Helsinki are participating: the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) and the Institute of Biomedicine, with which Verschuren and Klefström are affiliated, as well as the Haartman Institute.
According to Klefström, IMI funding is not necessarily that rewarding if you only take the money into consideration. “If you simply wish to fund your research, I would advise against IMI grants. However, if you believe that your goals can only be achieved through fruitful collaboration, then IMI funding pays off.” The postdoctoral research fellows in the consortium will spend part of their time working in the pharmaceutical industry, developing into a new generation of researchers skilled at collaborating with industry.
According to Verschuren, the project has attracted a great deal of international attention, putting Finland in the spotlight of pharmaceutical research. “The future of science will rely on these types of partnership models.”
Text: Reetta Vairimaa
Photo: Veikko Somerpuro
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications
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