IMI-Projects with Israeli Participation
IMI-Projects with Israeli Participation : Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI 2)
Israeli Partner - Tel Aviv (Sourasky) Medical Center (TASMC)
NEWMEDS - Novel Methods leading to New Medications in Depression and Schizophrenia - is an international consortium of scientists that has launched one of the largest ever research academic-industry collaboration projects to find new methods for the development of drugs for schizophrenia and depression. NEWMEDS brought together top scientists from academic institutions with a wide range of expertise, and partners them with nearly all major biopharmaceutical companies. The project has focussed on developing new animal models which use brain recording and behavioural tests to identify innovative and effective drugs for schizophrenia. NEWMEDS has developed standardised paradigms, acquisition and analysis techniques to apply brain imaging, especially fMRI and PET imaging to drug development. It has examined how new genetic findings (duplication and deletion or changes in genes) influence the response to various drugs and whether this information can be used to choose the right drug for the right patient. And finally, it has developed new approaches for shorter and more efficient trials of new medication – trials that may require fewer patients and give faster results. Please press start to view a short film during the Final Meeting on the legacies of the project.
Israeli Partner - Bar Ilan University
ABIRISK Anti-Biopharmaceutical Immunization: Prediction and Analysis of Clinical Relevance to Minimize the Risk .Goals-to provide clear definitions around terms and concepts related to immunogenicity, its prediction and associated clinical events.
Israeli Partner - Rambam Medical Center
BioVacSafe Biomarkers for Enhanced Vaccine Immunosafety .Since their discovery, vaccines have protected millions of people worldwide from a broad range of infectious diseases, making them one of the most effective public health interventions out. New and better vaccines are still urgently needed, yet their introduction is hampered by lengthy and expensive vaccine safety testing procedures. The aim of the IMI-funded BIOVACSAFE project is to develop cutting edge tools to speed up and improve the testing and monitoring of vaccine safety, both before and after release to the market. By bringing together Europe’s top industrial and academic teams for the first time, the project will ultimately usher in a new generation of safer, more effective vaccines.
Israeli Partner - ImmunArrray, Rehovot
COMBACTE Combatting Bacterial Resistance in Europe .Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a growing problem worldwide, and with few new drugs making it to the market, there is an urgent need for new medicines to treat resistant infections. Enter the IMI-funded COMBACTE project, which aims to give antibiotic drug development a much-needed boost by pioneering new ways of designing and implementing efficient clinical trials for novel antibiotics. COMBACTE forms part of the New Drugs for Bad Bugs (ND4BB) initiative, IMI’s wider programme to tackle AMR.
Israeli Participant - Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center
COMBACTE-CARE Combatting Bacterial Resistance in Europe - Carbapenem Resistance .Infections caused by bacteria known as ‘carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae’ (CRE) are resistant to most available antibiotics and are so difficult to treat they are considered to be one of the most dangerous drug-resistant bacteria in the world. Worryingly, cases of CRE infections are on the rise in Europe and globally. The COMBACTE-CARE project aims to shed new light on the best ways to understand and treat CRE infections. It will also run clinical trials of a novel antibiotic combination product designed to tackle a sub-type of CRE infections for which there are limited or no treatment options.
Israeli Particicpant - The Health Corporation – Rambam/Tel-Aviv Souraski Medicai Center
DDMoRe Drug Disease Model Resources .Model based-drug development (MBDD) is accepted as a vital approach in understanding patient risk/benefit and attrition. At the core of MBDD lies Modelling and Simulation (M&S), a technology providing the basis for informed, quantitative decision-making.
Israeli Participant - Optimata Ltd.
DRIVE-AB Driving re-investment in R&D and responsible antibiotic use .There is a contradiction at the heart of antibiotic development. On the one hand, we urgently need new antibiotics to treat resistant infections. At the same time, the use of new antibiotics should be restricted, so as to minimise the risk of bacteria developing resistance to them. As a result of this situation, the potential return on investment is much lower than in most other medical fields. DRIVE-AB is developing concrete recommendations for new economic models that would provide industry with an incentive to invest in this area while reconciling this with the need to use new antibiotics wisely.
Israeli participant - Tel-Aviv Souraski MedicaI Center
STEMBANCC Stem cells for biological assays of novel drugs and predictive toxicology .The aim of the STEMBANCC project is to generate and characterise 1 500 high quality human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines that can be used by researchers to study a range of diseases, including diabetes and dementia, and test for drug efficacy and safety. The cell lines will help to improve and speed up the drug development process, and ensure that patients benefit from more effective and safer drugs.
Israeli Participant - Tel Aviv University//Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Getting ready for 5G :The team behind CogNet predicts that there will be 11.5 billion mobile-ready devices in the world by 2020, as well as more connected devices. But the current mobile and wireless bandwidth will not be able to cope with Europe’s ever-increasing data demands. The CogNet solution? Automatic network management through machine learning algorithms.
By applying machine learning to network data, the team plans to make it possible for the network to yield insights, recognise events and conditions (increased demand, errors, fraud etc.) and to respond to them. The technology will be of particular interest for large-scale 5G deployments.
In addition to developing more dynamic network topologies, the project is also targeting improved quality of service and lower capital and operational costs through improved efficiency.
CogNet will also seek to cut energy use, enabling the network to switch to using cheaper or greener energy when available.
Nanoparticles that detect early-stage pancreatic cancer :
Pancreatic cancer is one of the hardest cancers to detect, making survival rates very low. The EU-funded SaveMe project has engineered nanoparticles that find the cancer using receptors for the tumour cells’ unique biological signal – a step towards early detection.
Many common cancers are now treatable with radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery. But the 5-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer is still less than 5%, in part because it is difficult to detect early, according to the World Health Organization. The cancer has few unique early-stage symptoms and none that are easy to spot, while the pancreas’ location deep in the abdomen often hides tumours from conventional imaging.
The SaveMe project has engineered nanoparticles – particles less than 100 000 billionths of a metre across – that could one day improve early detection. The EU-funded project’s team has shown it is possible both to create nanoparticles that can home in on cancer cells in the lab and to track these nanoparticles with standard imaging tools. Research is still at the pre-clinical stage but together, these results could lead to earlier treatment and more precise surgery.
“Early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer has a major positive impact on outcomes,” says SaveMe project coordinator Louis Shenkman from Tel-Aviv University. This is because pancreatic tumours can only be removed successfully by surgery when they are small. At later stages, they spread to essential organs such as the liver and no longer respond to chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
SaveMe’s nanoparticles work by recognising the unique chemical signature of pancreatic tumours. The project team built a core nanoparticle, to which they attached molecules attracted to receptor proteins found only on the surface of pancreatic tumours.
Shenkman predicts that with this “decorating” manufacturing method, it could be possible to custom-build nanoparticles. Different patients have different receptors and it could be possible to attach tracking molecules tailored to a single patient. And if tumour cells mutate or grow, the nanoparticles could be adjusted to match each new type of tumour, he says.
If the technology reaches the stage of successful patient trials, the diagnostic system developed by SaveMe could also be used for other tumours. It would be especially useful for research into cancers that are currently difficult to diagnose, he adds. The nanoparticles use only biodegradable materials, so would be eliminated from the body after use.
As well as testing a new, personalised approach to detecting cancer, the team used their nanoparticle design to prove that two methods of shutting down pancreatic cancer cells could work in principle. The first method delivers small interfering RNA (siRNA - a version of one of the basic components of genes) into the tumour cells to switch off genes essential to their machinery. The second delivers antibodies to block the enzymes the cells produce for chemical reactions they need in order to function.
These concepts are attractive for researching an alternative to surgery because they would target only tumour cells, wherever they are, leaving the surrounding tissue unharmed. In contrast, surgery for pancreatic cancer is very complex and must be carried out before any tumour cells spread.
Adding to research knowledge
SaveMe’s researchers tested many different methods of making nanoparticles and different surface molecules to find the right nanoparticle composition for pancreatic cancer. In doing so, they created standardised methods of making each of these nanoparticle types that can be used to track and reproduce their results efficiently.
This generated extensive new data on how to synthesise different types of nanoparticles. These data are now available on the project website. Project members have also published over 30 articles on the project’s results in specialist journals and more are in the pipeline.
Computer modelling was another research tool advanced by the project. From existing software and research, the team created programs to predict tumour growth, blood flow and delivery rates of nanoparticles to the tumours. The final programs can apply to other bio-nanoparticles, assisting research in other projects.
Shenkman concludes: “We have developed an interesting platform for treating solid cancer … It is valid for any gene therapy that could use siRNA to deliver therapy into cells.”
“EU support for this project helped foster basic research in this field. This was a unique opportunity for different specialities to interact in a very effective manner.”
Delving into the depths of cortical space :
How does our brain figure out where we are in relation to our surroundings? The EU-funded project SPACEBRAIN shed light on this and other questions by exploring specific neural cells in the brain. The findings contributed to three of the team members being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2014..
In the 1970s, neuroscientist John O’Keefe discovered the so-called ‘place cell’, a type of neuron located in the hippocampus section of the brain. Place cells become active when we enter a particular place. In 2005, his colleagues May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser found another type of cell in the entorhinal cortex that they dubbed the ‘grid cell’. All three collaborated on the SPACEBRAIN project.
“Those cells provide a kind of matrix almost like a coordinate system that the brain uses to map location,” explains SPACEBRAIN coordinator and Nobel Prize laureate Edvard Moser of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “The aim was to try to understand better how these grid cells work, how they develop, talk to each other and work together to create a feeling of space.”
This is what the SPACEBRAIN consortium found: similar to place cells, grid cells fire, i.e. become active, at multiple specific positions in our environment. “When an animal walks around inside a box, the cell is only active in specific locations, but those specific locations form a hexagonal network all across space,” says Moser.
Drawing an internal map
This network is thought to be part of the brain’s metric or measurement system for space, which helps us judge distances and directions. Thousands and thousands of grid cells are constantly updated as we move around. If we move left, one set of grid cells is active, while another takes over if we move right or forward. Together grid, place, border, head-direction and the more recently discovered speed cells help our brain establish an internal map.
The SPACEBRAIN researchers proved that place cells and head-direction cells in animals develop very early on, almost as soon as they start moving around after birth. Grid cells are present at the same time but do not reach a mature state until 1-2 weeks later.
On top of this scientific progress and advances in computational modelling, SPACEBRAIN also made technical headway. The project developed microdrives for recording electrical activity in multiple brain locations simultaneously, and contributed to the development of technology for high-resolution imaging by means of tiny portable microscopes. Based on parallel work in other groups, the latter is becoming a standard imaging technique used in many labs the world over.
Insights into neurological and psychiatric diseases
But what do these findings mean? “Alzheimer’s disease in many cases starts in exactly the same brain area that contains these grid cells and this spatial network,” Moser explains. “If you understand how this brain area works, you may be able to also identify signs of Alzheimer very early on and then interfere before it is too late.”
Efforts to improve our understanding of how the brain computes information are ongoing, attempting to link psychological concepts such as memory and decision-making to their physiological counterparts. “Our work on cortical computations and neural networks is relevant to understanding all parts of the brain, especially the cortex,” Moser points out. “That’s relevant to all kinds of neurological and psychiatric diseases, so that the more long-term mission actually takes us far beyond Alzheimer’s.”
The Nobel Prize committee awarded half of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2014 to John O’Keefe and the other half to May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser “for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain". While these discoveries took place before the project, Edvard Moser still considers SPACEBRAIN an important step along the way: it offered the researchers an opportunity to collaborate closely, helping them to refine their understanding of these cells, and contributed to bridging the gap between theoretical/computational neuroscience and the rest of the field.
A boost for efficient, safe food production :
An EU-funded project has developed innovative technologies and techniques for recycling water, nutrients and by-products along the food supply chain – from horticulture to processing and on to shop shelves. These advances add up to big savings for producers and manufacturers, increase competitiveness, and benefit the environment.
A lot of natural resources – such as water, minerals in fertilisers, soil, and energy – go into crop cultivation and food processing to deliver the fruit and vegetables we eat. But this supply chain is very inefficient.
Some 20-50% of the nutrients and 30% of all food produced in Europe is wasted along the way, says researcher Willy Van Tongeren of TNO, the Netherlands-based organisation for applied scientific research and the coordinator of EU-funded project RESFOOD .
The project brought together research and industry partners to demonstrate ways the vegetable and fruit chain could recover valuable nutrients for reuse, reduce water use by 30-70%, achieve energy savings of 20-80%, and cut waste without any reduction in food quality and safety .
The three-year project has developed techniques to cultivate crops using recycled water and nutrients, and an industrial washer that dramatically reduces the amount of water needed to clean fresh-cut vegetables and fruit.
The project is also testing greener chemicals for disinfecting vegetables, processes to retrieve valuable nutrients from food waste, and a prototype device to detect food pathogens in less than two hours.
From the lab to the field
RESFOOD has scaled up the technologies and techniques it developed to field testing. In horticulture, the project developed a system to grow hydroponic crops in rows of gutters filled with water and nutrients. Instead of discharging used water, the system applies novel filtration techniques to remove accumulated salt and other contaminants. Nutrients such as potassium and nitrates are also recycled to reduce fertiliser consumption.
Partners are currently testing these technologies to grow hydroponic tomatoes using the gutter system in the Netherlands, and blackberries in Spain. Initial results indicate overall water use was cut by 35% on average, while fruit quality and yield was maintained, says Van Tongeren.
Washing fresh-cut produce
For processors of fresh-cut produce, RESFOOD has provided a new washing machine that reduces water and energy use by 25-50%, Van Tongeren says. The machine uses membrane filtration to clean the water, which is then reused.
For most cut produce, the wash water temperature is cooled to about 2-4°C to maintain freshness and limit bacterial growth. Reusing the already cooled water means less energy is spent to maintain temperature after it is filtered compared to cooling down a new vat of wash water.
Vega Mayor in Spain is testing the washer in a processing plant to clean pre-cut, ready-to-use salad. Kronen in Germany plans to put the first machines on the market shortly. Netherlands-based Vezet is testing a water recycling system on freshly chopped vegetables, by combining existing technologies. If the tests are successful, the system could be introduced to the market soon, says Van Tongeren.
New chemicals for disinfecting produce
In parallel, RESFOOD’s partners are testing a peroxyacetic, acid-based sanitiser and chlorine dioxide as alternatives to the chlorine wash widely used as a disinfectant. Industry faces increasing pressure to find alternatives to chlorine – which is currently banned as a wash for produce in some European countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium.
Vegetable and fruit processors will also be able to take advantage of the tests RESFOOD has carried out on technologies to recover valuable materials from by-products, such as carotenoids, alkaloids, pectin and polyphenols.
The results are promising for extracting by-products from processing endives, carrots and apple pomace. Other by-products can be used for animal feed or to produce bioenergy.
Fast pathogen detector
RESFOOD also developed a prototype fast detection device for food pathogens, to help producers and processors maintain safety. Conventional testing can take up to one day to deliver results – smaller processors often have to send samples to a lab outside their premises. The RESFOOD device is designed to be used on a production line, representing huge time and cost savings for farmers and processors. The device needs further development before it is ready for the market, says Van Tongeren.
Summing up he adds: “These new technologies and technologies add up to market opportunities for small businesses. They will also boost consumer confidence in sustainable food production and food safety.”
Video games or exercise for stroke rehab?:
Would you rather squeeze a ball to exercise your weaker hand or play video games? An EU-funded project tested the concept on a group of patients in Israel recovering after a stroke. The idea was unanimously popular and also saw patients working harder – without realising it – than during traditional rehabilitation exercises.
In the EU and the 12 countries associated to its research programmes, 1.1 million people suffer a stroke every year. Today there are currently six million individuals who have had a stroke living in these countries.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is interrupted, causing damage to the brain. The abilities controlled by that part of the brain, such as muscle control, sensation and memory are then lost or impaired.
People who have sustained a stroke are given immediate hospital treatment, but once discharged, many are not active enough, says occupational therapist and coordinator of the VR STROKE project, Dr Debbie Rand. At the chronic stage (more than six months after the stroke), many have completed their rehabilitation programmes, but have not fully regained their movement or independence in everyday life. This limited function leads to insufficient activity.
Many people can live for a very long time following a stroke. But without maintaining a level of activity, physical and mental functions can deteriorate, potentially impacting on quality of life, and perhaps leading to a further stroke and hospitalisation.
The goal of any stroke rehabilitation programme is to stimulate movement and cognitive function. By putting video games on the programme, Rand and her colleagues Drs Weingarden and Zeilig at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center, also in Israel, were also trying to introduce elements of fun and motivation.
To test whether fun would also translate into results, stroke patients were divided into two groups; one followed a conventional rehabilitation programme, while the other became acquainted with video consoles.
Five different consoles were used, with off-the-shelf games and one system designed specifically for rehabilitation. Games varied, including bowling, table tennis and others.
In the first stage of the study, individuals went to the rehab centre twice weekly for three months to play at work stations in groups. “This was the first time video games had been used in a group setting. The idea was to add to the fun, to make it sustainable and keep the individuals active for a long time,” explains Rand.
During the second stage, individuals were given their own console at home with the instruction that they should play for one hour each day.
Progress through play
While the patients were focusing on scoring points and moving up a level, they were also pushing themselves physically through arm and hand movements. As they played the games standing up, they were also working on balance and trunk control.
Essentially they were working hard (harder than those following the conventional programme, the results showed), but as they were playing, they were oblivious to this, says Rand. And not once did the gamers take a break while the therapist’s back was turned (a temptation well known to many therapists and witnessed in the traditional group).
The results confirmed that video games are indeed an effective form of rehabilitation. Gait speed and grip strength in both hands improved. The functionality gained was no greater in the gaming group than in the other, but levels of contentment certainly were. All participants, from the youngest at 29 to the oldest at 78, reported enjoying the video games very much. This is likely due to the competition, the music and the motivating games, says Rand.
“You can do boring exercises and improve, or you can play fun games and improve,” she says of the results.
Rand has already presented her results at conferences and reports very positive feedback. But her work is not yet over. “I have also been playing with touchscreen tablets to see whether they’re suitable for rehabilitation,” she reports. A pilot study is underway at the same hospital, testing impact on finger and hand movement.
The methods studied by Rand could also be used for other types of rehabilitation, and in particular with those who have suffered a brain injury. Meanwhile clinicians in South America plan to adapt Rand’s approach and use video games in a group setting to treat people with Parkinson’s disease.
Sustainable transport – pass it on :
Could it be easier and greener to travel around your city? A solution might already exist. People around the world are coming up with clever ideas for low-carbon, high-quality transport. An EU-funded project helps cities learn from the best.
If you’re ever stuck in a city traffic jam, do you wonder how other cities deal with the problem? Moving people and goods more sustainably can cut pollution, save energy and boost the economy. So rather than reinventing the wheel, why not borrow good ideas?
The SOLUTIONS project is helping cities in Europe, Asia and Latin America to adopt proven policies and technology on six themes: public transport, transport infrastructure, city logistics, network and mobility management, integrated planning and clean vehicles. Started in 2013, it supports five partnerships between cities with successful policies and cities that want to improve in similar areas, while offering training and advice to other cities.
“Cities can learn a lot from sharing expertise and taking home new solutions to their own transport issues,” says project coordinator Oliver Lah of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, based in Germany.
He adds that learning from other cities can limit CO2 emissions and generate many synergies with other sustainable development objectives. “A project like this helps avoid the mistakes of the past, leapfrogging emerging economies to sustainability.” And the project’s networking approach can reveal business opportunities and streamline development funding, he notes.
Two cities are already close to implementing schemes supported by SOLUTIONS. Bremen in Germany has shown Belo-Horizonte in Brazil how to boost cycling through cycle sharing, infrastructure and road safety measures. Kochin in India is considering integrating its new metro system with water transport and other low-carbon transport options – such as cycling and electric three-wheelers – mentored by the Chinese city of Hangzhou.
Other cities are using the experience-sharing network and training to make their own mobility more sustainable. They are assisted in this by the project’s catalogue of over 60 successful transport measures from around the world, as well as knowledge-sharing kits and policy implementation kits.
To build its core network, the project launched a call in 2013 for cities to join. “In selecting the cities, we looked at policy implications, regional distribution, the maturity of the policy process and their commitment to improving transport,” says Lah.
Five of the 19 successful cities were chosen as leading cities, to act as mentors on transport policies; five were designated as take-up cities, looking for solutions to existing problems. Leading and take-up cities paired off in twinning workshops, according to their transport interests and other similarities, such as size. Each pair then picked measures for the take-up city from policies suggested by the project members.
“The project is more sustainable if the parties choose their own solutions,” says Lah.
Support for cities during the take-up process includes advice from lead city peers and SOLUTIONS experts in the form of on-call advice, targeted policy analysis and visits to the lead city.
Policymakers from the remaining nine cities receive policy advice and attend regular workshops to share knowledge and build their capacity to develop sustainable mobility measures.
Online training courses and materials covering one or all of the research themes are also available on the project’s website, along with links to related EU-funded projects. Meanwhile, academic publications and urban transport events are providing a wider platform for the project’s results.
One outcome of this sharing is the Urban Mobility SOLUTIONS Network , to be launched early next year, which will sustain the partnerships established in the project and include a focus group on transport research in Mediterranean partner countries. Together with the partner UN HABITAT – the UN’s programme for human settlements, SOLUTIONS has also developed the Urban Electric Mobility Initiative (UEMI) to promote electric mobility in urban areas. UEMI was launched at the UN Climate Summit in 2014 and progress will be presented at the UN Climate Conference (COP 21) in Paris in late 2015.
Although SOLUTIONS will end in 2016, Lah expects the city networks and partnerships to carry on after that date to share ideas and work together for more sustainable transport.
Nanotechnology for the nose: scented video games :
Controlled odour emission could transform video games and television viewing experiences and benefit industries such as pest control and medicine. The NANOSMELL project aims to switch smells on and off by tagging artificial odorants with nanoparticles exposed to electromagnetic field.
The ‘smellyvision’ – a TV that offers olfactory as well as visual stimulation – has been a science fiction staple for years. However, realising this concept has proved difficult given the sheer complexity of how smell works and the technical challenges of emitting odours on demand.
NANOSMELL will specifically address these two challenges by developing artificial smells that can be switched on and off remotely. This would be achieved by tagging specific DNA-based artificial odorants – chemical compounds that give off smells – with nanoparticles that respond to external electromagnetic fields.
With the ability to remotely control these artificial odours, the project team would then be able to examine exactly how olfactory receptors respond. Sensory imaging to investigate the patterns of neural activity and behavioural tests will be carried out in animals.
The project would next apply artificial odorants to the human olfactory system and measure perceptions by switching artificial smells on and off. Researchers will also assess whether artificial odorants have a role to play in wound healing by placing olfactory receptors in skin.
The researchers aim to develop controllable odour-emitting components that will further understanding of smell and open the door to novel odour-emitting applications in fields ranging from entertainment to medicine.
Marine bioresources – keeping us young and healthy? :
Could creatures of the deep help treat disease and keep us looking young? A team of EU-funded researchers thinks so. To overcome current bottlenecks in taking marine-derived biomolecules from discovery to exploitation, researchers will assess the potential of animals such as sponges, soft corals and tunicates.
The TASCMAR team plans to collect marine invertebrates and their symbionts (organisms which live inside/on the animal, with mutual benefit) from a depth of between 30 and 100 metres in the Indian Ocean, the Andaman Sea, the Gulf of Thailand, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Researchers will then seek to extract molecules with potentially powerful anti-ageing bioactivity.
These 'new' compounds could be ingredients for new medical drugs without harmful side effects, nutraceuticals (e.g. dietary supplements), cosmetic products and technologies for bioremediation – a form of waste management that uses organisms to remove pollutants. A selection of in-vitro, cell-based and in-vivo tests will be used to identify substances with anti-ageing properties.
To ensure supply of any valuable compounds, the team plans to build pilot-scale equipment for their cultivation.
With sustainability in mind, all activities will be assessed for societal, economic and environmental impact.