Nanomedicine: Open Innovation

Nanotechnology now plays a significant role in developing many new medical solutions, including cancer. The European Technology Platform on Nanomedicine (ETPN) was established in 2006 to investigate and advance joint activities in the area of nanotechnology in medicine.

Nicolas Gouze, Secretariat at the ETPN, spoke to Horizon2020projects.com about the organisation’s white paper, ‘Contribution of Nanomedicine to Horizon 2020’.

What is the background of the ETPN?

The ETPN is a joint venture between the European Commission and large industrial companies, SMEs and academic research institutions. The ETPN counts today over than 120 active members organised in thematic working groups covering scientific areas (nanodiagnostics, nanotherapeutics and regenerative medicine) and horizontal issues (business opportunities, translation, regulation, toxicology, education, ethics). The ETPN co-operates with healthcare industry organisations to bring together EU, national and private resources to create an SME-based supply chain for innovative therapeutics and diagnostics, support innovation and keep production and high tech jobs in Europe for the benefit of both economy and patients.

To what extent do you believe nanomedicine projects will receive adequate funding under Horizon 2020?

Our white paper lays the groundwork to manage the efficient translation of nanotechnology from a Key Enabling Technology (KET) into new and innovative medical products. Under the Industrial Leadership pillar of Horizon 2020, the nanomedicine KET will affect different medical developments in the three main areas: therapeutics, diagnostics/imaging and regenerative medicine. The mapping of nanotechnology research in these areas to diseases is at the heart of the definition of strategic research priorities. Furthermore leveraging innovation via new translational infrastructures will keep research in Europe and contribute to reindustrialisation by making the EU more competitive in nanomedicine development.

Education and validation of excellent technologies are addressed in the Excellent Science pillar. By suggesting new topics for world class research and supporting decision making for the evaluation of projects proposals, ETPN experts promote the cross-fertilisation of knowledge and the de-risk of R&D.

The Societal Challenges pillar provides a route to the market on which the ETPN strives for the optimisation of the interface with the private sector, especially large companies, by suggesting research topics, highlighting high potential nanomedical technologies and participating in R&D consortia for calls.

What barriers to you believe the industry faces that prevent new products coming to market?

The nanomedicine platform has identified a certain number of challenges that need to be addressed to create a favourable ecosystem for the development and deployment of nanomedicine in Europe. Challenges include significantly improving the link between academia, industry, clinics and regulatory agencies, as well as creating and sustaining a continuous R&D supply chain from inventions to commercial take up. Also of interest is the setting up of integrated infrastructures to assist SMEs and academia to commercialise their innovations; providing advisory, educational, financial channels for early stage clinical proof of concept; and the better selection of preclinical projects according their translational potential and market needs. Finally, filling the pipeline with innovative medical products enabled by nanotechnologies and the set-up of dedicated funding schemes for discovery projects and innovative SMEs to keep excellence in research and development are also important.

How easy do you believe it will be to develop an open innovation supply chain for the sector in Europe?

Much has changed in the last decade in healthcare companies with the result that pharmaceutical companies are moving to a global open innovation model and a reduction in their own research capacities, especially in Europe. With revenues under pressure and their pipeline of new products unable to provide the income to support the headcount without a loss of jobs, many of the large pharmaceutical companies have now radically changed and embraced in-licensing and Open Innovation (OI) to try to lower costs and to raise innovation standards.

One consequence of this move is the cut in R&D staff in Europe’s research centres and an investment in business development with the aim of technology scouting and in-licensing from academia or SMEs. This global strategy aims to recognise novel putative products or concepts, from SMEs and academics, wherever they originate in the world. The advantage for large pharmaceutical (or diagnostic) companies is that it does not require early investment of resources, just the use of the knowledge of what makes a good potential marketable product. However, this OI concept will only succeed in Europe if projects from the emerging healthcare supply chain of SMEs are developable.

The car industry in Europe has seen similar dramatic changes and struggled to compete until a new business model was established, i.e. the setting up of a globally competitive supply chain of SMEs. Consequently, the car industry has evolved to keep a large part of its manufacturing in Europe.

An analogous supply chain is needed in Europe to provide the ideas to feed into the healthcare supply chain. An ideal scenario would consist of innovative SMEs testing the initial clinical proof of concept of new nanomedicines and, if successful, transferring their proof-of-concept projects to large companies, which remain the only financially and technically capable organisations to bring them onto the market. Yet the difficulty of such a change in ideas and processes in Europe is that a change in academia is compounded by the lack of exposure to OI ideas and the strength of academia’s perception of ‘freedom of research’. To overcome this, it will be necessary to inform academia and SMEs about the rules and principles of translational research, introduce course elements on translation/innovation in undergraduate courses in Europe and increase visibility of selected SMEs with translatable products, to large companies. It will also be necessary to involve large companies in the evaluation, selection and tutoring of translational projects under development in SMEs and academia. Only genuinely translational projects should be funded if described as such.

Recently, BIND Biosciences, a US-based nanomedicine company, has announced agreements with Amgen, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca. These recent ‘big deals’, amounting to approximately $1bn (~€770m), reveal the real economic potential of nanomedicine (although economic outputs are still too limited compared to research being performed in Europe). Nanomedicine is thereby no longer a researcher’s fantasy but is continuously gaining interest from large pharmaceutical industry, thereby stating its unique benefits for the medical sector and the patients.

The white paper can be read in full here.

Nicolas Gouze

European Technology Platform on Nanomedicine