23 december 2016

CSR “North-West” and Three Leading Russian Universities Signed Agreement on Establishment of the Alliance of Translational Medicine

The Alliance of Translational Medicine was established on December 20, 2016. The consortium agreement was signed by universities – participants of the Global Leadership Project 5-100 : National Research Lobachevsky State University of Nizhni Novgorod (UNN), National Research Nuclear University "MEPhI", National Research Tomsk State University (TSU) and the Center for Strategic Research “North-West” Foundation.

The alliance should propel Russian science to the global scientific and technological leadership in the breakthrough areas of biomedicine. Joint technology programs will be launched with industrial partners from dynamic areas of pharmacy, new STI industries and markets; results of the research will be commercialized.

The field of scientific specialization of the Alliance covers key challenges facing modern medicine - oncology, cardiology, neurodegenerative diseases. The association of participants and their partners will make it possible to speed up the process  radically and to reduce the cost of translating research into clinical and manufacturing practices, to produce personalized pharmaceuticals on the basis of scientific data and to develop new methods for preventive diagnostics. To achieve this goal the Alliance participants will integrate their research databases and open each other access to the unique infrastructure.

In addition to research and development at the forefront of medical science, the Alliance sets a strategic goal to train the new type of medical specialists: research physicians trained to use high-tech equipment. According to Mikhail Stryhanov, Rector of MEPhI,  so far there are no experts possessing such competence in our country. The Rector expressed his readiness to launch  the new network educational programs on the sites of three universities in 2017.

The scientific potential of universities in the declared specialization -  over 20 internationally recognized research groups working in such frontier areas as nanotechnology, neuroscience, biosensing, imaging, computer modeling.  Alliance universities are already regarded as leaders in these spheres, said Yevgeny Chuprunov, rector of UNN.

However, the main feature of the Alliance is the focus on the needs of the industry. Research topics of the Alliance's projects would be selected in the course of the talks with potential customers, stressed Eduard Galazhinsky, Rector  of TSU.

The format of the alliance suggests a uniform system for management, resources and risk sharing. According to Vladimir Knyaginin, President  of the CSR “North-West”, “ Reaching a certain scale in the field of translation involves substantial financial and time expenditures. Trust and cooperation will emerge as the dominant strategy in scientific world ". The modern global program in biomedicine is a large cooperative network that includes several dozen research groups and 80-100 partners, added  Marina Lipetskaya, Director of the Foundation.

Therefore, the Alliance of Translational Medicine is open for all types of participants  - universities, clinics, research centers and industrial companies - to join.

At the meeting researchers from Alliance universities presented a number of joint pilot projects. The first project is focused on nanotherasonics, a rapidly-developing field which involves the use of biocompatible and biodegradable nanoparticles for early diagnosis and targeted treatment of cancer. The project envisages production of  different types of nanoparticles,  development of  methods for their functionalization and technology for targeted delivery of drugs. According to Irina Zavestovskaya,  director of the MePhI Institute of Engineering Physics for Biomedicine, "All three universities have already  finalized their competences in these areas. Universities of the Alliance will make full use of the achievements, resources and research bases of universities and partners in the field of nanotechnology, biophotonics and nuclear medicine. By now,  general research agendas have already been formed and  key partnerships with clinics have been established “.

The second key activity area of the Alliance is neurotechnology for oncology and regeneration. Within the framework of the project universities will develop technologies for functional evaluation of damaged nervous tissue, precision removal of cancer cells, implantation of neurotransplants to promote regeneration of nervous tissues. As a result, new technologies will be created to increase life expectancy for people suffering from CNS injuries, new diagnostic and prognostic criteria for clinics will be developed , and surgeons will be able to preserve the maximum number of brain cells and restore  brain function. According to the head of the Institute of Biology and Biomedicine at the University of Nizhny Novgorod, Maria Vedunova, in this sphere, universities are at the forefront of innovation.

In the field of digital technologies for biomedicine  the Alliance participants intend to create a "digital laboratory" - an integrated infrastructure with a wide range of applications. "The digital laboratory project includes mathematical and software modeling of functional processes in the body, system supporting decision making, fast and accurate database search, pattern recognition and classification based on deep learning technology. The integrated infrastructure can significantly accelerate the traditional process of drug development, "explains Viktor Kazantsev, Vice-rector for scientific work of the UNN.

Another project of the Alliance is related to the development of advanced equipment, for example, in the field of telemedicine and image processing. Universities of the Alliance are already creating devices superior to imported analogues in terms of capabilities and cost. The task is to scale the developments  and bring them to the market, including  international market. "Photodynamic therapy devices manufactured at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute have already  been recognized as unique medical products . Colleagues from Germany are ready to bring the university’s small innovative enterprises to the European market of instrument making”, says Irina Zavestovskaya.

 Another important research area that supports  development of key Alliance programs is creation of new materials. Yuri Kistenev, Vice-rector for scientific work of TSU presented the results of research in the sphere of creation of new medical materials based on biopolymers, ceramics, alloys. TSU competencies make it possible for researchers to create biodegradable materials and textures closely resembling  human  body tissues. These developments are critically important for nanotechnology and restorative and regenerative medicine.

A strategic part of the Alliance's infrastructure is the UNN SPF-vivarium that meets strict international standards for conducting research. Nizhny Novgorod Vivarium has been integrated into the system of strong scientific laboratories of the university. The vivarium can be used as  the basis for  conducting  the most simple as well as highly specialized research on a wide range of problems,  including provision of services for conducting preclinical trials on request of pharmaceutical companies.