Slightly less than three hundred days remain before a new framework programme governs the future of research, development and innovation in the European Union. This initiative, known as Horizon 2020, aims to establish a common strategy to make our continent more competitive during that decade.
With this objective in mind, the EU plans to make “the Innovation Union” a reality in order to ensure that science within the EU plays a leading role in worldwide R&D&I, that the relationship between the public sector and private industry is revolutionised and, finally, that obstacles to innovation are removed.
Therefore, by 2020 the European Union will have made it cheaper to patent and licence inventions, prevented the EU from fragmenting into multiple markets and, lastly, created a scenario in which great ideas can be quickly incorporated into real life. With this objective in mind, the European Research Council formulated its ‘Proof of Concept’ (PoC) assistance programme, the community funding initiatives aimed at “putting the innovative potential of the ideas generated in its cutting edge ERC-funded research projects into practice”. The resolution, which involves the award of sixty grants of up to €150,000 to research projects throughout Europe, including three Spanish initiatives, was made known a few days ago.
NanoSMART: smart drugs for fighting lung cancer
Lung cancer is a very common illness with more than 1.2 million new cases being diagnosed every year. Despite the use of treatments with serious side effects, such as the different types of chemotherapy, 85% of patients end up by developing metastasis and dying after not being able to beat the original cancer. It is for this reason that the research group headed up by Dr Eva Martín, of Salamanca University, set about developing smart nanocapsules that would, in the words of the Salamanca-based scientist, enable “the treatment to be channelled exclusively towards the cancerous cells without it affecting their benign counterparts, thereby reducing side effects and increasing the effectiveness of the therapy”.
As regards this project, her research team is working in collaboration with the Salamanca University’s Office for Transfer of Research Results (OTRI) and MRI-International, a company that specialises in R&D&I management, with the aim being to establish common ground with the pharmaceutical industry in order to begin with the experimental tests, a vital stage in ensuring that in the future these micro-capsules can be used in hospitals for the direct and targeted treatment of lung cancer. The overall objective of all the foregoing is, in the words of Dr Martín, “to improve the patient’s quality of life and considerably reduce the costs incurred by the public healthcare services”.
From CellDoctor to Mico pLung: microbes that cure
The second of the Spanish projects funded by the ERC’s ‘Proof of Concept’ programme is that headed up by the scientist Luis Serrano of the Centre for Genomic Regulation of Barcelona. Dr Serrano explains that a number of similar ideas involving bacteria being used to cure already exist, such as in the case of Crohn’s Disease, and the results of the Mico pLung Project could well prove beneficial for the treatment of lung diseases and genital infections.
For this scientist from Madrid, this ERC initiative can prove helpful in contributing towards the research being carried out in universities and technological centres reaching society, but it must under no circumstances be a one-off effort. In Dr Serrano’s own words, and as is already being done in new and state-of-the-art institutes, such as the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) or the Spanish National Centre for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC), “the centres and universities should be provided with additional budgets in order to add value to intellectual and industrial property and support translational science“, with the aim of first obtaining new treatments and eventually achieving a financial return and the creation of wealth in these centres.
Theralight: optopharmacology will revolutionise our health
The third Spanish idea to receive European Community support due to being considered project with a very good chance of directly benefiting society within a shorter-than-forecast timespan is that being developed by Pau Gorostiza of the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia. His work, just as that being carried out by Doctors Martín and Serrano, is based on a previous line of research, which also received ERC recognition and assistance, that resulted in the successful control of the communication between neurons using light.
Continuing with this hypothesis, Dr Gorostiza’s research team, with the support of scientists from the CSIC, the Bellvitge Institute for Biomedical Research (IDIBELL) and the University of Barcelona, decided to take the project one step further and work on the regulation of different therapeutic targets via the use of light, something that may well give rise to a whole host of applications. Should this prove successful, it could mean the manufacture of far more specific medicines the therapeutic objectives of which could be adjusted (or “voluntarily” regulated), thereby reducing their side effects; in other words, it would be one more step towards achieving what is known as personalised medicine. The project, which is set to last for one year, could, according to Dr Gorostiza, see “its first results in rodents, which would be used to study toxicity and bioavailability, in 2014″, essential phases before the testing of these new photoregulated drugs on human beings.
Three initiatives which, without a doubt, will revolutionise our healthcare treatment in the very near future. In a few years we shall be able to verify the success of this initiative and see for ourselves whether the efforts to achieve innovative results in society made by the European Union have finally borne fruit.