Unrestricted leveraging of targets for research advancement and drug discovery


Start Date
End Date
IMI1 - Call 11
Grant agreement number

IMI Funding
21 200 000
EFPIA in kind
21 664 981
7 107 917
Total Cost49 972 898


The ULTRA-DD project’s goal is to deliver new tools and resources to speed up the development of truly innovative medicines, especially in the areas of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, where new treatments are urgently needed. Through the Structural Genomics Consortium, ULTRA-DD has strong ties with similar initiatives elsewhere in the world, and this, coupled with the project’s strong open access policy, will ensure that the tools, resources, and knowledge generated by the project will benefit the entire scientific community and hopefully result in new drug discovery programmes.

New medicines that work via novel, previously unexploited mechanisms are known as ‘first-in-class’ treatments and developing them is extremely challenging. Firstly, the early stages of drug development often involve tests using either simple cultures of human cells or animal models of diseases. However, these are often poor mimics of how diseases actually behave in humans, and positive results in these early studies do not always translate into safe, effective treatments for patients. Furthermore, even if reliable disease models are available, tools to study them in depth may be lacking. Finally, the expertise and resources required to develop these new tools is found in a range of different organisations; industry has experience of designing new tools, the clinical community has closer contact with patients and intimate knowledge of diseases, and the academic community typically has more expertise regarding the molecular biology of diseases.

By bringing together representatives of these different communities to create an open, collaborative partnership, ULTRA-DD is well placed to deliver the tools, resources and knowledge that will advance research, speed up drug development, and benefit the wider research community.

Focus on autoimmune and inflammatory diseases

A large part of the project is dedicated to developing research tools based on high-quality samples of cells and tissues from patients with specific diseases. These tools will allow researchers to study diseases in depth. ULTRA-DD will focus on two important areas where safe, effective treatments are currently lacking: autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Autoimmune diseases up for study in ULTRA-DD include systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), idiopathic myositis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and systemic sclerosis. Collectively, these diseases are known as systemic inflammatory autoimmune diseases and they affect around 1% of the population in Western countries. Although their symptoms vary, they are all caused when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. There is currently no cure for these diseases and existing treatments are not effective in all patients and often come with unpleasant side effects.

The second disease category studied in ULTRA-DD is immune diseases that trigger damage to the bones and cartilage, such as fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive (FOP) and ankylosing spondylitis (AS). FOP is an extremely rare, currently-incurable condition in which bone forms in the muscles and soft tissues of the body. AS is a type of arthritis that mainly affects the spine is found in around 0.2% of the population. Again, more research is needed to find effective treatments for these devastating diseases.

Another part of the project is developing a suite of probes, tests and methodologies to study these disease-specific research materials in depth.

In addition. through project partner the Structural Genomics Consortium, ULTRA-DD will work closely with related initiatives carrying out similar work on neurological diseases and cancer.

Wide-ranging impacts

In order to ensure the project results are taken up and used widely, ULTRA-DD operates an open access policy. The wider scientific community will therefore have ready access to much of the knowledge, data and tools generated by the project. Ultimately, the hope is that ULTRA-DD will dramatically increase our understanding of the underlying molecular causes of the diseases under investigation and so reinvigorate drug discovery pipelines.

For patients, whose input is key to the success of this project, ULTRA-DD demonstrates that the entire health research and drug development community is pulling together to speed up the search for new, safer, more effective treatments.

Achievements & News

First batches of ULTRA-DD patient-based assay data released - ahead of publication
December 2017

The ULTRA-DD project has made good on its promise to make its data open source with the publication online of datasets from experiments on autoimmune diseases such as lupus and myositis. Through the experiments, the ULTRA-DD team has identified potential new targets that could inspire the development of new treatments for these diseases. The project hopes that if other researchers probe and use the data, they may uncover further insights that will add to our knowledge of autoimmune diseases and accelerate the development of medicines for these patients, ###many of whom do not respond well to existing treatments. Currently, additional follow-up studies are ongoing to verify and validate the results.

The data published by ULTRA-DD comes from experiments using technically advanced tests developed by the project partners. In this case, the ULTRA-DD team studied so-called ‘B cells’ – immune cells which are known to play a central role in lupus and myositis. The project’s Scientific Director, Michael Sundström of the Karolinska Institutet says: ‘These are the first of a series of related datasets to be released, and we believe that our approach of pre-publication access to such data is truly unique.

IMI project partner wins public-private collaboration award
The Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), one of the project partners in IMI’s ULTRA-DD project, won the 2016 Oxford Academic Health Science Network Public-Private Collaboration Award, for its pioneering work to accelerate drug discovery. ###The award celebrates innovative public-private collaboration among universities, industry and the National Health Service (NHS) that ultimately benefits patients. The SGC was the unanimous winner chosen by an independent panel of judges. The judges noted that the SGC’s initiatives were of ‘significant scope and scale’ and ‘could make a significant difference.’ Upon receiving the award, Chas Bountra, the Chief Scientist of SGC Oxford, said: ‘The SGC in Oxford is working with pharmaceutical companies, biotechs, patient organisations, clinicians and academic researchers to identify new therapeutic targets. We have assembled this extensive network of expertise to generate high quality, freely available, novel reagents to accelerate drug discovery for patients. We are delighted to receive such a prestigious award.’ (November 2016)

ULTRA-DD paves way for stronger cooperation with patients
Patients already have a big role in many IMI projects, for example by helping with patient recruitment or advising on best practices in clinical trials. Now the ULTRA-DD project is taking it one step further. ###In the past year, several patient organisations, including Myeloma UK and The Brain Tumour Charity, have committed to sponsoring postdoctoral researchers, whose scientific outputs will contribute directly to the ULTRA-DD project. The sponsorship of about €1.5 million for the next two years will be done through the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), one of the partners in ULTRA-DD. With this step, these organisations will become directly involved in the scientific aspects of the project, helping to speed up the development of medicines for diseases which they are most interested in. ‘There are more and more patient organisations taking the matter into their own hands from the early stage drug discovery to the clinical studies’, said Wen Hwa Lee of the SGC. ‘At the moment every foundation is trying to do something on their own, for their own disease. In our view, the best option would be to give these disease foundations access to an open research platform so they could be clustered around the ULTRA-DD project. We believe that could be the foundation of a completely different way of working that could enable faster drug discovery.’ The main goal of the ULTRA-DD project is to speed up the development of truly innovative medicines, especially in the areas of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Through the SGC, ULTRA-DD has strong ties with similar initiatives elsewhere in the world, and this, coupled with the project’s strong open access policy, will ensure that the tools generated by the project will benefit the entire scientific community. (October 2016)

Participants Show participants on map

EFPIA companies
  • Bayer AG, Berlin, Germany
  • Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, Beerse, Belgium
  • Novartis Pharma AG, Basel, Switzerland
  • Pfizer Limited, Sandwich, Kent , United Kingdom
Universities, research organisations, public bodies, non-profit groups
  • Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Structural Genomics Consortium, London, United Kingdom
  • University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
Non EFPIA companies
  • DiscoveRx Corp Ltd, Birmingham, United Kingdom
  • The Governing Council of the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada


Project coordinator
Nils Osterman
Novartis Pharma AG
Managing entity
Aled Edwards
Structural Genomics Consortium