History – the IMI story so far

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Sowing the seeds – the European Technology Platform on Innovative Medicines (2005-2009)

The origins of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) lie in the European Technology Platform (ETP) on Innovative Medicines that was supported under the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme for Research (FP6). Dubbed ‘INNOMED’, the ETP gathered together a range of stakeholders and was led by the pharmaceutical industry. The project ran from 2005 to 2009 and laid the foundations for IMI by developing a Strategic Research Agenda to boost drug development in Europe, and by delivering proof of the effectiveness of a collaborative approach in two key areas: Alzheimer’s disease and medicines safety.


IMI1 – taking the public-private partnership to the next level (2008-2013)

In 2007, the European Commission released a proposal for the creation of the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking, a public-private partnership (PPP) between the European Community, represented by the European Commission, and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, EFPIA. The proposal makes use of an article in the EU treaties (now Article 187 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), which allows the EU to set up joint undertakings ‘for the efficient execution of Union research, technological development and demonstration programmes’. Following discussions in the European Parliament and among the Member States, the legislation creating IMI was approved in December 2007. 

The overall goal of the IMI1 programme was to ‘significantly improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the drug development process with the long-term aim that the pharmaceutical sector produce more effective and safer innovative medicines’. Our €2 billion budget for the period 2008-2013 made us the largest life sciences PPP in the world. Half of this budget came from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The rest came in the form of in-kind contributions from EFPIA and its member companies. EFPIA companies do not receive any EU funding via IMI; the EU funding supports the participation of universities, research centres, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and mid-sized companies, patient groups, and regulators.


A successful initiative

We launched our very first Call for proposals on 30 May 2008, and the first projects started in 2009. Over the following years, we continued to launch regular Calls for proposals, refining our rules and procedures and building on best practice along the way. By the end of 2013, we had released 11 Calls for proposals and committed our entire €2 billion budget. The 11 Calls resulted in 59 projects. Some focused on specific health issues such as neurological conditions (Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, depression, chronic pain, and autism), diabetes, lung disease, oncology, inflammation & infection, tuberculosis, and obesity. Others focused on broader challenges in drug development like drug and vaccine safety, knowledge management, the sustainability of chemical drug production, the use of stem cells for drug discovery, drug behaviour in the body, the creation of a European platform to discover novel medicines, and antimicrobial resistance. In addition to research projects, we supported a number of education and training projects.

Most importantly, through our projects, we had demonstrated the success of the PPP model – by bringing together experts from industry, academia, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), patient groups, and regulators, IMI projects were delivering scientific breakthroughs that would not have been possible without the public-private partnership model offered by IMI.

Analyses of the results of our projects highlight the benefits of this way of working. Thomson Reuters is tracking the citation index of research papers coming out of IMI projects – this measure involves assessing how often a paper is cited by other papers, and is often used as a measure of research quality. Their work reveals that the citation impact of IMI papers is twice the world average and significantly higher than the EU average.

In addition, a detailed analysis by independent experts of IMI’s first projects reveals that they are generating socio-economic impacts on a number of fronts. Most notably, the report shows how our projects are making concrete improvements to pharmaceutical research and development (R&D); leveraging funding; creating new knowledge and tools; and making Europe an attractive place to carry out research. Importantly the report notes that many of the projects’ achievements would not have been possible without IMI. Feedback from project participants has also highlighted the benefits of taking part in IMI projects for all participants, including large pharmaceutical companies, universities, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and patient organisations.


From IMI1 to IMI2

The success of the IMI1 programme prompted the European Commission and EFPIA to take steps to continue IMI under Horizon 2020, the European Commission’s framework programme for research and innovation that runs from 2014 to 2020. The legislation creating ‘IMI2’ was approved by the European Parliament and Member States in the first half of 2014, and IMI2 was officially launched in July 2014.

IMI2 runs from 2014 to 2020 and it has a total budget of up to €3.276 billion. Half comes from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, and most of the rest comes from EFPIA and its member companies.


Building on success

The IMI2 programme builds on the successes of IMI1. As set out in the Strategic Research Agenda for IMI2, IMI remains focused on the needs of patients and society, and on delivering tools and resources to speed up the development of urgently-needed treatments. In addition, we now also place a greater emphasis on accelerating patient access to new treatments. The legislation creating IMI2 also emphasises the need to bring partners from other sectors (e.g. diagnostics, animal health, IT, imaging, etc.) into the IMI community.

The open nature of IMI2 is also reflected in the creation of the ‘Associated Partner’ status. This allows organisations that are not EFPIA members to contribute to IMI and have that contribution matched by the EU.

Under the IMI2 programme, we have continued to launch regular Calls for proposals and projects. These include projects on diseases that have been part of the IMI portfolio since the beginning (e.g. diabetes and dementia) as well as new, large scale programmes on Ebola and ‘Big Data for Better Outcomes’.