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IMI pain project creates new business for Italian SME Axxam

Participating in the IMI pain project NGN-PET has delivered significant benefits for life sciences SME Axxam, including new contracts and alliances.

Cultures of neurites and glial cells. Photo by Fernanda Ricci, Axxam
The complex neuronal network formed by the neurites cultured with glial cells in miniaturised in vitro format in primary rodent cells from dorsal root ganglia (left) and hiPSC derived cells (right).
Photo credits: Fernanda Ricci - High Content Screening Unit, Axxam

Neuropathic pain is a chronic condition that affects around 8 % of the population and can be triggered by things like surgery, injury, and chemotherapy. Current treatments only work in a number of patients. IMI project NGN-PET explored how the interactions between neurons and other cells in the nervous system as well as immune cells contribute to neuropathic pain. Among other things, the project delivered a range of tools that allow researchers to screen, identify and evaluate potential drugs to treat neuropathic pain.

Now, Italian SME Axxam, which coordinated NGN-PET, has incorporated many of these tools into its research services. The tools can be accessed via research collaboration agreements or commercial agreements.

For example, one key project output was a procedure to produce pain-relevant in vitro models (including sensory neurons and immune cells), derived from primary cells and human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), in miniaturised in vitro formats – something that is technically highly challenging.

Disseminating the NGN-PET results at congresses and meetings has helped to attract a number of new customers and contracts for Axxam on both sides of the Atlantic. They have also forged new strategic alliances, most notably with Fujifilm Cellular Dynamics, the world’s leading company in the development and manufacture of hiPSCs for use in drug discovery and cell therapies.

Meanwhile Axxam is continuing to grow its skills in this area thanks to other grants in the fields of iPSC technologies and pain research.

This additional business has contributed to a recruitment drive for Axxam that is set to continue this year.

Explaining how NGN-PET gave Axxam a competitive edge, Scientific Innovation Manager Dr Paola Tarroni said: ‘Other companies offer similar services in the same sector; however, NGN-PET gave us resources to have hands-on new technologies and know-how, and to produce case studies demonstrating Axxam’s capabilities and skills in the field.’

However, the benefits of participating in IMI go far beyond business benefits. ‘Being part of a European network allowed us to foster research collaborations with the partners, and we hope to continue and build on these collaborations in the future,’ said Dr Tarroni. ‘We also benefited from working closely with international pain experts, while our personnel, in particular the younger scientists, benefited from working in an international, interdisciplinary team. Finally, as project coordinator, we obtained a better understanding of Horizon 2020 and IMI procedures.’

Axxam is a partner in three IMI projects: NGN-PET, PHAGO, and RESOLUTE. What advice would they give to other SMEs thinking about getting involved in an IMI project?

‘I would recommend SMEs to participate in IMI and to really consider it as an opportunity to work side by side with EFPIA companies and academic partners  that might represent future customers or partners, said Dr Tarroni. ‘You should focus on innovations and developments that can be translated to the market, but also ensure you have good administrative support – you don’t need a big or complex structure but understanding the procedures in due time will help you to use resources efficiently. Finally, understand the consortium agreement and standard clauses before deciding to apply.’

Find out more

NGN-PET website

Axxam website


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