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Partnerships are key to accelerating innovation

The Associated Partner mechanism allowed IMI to expand our partner base even wider. Future PPPs will follow our example

By IMI Executive Director Pierre Meulien

Image by metamorworks via Shutterstock
Image by metamorworks via Shutterstock


When IMI was first launched in 2008, the focus was on trying to get the pharmaceutical industry to collaborate at a level that they had never done before, both amongst themselves and with the public sector. Once that was successfully achieved and we had a kind of proof of concept, it was obvious that there would be space for other partners to get involved.

We had been approached a number of times by non-pharma companies and organisations who wanted to know how they could join us, to work with us on specific projects in a significant way. That’s why, in the design of IMI2, a dedicated envelope of €213 million was included for a new concept: Associated Partners, which allowed us to expand our stakeholder base and incorporate a diverse array of funding bodies, philanthropic organisations, patient advocacy groups and small biotech firms who wanted to increase the capacity and reach of their own resources.  

It's very important to note that this €213 million represents the maximum total value of the contribution that these partners had to be willing to commit up front to a specific project, whether it be through in-kind contributions or cash, which could then be matched by the European Commission. This can massively leverage the contribution of partners that have limited resources for research. Being part of a consortium also allows them to build their networks as part of a large-scale project.


New alliances, further afield

In return, these partners bring specific expertise that has been invaluable in the development of the new ecosystem for health research, linking IMI to their own networks and international initiatives that might otherwise be out of reach. The participation of the Simons Foundation (SFARI) in the AIMS-2-TRIALS project, for example, has effectively allowed us to build a transatlantic autism alliance that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

The partners are a very heterogeneous group and they get involved in different ways. In some cases, during the development of a topic, we might reach out to a specific potential partner because we think that they can contribute meaningfully to the design of a new research project. This was the case in the Wellcome Trust’s involvement in the AMR project, Value-DX. Some Associate Partners have even become part of our Strategic Governing Group (SGG); the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) is part of the Diabetes SGG, for example, which allows them to suggest topics for consideration. In that capacity, JDRF has generated three call topic ideas and has participated in the definition and the scope of two further topics.

Some partners hear about particular research topics through the grapevine and they come knocking on our door: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation heard about the topic on pertussis vaccines, which became the PERISCOPE project, and they were willing to put €7 million on the table, immediately doubling the funding envelope available for that project.

Partners in Research

There is also a complementarity between the Associated Partner mechanism and EFPIA’s Partners in Research, which was set up to allow non-pharma companies to sit on the EFPIA platform and includes diagnostic companies like BIOMERIUEX and other digital tech and imaging companies like GE Healthcare. The reason why some companies would prefer to sit on the EFPIA platform is that they, being industry-based, sometimes feel more comfortable with their industry partners, while others are happy to deal directly with us. I see the two mechanisms as completely complementary.

The Associated Partners programme was a kind of experiment, and it wasn't at all obvious at first that anyone would be willing to join and commit funds. Ultimately, it has proved highly successful, turning IMI into what I like to call a ‘partnering machine’. High-profile partners like the Gates Foundation, JDRF, the Wellcome Trust and others have lent credibility to the mechanism and to the IMI model more broadly, and they have allowed us achieve some very large-scale initiatives. There is now an awareness in the ecosystem of the potential of the Associated Partners model to increase research spending power while enriching vital initiatives with a broader array of stakeholder voices. Until now it has been unique to our PPP, but, very significantly, the model is now being expanded to all of the other new partnerships under Horizon Europe.

The Innovative Health Initiative will put forward another €200 million envelope dedicated to partners, and though we don’t know exactly yet what form it will take, we know that it will open even more new opportunities for others to join, again increasing the stakeholder base of the network and pooling even more collaborative power.

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About IMI Associated Partners

“The scale of the funding enables real impact” - The Children's Tumor Foundation's Annette Bakker 

“The IMI model aligns with our way of working” - TBA Alliance's Ana Maria Harkins 

“Collaborative efforts are invaluable for advancing autism science” - SFARI's Paul Wang

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