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Cancer, tuberculosis and vaccines in new IMI Call for proposals


Pierre Meulien, IMI Executive Director commented: ‘Beating cancer is a priority for the new European Commission, and the cancer-focused topics in this Call for proposals will contribute to that goal by bringing together leading experts from universities, small companies, patient groups and diverse industries including pharmaceutical and medical technology companies. In this Call we are also tackling a major global health problem - tuberculosis - and will be developing new ways of treating this chronic disease and hopefully reducing the spread of antibiotic resistance in TB. ’

Understanding the rare cancer cells behind drug resistance

Once a cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it is very hard to cure it. Often, patients respond well to a drug for a time before the cancer becomes resistant to it, and this drug resistance is a major cause of cancer mortality. The source of this drug resistance lies in rare cancer cells called ‘drug tolerant persister’ cells, or DTPs. Studies show that DTPs survive drug treatments by altering the activity of certain genes. The goal of this topic is to add to our understanding of DTPs, including their genetic sequences and microenvironment, and to develop tools to collect and analyse them. It will focus on non-small cell lung cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer but may also carry out studies on other adult and childhood cancers.

Is proton therapy better than radiotherapy for treating certain cancers?

Radiotherapy plays a key role in the treatment of many cancers. However, as it can cause side effects in surrounding organs, the dose is limited meaning that treatment takes longer and can be less effective. In contrast proton therapy delivers a higher dose of radiation that is more focused on the tumour itself, limiting damage to other, healthy organs. The goal of this topic is to assess the usefulness of proton therapy as a treatment compared to radiotherapy, using oesophageal cancer as a case study. Radiation therapy boosts survival rates for oesophageal cancer, but the disease still kills 500 000 people worldwide every year, meaning further improvements in treatment are urgently needed. In the long term, the results of this topic should also prove useful for other types of cancer.

Watch the video in:

 - Bulgarian
 - Czech
 - Hungarian
 - Polish
 - Romanian

Innovation and treatment for tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is the leading infectious cause of death worldwide, killing around 1.5 million people annually. Treatment consists of a combination of drugs taken for at least six months, or even longer in patients whose disease is resistant to frontline treatments. The long treatment time, coupled with the side effects of some drugs, lead some patients to stop taking their antibiotics, and this contributes to drug resistance. Identifying new treatment combinations that could shorten the treatment time and tackle drug resistance is difficult and time-consuming. The goal of this topic is to develop and carry out innovative clinical trial designs to identify new treatment combinations using drugs that have already undergone initial studies in humans. The topic will also develop and evaluate new technologies to monitor and enhance treatment adherence. The topic is part of IMI’s Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Accelerator programme.

Accelerating vaccine development and manufacture

Vaccines are a huge public health achievement, but developing a new vaccine is very costly, time consuming and risky. Recent years have seen advances in academia and biotech companies in the fields such as immunology, big data and artificial intelligence. The aim of this topic is to incorporate these advances into the vaccine industry, and to develop biological and mathematical models that are better at predicting how well a vaccine will work. Ultimately, the hope is that this will accelerate and de-risk the development of new vaccines.

Improving the lives of people with psoriatic arthritis

Around 20-30% of people with the immune disease psoriasis go on to develop arthritis. However, all too often, patients experience symptoms for many years before they are diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Furthermore, the treatments for psoriatic arthritis do not work for all patients. The aim of this topic is to deliver tools that will allow doctors to diagnose psoriatic arthritis earlier, and even predict which psoriasis patients are at greatest risk of developing arthritis. It will also shed new light on factors that could indicate how a psoriatic arthritis patient’s disease will progress over time, and this will allow the development of personalised treatments.

Focus on the quality of drugs based on proteins

Many new medicines are based on proteins, and these have dramatically improved the lives of people with a range of diseases. However, ensuring the quality of protein drug products both during and after manufacture is far from easy. If stored or handled inappropriately during transport, or at the hospital, pharmacy or patient’s home, the proteins can break down, compromising the safety and efficacy of the product. This topic has two objectives: firstly, to improve our understanding of how protein drugs are handled in the real world and the effect this has on product quality; and secondly, to develop guidelines, processes and training to improve the way protein drug products are handled by different stakeholders.


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Notes to Editors

For more information on IMI2 – Call 20, visit

Webinars on all topics plus IMI’s rules and procedures and opportunities for SMEs will be held from 22-31 January.

The full list of topics is:

  • Topic 1: Early diagnosis, prediction of radiographic outcomes and development of rational, personalised treatment strategies to improve long-term outcomes in psoriatic arthritis
  • Topic 2: Innovations to accelerate vaccine development and manufacture
  • Topic 3: Academia and industry united innovation and treatment for tuberculosis (UNITE4TB)
    This topic is part of the IMI AMR Accelerator Programme.
  • Topic 4: Tumour plasticity
  • Topic 5: Proton versus photon therapy for oesophageal cancer – a trimodality strategy
  • Topic 6: Handling of protein drug products and stability concerns

Press contact

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About the Innovative Medicines Initiative

The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is working to improve health by speeding up the development of, and patient access to, the next generation of medicines, particularly in areas where there is an unmet medical or social need. It does this by facilitating collaboration between the key players involved in healthcare research, including universities, pharmaceutical companies, other companies active in healthcare research, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), patient organisations, and medicines regulators. This approach has proven highly successful, and IMI projects are delivering exciting results that are helping to advance the development of urgently-needed new treatments in diverse areas.

IMI is a partnership between the European Union and the European pharmaceutical industry, represented by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). Through the IMI 2 programme, IMI has a budget of €3.3 billion for the period 2014-2020. Half of this comes from the EU’s research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020. The other half comes from large companies, mostly from the pharmaceutical sector; these do not receive any EU funding, but contribute to the projects ‘in kind’, for example by donating their researchers’ time or providing access to research facilities or resources.