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The environment and synthetic data feature in new IHI calls for proposals

The topics contribute to key EU policies such as the European Green Deal and the '3Rs' goals of replacing, reducing and refining the use of animals in research.

27 July 2023
Most of the image is rough brown paper. In the centre, this is ripped away to reveal the words 'apply now' written in white on a green background. Original image by Marta Design via Shutterstock, modified by IHI.
Original image by Marta Design via Shutterstock, modified by IHI.

Brussels, Belgium, 27 July 2023 – The Innovative Health Initiative (IHI) has launched two new calls for proposals featuring topics on the environmental impacts of healthcare; addressing the use of animals in research; and the generation of synthetic health data for research, among other things.

IHI is a partnership between the EU and Europe’s health industries. EU funding for the calls stands at almost EUR 200 million – this will come from Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme. The industry partners of IHI and IHI contributing partners will commit an equivalent amount to the projects, mainly via in-kind contributions such as their researchers’ time and access to resources and equipment, for example.

IHI’s interim Executive Director, Dr Hugh Laverty, said: “The topics in these calls show how IHI makes concrete contributions to key European policies. Our two topics on the environmental impacts of healthcare are in line with the goals of the European Green Deal. We have topics that advance the EU’s aim of replacing, reducing and refining the use of animals in research. We also have a topic that will help to boost the involvement of people from underserved patient populations in clinical trials.”

Greening the healthcare sector

Two topics in the calls are set to reduce the environmental impacts of the healthcare sector. One aims to apply the ‘safe and sustainable by design’ (SSbD) principles to packaging and single-use devices, from the earliest design stages to the end of the product’s life. It will do this for example by using alternative materials and facilitating the recycling of both packaging and devices. This will help the health sector to generate less waste and reduce its carbon footprint.

Most environmental impacts of medicines occur during manufacture. The goal of the second topic is to develop novel manufacturing methods that would reduce the use of solvents, replace toxic ‘substances of concern’, and reduce water and energy use. Another major project output will be a publicly available digital toolbox that will help scientists and engineers to devise manufacturing processes that produce safe, high-quality products but have a minimal impact on the environment.

Cutting the use of animals in research

The EU has long had the goal of replacing, reducing and refining the use of animals in research (the ‘3Rs’). In addition to the ethical concerns surrounding the use of animals in research, results generated in animals do not always reliably predict what will happen in humans. Two topics in the new calls will contribute directly to the 3Rs.

One topic aims to develop non-animal approaches and generate evidence to support their use in situations where animal-based tests are used currently. This evidence will allow the industry and regulators to use these non-animal approaches in their work and decision-making processes.

Today, non-human primates are still used in medical research due to a lack of alternatives. The other ‘3Rs’ topic aims to explore how minipigs could be used to replace non-human primates in the development of new medicines and medical technologies.

Better blood tests for patients

Blood tests are a common feature of patient care and clinical trials. Yet having a blood test still requires the patient to go to a hospital or clinic and this can be burdensome, especially for people who require regular tests. Microsampling techniques, which collect less than half a millilitre of blood, exist but are not widely used. This topic will explore how the use of these microsampling devices could be expanded to allow patients (or their caregivers) to collect a blood sample at home and send it for analysis. If successful, this approach would both improve patients’ experience of blood tests and make it easier to track their health. Doing blood tests in this way could also pave the way for more decentralised clinical trials as patients would not need to go to a clinic.

Ensuring clinical trials represent everyone

This topic aims to address the fact that many groups of people are not fully represented in clinical studies in Europe due for example to gender, ethnicity, or other diverse socio-economic, systemic, and cultural barriers. The project will develop a multi-faceted, intersectional approach to overcoming these barriers associated with the recruitment and retention of underserved patient populations. Project outputs will include guidance on how to overcome these barriers in different settings and countries, as well as a patient-centric digital platform to help link up people from underserved populations with clinical studies. Ultimately, by ensuring clinical studies are more representative of the population as a whole, the project will boost the quality of clinical research in Europe.

An innovative approach to developing treatments for rare diseases

Developing treatments for rare diseases is fraught with challenges – the underlying biology of many rare diseases is still poorly understood, and the tiny numbers of patients make it hard to set up and run clinical trials. This topic will develop and test innovative trial designs and deliver methodological solutions that would speed up the development of treatments for rare/ultra-rare diseases. The project will focus in particular on so-called ‘white spots’ – conditions for which there is no approved treatment option and where development is not currently commercially viable.

Advancing theranostics – twinning thera(py) with (diag)nostics

Theranostics refers to the practice of pairing a diagnostic test and therapy that both bind to the same target. For example, a molecule targeting a cancer cell could carry with it a radioactive isotope that shows up on a scan to diagnose the disease, and then another radioactive isotope designed to destroy the cancer cell. Theranostics has the potential to be used as a safe, personalised treatment for a range of diseases, including cancer and neurological disorders. The aim of this topic is to develop innovative theranostic solutions, and more broadly to develop novel modalities, tools and training resources for better monitoring and planning of patient care. It should also increase Europe’s theranostic manufacturing and treatment capacities.

Better results for stroke patients

Stroke is a major cause of death and disability worldwide, and as populations age, cases are set to rise. While effective treatments exist, there are many stages of care (from prevention to acute care and follow-up), and many patients report that their own care is impaired by poor coordination between the different healthcare professionals involved in their treatment. The aim of this topic is to improve the integration and flow of patient data along the entire care pathway, and to develop innovative tools and approaches for personalised and timely treatment. Ultimately, the project will improve patients’ lives by ensuring a better management of stroke including prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Boosting the potential of synthetic data in health research

Synthetic health data, which has been created artificially to mimic real patient data, can help to avoid some of the privacy, security and other issues that arise when doing research with genuine patient data. However, it is not always clear which methods of generating synthetic health data are best for different situations, and some methods are still immature. The aim of this topic is to develop and validate reliable methods of generating synthetic health data for specific use cases.


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Notes to editors

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About IHI

The Innovative Health Initiative (IHI) aims to translate health research and innovation into real benefits for patients and society, and ensure that Europe remains at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary, sustainable, patient-centric health research. Health research and care increasingly involve diverse sectors. By supporting projects that bring these sectors together, IHI will pave the way for a more integrated approach to health care, covering prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and disease management.

IHI is a partnership between the European Union and European industry associations representing the pharmaceutical, medical technology, biotechnology, digital health and vaccine industries, namely COCIR, EFPIA, EuropaBio, MedTech Europe and Vaccines Europe. IHI’s total budget is EUR 2.4 billion. Half of this comes from Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme. The IHI industry partners have committed EUR 1 billion to IHI, and a further EUR 200 million can be committed by other organisations that decide to become Contributing Partners.

IHI builds on the successes of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), and the IHI Programme Office continues to manage the IMI project portfolio.