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Launch of the European Platform for Neurodegenerative Diseases

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Published on Friday, 05 November 2021

A new European initiative will build a collaborative platform for data and sample sharing, to accelerate the discovery and validation of biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases. The European Platform for Neurodegenerative Diseases (EPND) integrates existing initiatives to build, grow, and deliver a scalable and self-sustainable platform for storage and analysis of high-quality clinical samples and data collections. The University of Luxembourg is one of the partners in the project: the Bioinformatics Core and the Translational Neuroscience group of the LCSB are involved in several work packages.

EPND is a public-private partnership funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a joint undertaking between the EU and European pharmaceutical industries that supports projects at the vanguard of health research. It will become a future European infrastructure, facilitating access to biological samples and data to accelerate biomarker discovery and validation and eventually support the development of therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases.

Facilitating biomarker discovery

There is currently a lack of available treatments that can prevent or modify the progression of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD), which affect millions of people in Europe. Despite robust research efforts to accelerate biomarker discovery, at this time there are few secure, accessible ways for clinical samples and data to be discovered and shared within the neurodegenerative disease research community. 

“Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s cost millions of lives and will create an estimated economic burden in Europe of €267 billion by 2030,” said project co-Coordinator Pieter Jelle Visser, Associate Professor at the University of Maastricht. “EPND will answer this massive challenge with a solution on the same scale, bringing together teams, samples and data from across the continent.”

The development of effective treatments requires biomarkers for early detection of disease in individuals, for assessing treatment efficacy, and for patient stratification. Thanks to funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), EPND will begin a five-year effort to establish a self-sustaining network that will support the discovery, harmonisation, storage and analysis of high-quality clinical samples and data from neurodegenerative disease research.

A public-private partnership to make data accessible

“Gates Ventures is delighted to join UCB as EFPIA co-Lead for EPND,” said Niranjan Bose, Managing Director of Health and Life Sciences at Gates Ventures. “With the potential to make data accessible from more than 120,000 research participants, in partnership with over 60 European cohorts, EPND will provide vital information to scientists, researchers and clinicians. It will help accelerate the development of innovative biomarkers and improve access to biosamples, enabling validation of early detection tools."

This programme will build a secure platform via a European node on the AD Workbench of the Alzheimer’s Disease Data Initiative (ADDI), a medical research organisation committed to increasing interoperability of data platforms and empowering scientists to analyse data for new discoveries in dementia research. Through this collaboration, EPND aims to integrate and build on existing initiatives while removing barriers to collaboration and discovery. 

“The EPND platform will move us towards comprehensive data discovery, harmonisation, storage and analysis, by virtue of a core Workbench concept that builds upon national and international data infrastructures.” said project co-Coordinator Anthony Brookes, Professor of Genetics at the University of Leicester. “The collaboration will deliver on the promise of big data to rapidly generate new knowledge and share emerging insights, and thereby advance AD and PD treatments whilst also providing an integrative technical and governance template that can be adopted by many more healthcare domains.”

Amongst the 29 European partners, three are based in Luxembourg: Alzheimer Europe, the Luxembourg Institute of Health and the University of Luxembourg. “The university is playing an important role in EPND, with researchers from the LCSB being involved in the establishment of the EPND data and analysis platform, as well as being the academic leads of two work packages,” explains Dr Venkata Satagopam, member of the Bioinformatics Core of the LCSB and coordinator of project at the university. “We will especially work on clinical cohort interaction, led by Prof. Rejko Krüger, and on legal and ethical aspects, led by Adrian Thorogood.”

Secure and transparent data sharing

Beyond establishing the network, the project aims to create agreed principles to enable access to samples and data, establish fair and transparent governance and processes, and achieve self-sustainability after five years. When complete, it will create a new entity supported by some of the most prestigious medical and research organisations in the EU. This public-private partnership will accelerate and simplify innovation in the areas of R&D, regulatory, clinical and healthcare practices.

“Disjointed and uneven access to samples and data presents a huge challenge for academia and industry alike," said EPND Project co-Leader, Phil Scordis, Head of Patient Data Analytics at UCB. "EPND will bring together the neurodegenerative disease community across Europe, securing the legacy of many siloed initiatives and developing a Europe-wide platform with global reach through the partnership with ADDI.”

With a commitment to enabling secure and transparent data sharing and sample access, EPND aims to optimise the use of existing resources, including a large portfolio of longitudinal research cohorts, while leading with high ethical standards and robust protection for the fundamental rights of research participants in compliance with the GDPR.  

The outcome of this programme will be the establishment of EPND as a European infrastructure to facilitate access to clinical samples and data to accelerate biomarker discovery, and support the development of neurodegenerative disease diagnostics and therapeutics that could touch lives all over the globe. 

“‘The Innovative Medicines Initiative is proud to support EPND. I am confident that the resulting platform will help to advance research in the neurodegenerative field, where effective treatments are so urgently needed.” said Dr Pierre Meulien, Executive Director of the IMI.


About EPND
EPND will bring together 29 partners from the public and private sectors and will be managed by two public partners, University of Maastricht and University of Leicester, and two private partners, Gates Ventures and UCB Biopharma. EPND will leverage and connect existing European research infrastructures, including BBMRI, EATRIS, ELIXIR and EBRAINS. It receives funding from the European Commission and European pharmaceutical industry (via EFPIA), under the auspices of the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking and has an initial budget of €19,005,502. For more information, contact info@epnd.org or visit www.epnd.org

About the Innovative Medicines Initiative
The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) works to improve health by speeding up the development of, and patient access to, innovative medicines, particularly in areas where there is an unmet medical or social need. IMI connects the key players involved in health research, including universities, research centres, the pharmaceutical and other industries, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), patient organisations, and medicines regulators. The IMI is the world's biggest public-private partnership (PPP) in the life sciences, and is a partnership between the European Union (represented by the European Commission) and the European pharmaceutical industry (represented by EFPIA, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations). More information can be found at www.imi.europa.eu

This project has received funding from the IMI 2 Joint Undertaking (JU) under grant agreement No. 101034344. The IMI JU receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA.