Institut Imagine: a partnership strategy to accelerate research and innovation in genetic diseases

The Institut Imagine of Genetic Diseases (AP-HP, Inserm, Université Paris Cité) located at the Necker-Enfants malades Hospital (AP-HP), both labelled Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire (IHU) and Institut Carnot, is constantly seeking to bring together clinical and scientific expertise, whether public or private, with the aim of speeding up research and bringing solutions to patients suffering from genetic diseases more rapidly. On the occasion of the publication of its activity report, the Institute takes stock of its development and partnership research activities. In 2021, the Institute increased its partnerships with industry, coordinated major structuring research projects involving academics and private companies, supported the development of start-ups, and worked on a project to create a genetic disease modelling centre. In May 2022, the Institute recruited Hélène Chautard as Director of Innovation and Valorisation to strengthen this partnership strategy.

Published on 01.07.2022

Imagine Institute

Since its creation in 2007, the Imagine Foundation has been able to generate a strong partnership dynamic that has only increased year after year. In 2021, some forty contracts were underway with the pharmaceutical industry or with innovative health companies and start-ups. This increase has been particularly noticeable over the last two years in the development of innovative gene and cell therapies, small molecule treatments and repositioning of molecules. The next steps are also aimed at digital health and the hopes that the prospects of a digital twin will bring for the treatment of rare diseases.

Strong growth in research partnerships with industry

In 2021, all the industrial contracts in force generated more than 4.5 million euros in revenue for the translational and clinical research projects of the Institute's teams. Partnerships have been formed with the pharmaceutical industry in key areas of therapeutic innovation: QED Therapeutics in the field of achondroplasia, Moderna in the field of gene and cell therapy, Cerba Healthcare in the development of a predisposition test for severe forms of Covid-19. The partnership dynamic is also intensifying with start-ups, particularly those resulting from the Institute's work, such as STEP Pharma in immunology/oncology, Smart Immune in cellular immunotherapy and Medetia in the field of ciliopathies, or external start-ups, such as AtmosR in Ondine Syndrome

"Imagine was awarded the Institut Carnot label in 2020 in recognition of the quality of its partnership relations with the pharmaceutical industry and more broadly with the entire socio-economic world working for the benefit of innovation in health. In recognition of the strength of its partnership dynamics in 2020, Imagine will receive a contribution of 1,020 million euros in 2022, i.e. 50% more than in 2021. This significant increase will enable us to expand our research activities in partnership with industry and thus accelerate the impact of diagnostic and therapeutic advances by associating companies that will develop them and bring them to market, right up to the patient", explains Laure Boquet, General Delegate of the Institut Imagine.

"The dynamic is even stronger concerning the development of subsidised projects associating industrial partners, i.e. benefiting from structuring public funding for consortia federating several research teams and institutes", explains Laure Boquet. "The Institute's teams have positioned themselves on the main funding opportunities in 2021, at regional, national and European level. Imagine's success in the RHU 5 call for projects (University Hospital Research programmes supported by the Investissements d'avenir) at the end of 2020 and in the Horizon Europe call for projects in June 2021 already illustrates this."

Major projects carried out simultaneously and exceptional resources

Large-scale cross-disciplinary projects are a priority at Imagine, which, thanks to its public-private model, coordinates projects with a real impact on accelerating research and care. Imagine's programme, which won the RHU 5 call for projects, "COVIFERON", is led by Prof. Jean-Laurent Casanova, as part of a consortium of industrial and academic partners. This project aims to better understand the genetic and immunological bases of the different clinical forms of Covid-19, to develop diagnostic tests and to propose new preventive and therapeutic approaches. This programme is a continuation of an initial industrial collaboration developed with Cerba Healthcare in 2021.

"This is Imagine's third success in these major calls for proposals, following the C'IL-LICO project (RHU-3 in 2016) on genetic ciliopathies and ATRACtion (RHU-4 in 2019)," explains Stanislas Lyonnet, Director General of the Institut Imagine. "And Imagine is now the only UHI, and the only institute of its size, to coordinate three RHU projects."

Since June 2021, the Institut Imagine has also been the winner of the Horizon Europe call for projects, the European Union's framework programme dedicated to research and innovation for the period 2021-2027. The EDITSCD project, led by Annarita Miccio, coordinated at the Institut Imagine with a consortium of eight academic and industrial partners, aims to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of genome editing approaches for sickle cell disease.

« ATRACtion »

The Institute is the coordinator of this project, which is part of the 4th wave of the RHU call for projects. It is led by Dr Frédéric Rieux-Laucat at Imagine, and involves eleven industrial and academic partners. The project aims to develop precision medicine for patients with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases associated with primary immune deficiencies. Illustrating Imagine's ability to maximise leverage, the project was set up as a continuation of a project supported by the internal Cross-lab seed funding scheme, and then of collaborations developed with Sanofi as part of the Cifre and Sanofi iAwards programmes.



Imagine is coordinating the RHU3 project "Medicine of the future for ciliopathies with renal impairment" led by Prof. Stanislas Lyonnet and involving a consortium of academic and industrial partners. It aims to develop innovative approaches to diagnosis, prognosis and personalised treatment. Among the project's partners, the start-up Medetia, created by Jean-Philippe Annereau and Luis Briseno-Roa during this RHU and in which Imagine is a shareholder, is located on the Institute's Lab-in-labs platform. It specialises in research into therapeutic molecules to treat rare childhood diseases and was the winner of the I-Lab competition for innovative technology companies in 2021.

In order to support cross-disciplinary projects, the Institute has created the Cross-Labs scheme, which allows the initiation of projects involving several laboratories, rare disease reference centres and the Institute's platforms, around a promising and disruptive approach with a strong potential for innovation and technology transfer to the market for the benefit of patients. This springboard funding aims to encourage them to collaborate on highly ambitious projects and to apply together to support their initial results in large-scale national or European calls for projects. Since 2017, 8 Cross-lab projects have been financed, involving around twenty laboratories, fifteen reference centres and a dozen platforms. Two of them have now succeeded, three are still in progress and the three 2022 winners of the programme are supported by the Colam Foundation.

Encouraging the creation of tomorrow's biotechs

The first financial and expertise accelerator dedicated to genetic diseases, Springboard, was launched in 2020 at Imagine. It mobilises high-level scientific and industrial experts and supports projects selected for their potential for diagnostic or therapeutic innovation and business creation up to the stage of maturity required to attract investors or industry. In 2021, three new start-up projects have been selected by Springboard's Scientific and Investment Committee. A total of 6 projects are currently supported by this accelerator.

The Innogrant programme, geared towards technology transfer and launched by Institut Imagine in 2018, aims to bring out or support therapeutic or diagnostic innovation projects and guide them towards the first stages of development and proof of concept. It has already enabled nine projects to emerge, one of which has led to the creation of a start-up in the field of digital health and two of which are being taken to a more advanced stage of maturity by the Springboard accelerator.

Supporting and training to accelerate innovation

Designed in 2016 with Université Paris Cité, HEC Paris and Ecole Polytechnique, the Bioentrepreneurs Launchpad programme aims to train young scientists, engineers and managers in entrepreneurship in the biomedical field by mobilising them on innovation projects proposed by researchers and doctors from Imagine or partner institutes. Since its launch, it has trained more than 68 bio-entrepreneurs who have been mobilised on 24 biomedical innovation projects, resulting in the creation of 5 start-ups. This programme is a major component of the MedTech Generator & Accelerator initiative launched in 2021 and led by the Institut du Cerveau (ICM) in partnership with Imagine and the Institut de la Vision, to pool and offer researchers innovative programmes and accelerate the development of start-ups specialising in health and artificial intelligence for neurosciences and rare genetic diseases.

Focus on artificial intelligence and modelling

To meet the scientific, medical and societal challenges posed by genetic diseases in France and worldwide, the Institut Imagine aims to create a centre for modelling genetic diseases using artificial intelligence and digital twins, which will combine clinical, genomic, research and life data. This centre will be anchored in a network to be developed on a regional, national, European and international scale, thus capitalising on the expertise of all the players concerned - academics, hospitals, associations and the socio-economic sector.

"Between 2015 and 2020, we have invested €25 million in structuring, securing and interpreting the data. We will invest a further €7 million over the next five years in this ambitious project. By investing in human and artificial intelligence, we want to take the interpretation of combined research and healthcare data to a new level and accelerate research and its transformation into diagnostic and therapeutic solutions," explains Stanislas Lyonnet.

A new Director of Innovation and Valorisation

In May 2022, Hélène Chautard joined the Institut Imagine as Director of Innovation and Valorisation. Her mission is to contribute to the Institute's strategy in terms of innovation, industrial partnerships and entrepreneurship, and also to participate more generally in Imagine's roadmap programmes and the strategy for accelerating innovation in health. Throughout her career, particularly interested in the development of innovative therapies, Hélène has moved from the world of start-ups to that of the pharmaceutical industry, and has worked to facilitate collaborations between the academic world and the private sector. More information


►About the Institut Imagine 

On the campus of the Necker-Enfants malades AP-HP hospital, Imagine is the leading research, care and teaching centre for genetic diseases. With the mission of understanding and curing these diseases, the Institute, which has been awarded the IHU and Carnot Institute label, brings together 1,000 of the best doctors, researchers and healthcare staff in an architecture designed by Bernard Valéro and Jean Nouvel to create synergies. It is this unprecedented continuum of expertise, combined with proximity to patients, that enables Imagine to make discoveries for the benefit of patients. The 7,000 or so genetic diseases identified affect 30 million patients in Europe, and nearly 3 million in France, where there are 30,000 new cases each year. Nearly 50% of the children seen in consultations leave without a genetic diagnosis and 85% of genetic diseases do not yet have a cure. Faced with this major public health problem, the challenge is twofold: to diagnose and to cure.  

► About Université Paris Cité:

An intensive multidisciplinary research university with the "Initiative of Excellence" label, Université Paris Cité has risen to the highest international level thanks to its research, the diversity of its training courses, its support for innovation, and its active participation in the construction of the European research and training area. Université Paris Cité is made up of three faculties (Health, Sciences and Societies and Humanities), a component institution, the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris and a partner research organisation, the Institut Pasteur. Université Paris Cité has 63,000 students, 7,500 teacher-researchers and researchers, 21 doctoral schools and 119 research units.

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