Regenerative medicine involves replacing or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs in order to restore normal function. This cutting-edge field of medicine has huge potential in developing new treatments for illnesses and conditions such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
No one is more aware of this than Dr Ghislaine Duisit, who has worked on the regulation of cell growth for more than 15 years. She recently complemented her expertise in the field of technology transfer, too, by completing a Masters in Intellectual Property. Dr Duisit currently works at the Atlanpole science and technology park in Nantes, France, which acts as a regional incubator and manages several competitiveness clusters.
“At the moment I’m in charge of coordinating the TERM project (funded under the EU’s FP7 Regions of Knowledge programme),” she explains. “This aims to strengthen co-operation between regional research-driven clusters in the field of regenerative medicine, and open up new entrepreneurial opportunities.”
Started in September 2010, the three-year TERM project involves a total of 13 partners, including both research-driven clusters and regional authorities. “This mix is important, as we really wanted to involve the regions in the development of regenerative medicine,” says Dr Duisit. “It was also important and beneficial to have numerous partners from across Europe involved, as each might be more interested in a specific field, for example SME development, education or innovation.”
The project began by mapping strengths and weaknesses across the partner regions. “This actually took longer than expected,” continues Dr Duisit. “But now we are in the operating phase, and it has been really interesting to pull together information from the regional stakeholders.”
Dr Duisit is excited about the progress that has been made so far. By the end of January 2013, the consortium expects to be able to announce the launch of the first regenerative medicine portal, dedicated to encouraging collaboration among financing bodies, projects and educational institutions. “We would then hope to develop and maintain this portal,” she says. “It will be used to gather the community together, link to existing communities and help to match up investors, educationalists and research projects.”
Another key achievement of the consortium concerns the establishment of a specific international Masters programme, combining entrepreneurial and scientific skills. This will be tailored very much to the needs of regenerative medicine. “This programme will be very important, as the field is highly complex in terms of regulation and business models,” explains Dr Duisit. “It is important to have people who are specialised.” The development of the Masters is currently under discussion.
In addition, the TERM project aims to change the way in which regenerative medicine in Europe is currently promoted. For years now the marketing of innovative therapies in Europe has been limited by the regional fragmentation of research support systems. Although substantial – and successful – research has been carried out in this field, few results have been turned into products or services, and even fewer have actually reached the patient.
“Of course, the novelty of these therapeutic approaches greatly explains the lack of commercially available products, but it might not be the only reason,” says Dr Duisit. “Innovation in regenerative medicine may also suffer from inadequate support during the early stages of development.”
By establishing a European model network for the development of world-class clusters in regenerative medicine, the TERM project has gone some way to addressing these structural problems. The completion of the portal and the launch of a new education programme will help Europe to benefit fully from and to take advantage of its proven expertise in this field. The long-term impact should be better co-operation between research clusters and regional authorities, increased competitiveness and continued excellence in health care.