Two Enterprise Ireland-backed life sciences companies have been awarded funding of €13 million through the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator programme, part of the EU’s €95 billion Horizon Europe research and innovation funding programme. The successful Irish-led projects involve the acceleration of the clinical path of a disease-modifying drug which targets cardiopulmonary disease and the development of a novel appliance to improve the skin condition of ostomy bag users.
Atxa Therapeutics, which received €10.5 million in funding, is a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company committed to bringing innovative, life-changing treatments to the market and the patient, primarily for cardiopulmonary diseases.
Ostoform, which has been awarded €2.5 million, was born out of a need to improve skin health and quality of life for people who have an ostomy. The company will use the funding to further advance and scale Flowassist, its patented innovation that has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of skin complications among ostomy pouch users while extending overall ostomy appliance wear time.
“The Horizon Europe programme focuses on new breakthroughs in health research, next-generation technology and healthcare transformation,” says Dr Martha Cahill, national contact for health for the Horizon Europe programme. “My role is to promote the opportunities for EU funding for health research and to support and advise Irish applicants through the application process. Irish researchers and industry have secured over €35 million from funding opportunities in 2021 alone and further results are pending.”
According to Cahill, while Europe is at the forefront of medical innovation many challenges lie ahead. “If you look at the statistics on the ageing population in Europe or an age pyramid of the demographics of Europe, you can see that the most critical period and our greatest challenges lie ahead of us,” she says. “There will be growing challenges in healthcare and on medical and drug supplies. If you combine this with increasing risks from climate change and future pandemics you can see the urgency. Europe needs to be better prepared to ensure health security, equitable access to healthcare and improve medical countermeasures.”
The solutions lie in research and innovation. “What we are seeing now is the convergence of new technologies such as AI, machine learning, imaging technology, digitalisation, remote monitoring, new devices, and greater access to data and information to improve healthcare and patient outcomes,” she says.
“There is no more working in silos – we need a multidisciplinary approach to get results. We need this approach to deliver the next generation of technologies, to develop combined solutions such as drugs and delivery devices, medical devices and advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) or gene therapies, the quality data and AI tools to interpret these, as well as new imaging technology and data analytics.
“The end result will be better drugs, better treatment, better technology that will lead to better outcomes and improve the quality of care and treatment for all patients and citizens within the EU.”
She points to the response of the research community to the Covid-19 pandemic as evidence of its ability to work collaboratively to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
“The first part of the Horizon Europe programme focused on Covid research,” she says. “The pandemic was a wake-up call. It highlighted the need for a greater understanding of diseases, the need for professionals to work together in multi-disciplinary, and a need for greater capacity and efficiency within our healthcare system. We need better treatment and care, better value-based care, and better outcomes across the board. There is also a need for greater manufacturing capacity and capabilities within Europe to meet our future needs and respond to future health crisis.”
Covid-19 is a multifaced, enormously complicated disease, she adds. “It wreaked havoc on our lives, our society and exposed the weaknesses and fragilities in our preparedness and response system. The speed and response of the scientific community to the pandemic was unprecedented in delivering diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics, research results, the coordination of clinical research, and the treatment and care of patients.
“New ways of working were developed, there was collaboration across borders and communicating across disciplines, and new analytic methods and many new tools and technologies were developed at lighting speed. We know now what is possible and what can be achieved when there is greater coordination and a concentration of efforts to solve health problems.”
That coordination and collaboration is being supported by the Horizon Europe programme. “Emerging SMEs and academic researchers have a tendency to be early developers and adapters of new technologies and new approaches,” says Cahill. “The Horizon Europe programme provides funding and a mechanism for them to get together with other European partners to carry out the next generation of research that will be so crucial in solving future challenges.”