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NEUROsciences RESearch Clusters of Excellence

Final Report Summary - NEURO-RESCUE (NEUROsciences RESearch Clusters of Excellence)

Executive Summary:

NEURO-RESCUE (NEUROsciences RESearch Clusters of Excellence) is a 3-years Coordination Action project issued of the Region of Knowledge (RoK) initiave financed by the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission. It aimed at stimulating cooperation in European fundamental, clinical and social and behavioural research in mental health, in order to support Europe’s leading position in understanding and response to mental disorders, dementia or neurodegenerative diseases. NEURO-RESCUE addressed these social challenges bridging the gap between researches into mental disorders and implementing innovative solutions.

At present there is a growing awareness that the impact of neurodegenerative diseases on the population in Europe is of such a magnitude that no Member State is capable of resolving it alone. NEURO-RESCUE partners are convinced that Member States could benefit from coordinating their actions to develop a stronger, better coordinated and more effective response at the European level. Due to the growing awareness that the impact of neurodegenerative diseases on the population in Europe is of such a magnitude a consortium of six European partners decided to gather together believeing that they could have an important contribution to responding to these challenges.

The Consortium brought together 4 regions and their medical cluster/structures: Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur with Eurobiomed (FR), Bavaria with Bayern Innovativ together with Forum MedTech Pharma (DE), Catalonia with Parc de Salut (ES), Budapest and with Medipole (HU). The partners are supported by the international innovation and cluster group inno (Germany).

By working with leading regional clusters in an open dialogue with regional, national and European stakeholders, the NEURO-RESCUE project set up new models for mental health research that guarantee a systematic multidisciplinary approach. These addressed:
• Research issues: the technological developments required in order to translate experimental results into clinical practice.
• Economic issues: mental disorders represent an untapped market (medicine, medical devices, ICT solutions...) with unmet medical and social needs that can drive an ethical, sustainable, innovative and high-growth potential health economy.
• Societal issues: increasing the opportunities and quality of life of patients and carers and relieving regional healthcare systems.

At the international level, Europe is well placed in mental health research with leading European research organisations have a proven scientific record of excellence in the fields of neurology, genetics, neurophysiology... Public-private partnerships are addressing this issue (e.g. IMI-PharmaCOG) which also confirms the overall endorsement of the research, business and policy-making community on the strengths and opportunities in mental health research in Europe. However, there is a growing need to address mental health issues in a comprehensive way and a need to coordinate policy, research and enterprise into a more efficient partnership.

The NEURO-RESCUE project addressed this challenge by aiming to reorganise mental health research with the aim to bridge the gap between research into mental disorders and the implementation of innovative solutions, to improve the everyday life of patients and carers.

Project Context and Objectives:
Care for people with dementia is a growing concern in many European countries. In the context of an ageing population, an increasing number of European citizens are likely to be affected by mental disorders, dementia or neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s). Furthermore, for every patient there is a need for least the double of carers. Addressing the opportunities for patients suffering from dementia, as well as addressing the issue of caring, is of critical concern to policy makers at regional, national, EU and international levels.

Europe is increasingly aware of the great societal challenges posed by dementia and mental health, but also by the economic impact of the mental health innovative applications development. Policy initiatives attest the implication of policy-makers: national Plans and successive Public Health Programmes have co-funded projects explicitly working in the fields of mental health promotion and the prevention of mental disorders, but also actions undertaken by the EU at every level have a direct relevance on the mental health of European citizens. For example, from the Lisbon Strategy, to enlargement, or to the Sustainable Development Strategy, there is a mental health dimension to almost all of the actions undertaken by the Community.

In addition, in 2005 the Commission published a Green Paper "Improving the Mental Health of The Population: Towards A Strategy on Mental Health for the European Union." As a follow-up to the Green Paper on Improving the Mental Health of the Population in 2005, the Commission indicated its intention to launch a Pact on Mental Health at a high-level conference in June 2008. The purpose of the Pact is to highlight the relevance of mental health for public health, productivity, learning and social cohesion in the EU. It is based on 5 priorities: prevention of depression and suicide; mental health in youth and education; mental health in workplace settings; mental health of older people; and combating stigma and social exclusion. Implementation of the Pact will be taken forward through a series of thematic conferences in 2008/2009 in order to develop further plans for action and finally led to a Commission Proposal for a Council Recommendation on Mental Health in July 2009.

In addition, the High Level Group for Joint Programming (GPC) recognised in 2008 neurodegenerative diseases as an area where Joint Programming would provide a major added value to the current, fragmented efforts of Member States in the field of research, and the necessity to launch a pilot Joint Programming Initiative on combating those diseases, in particular Alzheimer's disease.

The NEURO-RESCUE project addressed the main challenges in neurosciences by aiming to reorganise mental health research and bridging the gap between research into mental disorders and the implementation of innovative solutions as well as improving the everyday life of patients and carers.

Involving key regions in neurosciences research, NEURO-RESCUE project :
• Mapped the potential for setting up an integrative model to address all scientific aspects of mental health (genetics, biomarkers, functional imaging, cognition & emotion, neurophysiology, pharmacological challenges in animal models as well as human volunteers);
• Fostered and ensured a multidisciplinary approach in fundamental and basic research;
• Provided mechanisms to speed up “bench to the bedside research” (from basic research to clinical research), and accelerate the time to market for products and services in the field of mental health applications (industrial applications in: medicine, medical devices and ICT solutions);
• Gained a better understanding of behavioural aspects of patients suffering from dementia;
• Addressed the increasing societal burden of an ageing population suffering from mental disorders (policy-making).

In order to support Europe’s leading position in understanding and responding to mental disorders, dementia or neurodegenerative diseases, NEURO-RESCUE also focused on:
• Helping companies become more competitive by enhancing access to research excellence, funding mechanisms and innovation through the improved interconnection of the actors in the field of Neurosciences;
• Promoting the collaboration, the exchange and the dissemination of best practices related to Neurosciences at the European level and beyond;
• Supporting the internationalization efforts of academics and research institutes in the field of Neurosciences through improved collaboration between themselves and with companies notably SMEs;
• Supporting policy makers in developing innovative clusters and healthcare policies.
• Developing a holistic approach to raise awareness and increase prevention on societal and patient care issues linked to Neurosciences such as the prevention of ageing related diseases.
• Helping policy makers develop research and innovation Smart Specialization framework conditions

Some of the results achieved thanks to NEURO-RESCUE were to increase the value of collaborative research among different European regions, to increase the possibility of pooling resources to ensure quicker time to market for companies, to support the emergence of lead markets in the area of ICT solutions linked to mental disorders, to help in providing a betterwelfare and assistance to patients and carers and, finally, to create excellence in EU healthcare clusters and mentor new regions in these fields.

Project Results:
In order to achieve all project objectives defined in the previous chapter, the consortium drew a plan composed by several Work Packages each of those represented by specific actions and activities.

During the first 10 months of the project a mapping and SWOT analysis was carried out in order to identify existing RTD actors, policies and activities for each involved cluster. Strengths and weaknesses of each region in term of its capacity to produce, to transfer and to use knowledge in neurodegenerative diseases were also detected. NEURO-RESCUE was particularly interested in finding opportunities of synergies and international collaborations to build the Joint Action Plan (JAP) forseen as a main Milestone of the project itself.

The global SWOT provided the basis to highlight the differences in the approaches between the four Regions on each issue, to identify best practices, to identify the opportunities for mutual learning and mentoring opportunities between the different research-driven clusters and to identify opportunities for concrete collaboration between the project partners as part of the JAP. The analysis of each cluster and policy mapping enabled cluster partners to carry out a detailed SWOT analysis of the access to R&D finance and company development finance in general in each field: medicine, medical devices and ICT solutions. To adequately complete questionnaires by each regional cluster partners a 2-3 day-visits in each partner region were organized in 2011. Inno AG included the analysis of information collected during the visits such as cluster activities and support policies, the basic information for the mapping tool of RDI policies related to health and neurosciences (such a tool was made available on line on the project website), a mapping of research and technology competences, individual SWOT analysis on key issues (academic research, industry market, connection between science and industry, healthcare, human resources, etc.) as well as ideas and suggestions for the JAP on the key issues raised during the visits. The SWOT analysis helped increating the framework conditions for a common approach between the NEURO-RESCUE partners.

During the same period studies on issues concerning the financing of R&D particularly for SMEs was also carried out. The reports provided by project partners underlined the difficulties faces by SMEs in the field of neurosciences and ageing (such as absence of a viable business model, too much dependence on the public funding, little vision of existing support bodies, complex structures of financing, lack of visibility in the face of potential partners, not enough networking with the private financial sector), but also strengths exhisting in some regions. Partners focused on general opportunities for improvement in terms of access to financing for SMEs in neurosciences and ageing and on particular actions to be implemented under the NEURO-RESCUE JAP (and afterwards, or with the support from another existing bodies/initiatives).

The last year of the project was instead dedicated to the implementation of the JAP by laying the foundations for a possible post-project implementation with a series of preparatory actions and some pilot projects. The JAP was supported by a set of activities such as the identification and participation in complimentary national and international projects, identification and integration of new regional research-driven cluster partners, organisation of events to mentoring activities and to disseminate the JAP across Europe.

Concrete and measurable impacts.

International mentoring activities.
International mentoring activities have always been a core task in the NEURO-RESCUE project. Mentoring activities, which are essential levers on improving R&D and innovation framework conditions, were mainly lead by two regions well placed to deliver those impacts contributing to the Region of Knowledge (RoK) ambitions objectives. Securing mentoring impacts through the organisation of events, the dissemination of project results and creating cooperation opportunities were set as priorities for the consortium and contribute to the creation of regional research clusters elsewhere.

The Budapest based partner, Medipole, was responsible for developing a mentoring programme for all the neighbouring countries. Whereas the PACA region was committed to partnerships and alliances with a number of Mediterranean countries through its international relations programme such as its leadership of the cluster initiatives via the Union for the Mediterrenean (UfM).

The first mentoring event was organised in April 2011 and targeted regional medical clusters from different Eastern European countries (bioROne - The Biotech Cluster in North - East Romania, LifeScience Krakow Klaster, Poland, Biotechnology Innovation Base Cluster, Hungary). These 3 clusters participated actively to the event as they were, themselves, speakers of the day, introducing their cluster organisation and ecosystem and addressing NEURO-RESCUE partners their needs as emerging medical clusters. Moreover, the general director of Department Ministry for National Economy gave a presentation about Clusters in the R&D Strategy in Hungary which boosted the interest of other local authorities present to the event such as the PACA Regional Council and the Ministry of Economy and Cluster Policy of Turkey present to the evnt. Open discussions about further possible cooperations were held with the Romanian Cluster. Contacts were exchanged and new projects were eventually discussed.

From its side, the PACA Regional Council co-organised with the partner Eurobiomed the NeuroConnection mentoring workshop which included participants and speakers not only from the Mediterrenean area (targeted mentoring area) but also from China, India and the USA. As it is known the region of PACA benefits from a developed network with the Mediterranean countries, such as Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. It has to be noticed that Maghreb countries are characterised by a rising ageing population and healthcare and neurodegenerative diseases are therefore becoming an important societal issue. One of the real challenges for the Arab world in mental health is the reorganisation of the health providing structures, medical education and training. This cannot be reached without the guidance of action oriented and research policies. Many of these countries have launched programmes and policies to support mental health since 2009/2010.

International cooperation.
Such mentoring events were possible thanks to the identification and creation of “Second circle of clusters in emerging coutries” of NEURO-RESCUE clusters which were invited to participate to the events on the status of research and patients’ care on neurodegenerative diseases. The identified circle contributed to the mentoring actions proposed in the relevant work package and it was carried out during the second year of the projects. The “Second circle of clusters” was constituted by mature regional research-driven clusters and emerging clusters with a less developed regional research, targeting two main area: Eastern European countries and Mediterranean countries. Such activity helped partners in developping further international cooperation with cluster.

Thanks to the participation of the PACA Regional Council and Bayern innovative to the same NeuroRescue project, the regional authorities of the two regions signed a framework agreement in February 2012. The PACA Regional Council is currently supporting the project of a local economic actor (CAFAP-Club d’Affaires Franco-Allemand de Provence) in the organisation of an intercluster meeting that will be held in Munich in April 2014. To the organisation will be included the Chamber of Commerce office of Munich region NeuroRescue partners of the two regions will be invited to represent NeuroRescue underlining the importance to participate to such European projects having an added value to the each region. The event will be the occasion to present to clusters the main European programmes shered by the two regions, such as Alpine Space and Horizon 2020, INTERREG EUROPE, etc.

Besides, NEURO-RESCUE contributed to increase the exchange between other partners involved in RoK project. Two “Health RoK meetings” were organised by NEURO-RESCUE partners. The first was hold in 2011 at the PACA Regional Council office in Brussels and the second followed the NeuroConnection Conference held in Marseille in July 2013. Both meetings aimed at sharing experiences on JAP implementation and pilot projects. It was interesting to see different approaches from RoK projects in the development of the JAP according to the topic of each project. Discussion on the possible creation of a Metacluster issued by partners of FP7 RoK Projects was discussed. Despite the cacophony of agreements among participants about the interest of a Heealth metacluuster, some partners of NEURO-RESCUE showed their interest in the proposal. Further steps may be taken individually by partners during 2014, beyond the project deadline

Funding synergies for future R&D&I project.
One of the objectives of NEURO-RESCUE was to integrate different local, national and European funding opportunities. The various regional authorities involved in this project such as PACA Regional Council and the Region of Budapest have already developed linkages between the regional cluster programmes and the ERDF programmes. These will be enhanced and further experiences shared between the partners to identify the scope for other funding synergies for R&D projects. At a regional level the impetus provided by the Regions of Knowledge label will reinforce the integration of clusters into the wider regional research and development agendas and thus boosting the competitiveness of health related economy. By raising the profile regional stakeholders will create opportunities for enhanced impacts via synergies with other funding sources (regional/state and European) notably the structural funds. The impact on the cluster themselves will include quantifiable measures in terms of increased membership, a greater presence on international markets and cooperation projects, the growth of employment in cluster companies, internationalisation of businesses/SMEs involved in the clusters, etc..

Societal challenges
Finally, the partners believe that in supporting the NEURO-RESCUE project that the EU will make an important impact and step towards ensuring that awareness is raised in society as a whole, and not just specialized researchers/clusters, of the challenges linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Research in these fields has a cross technology requirement which can create synergies and linkages with other research areas and also have impacts on economic and societal matters of relevance the the general public. NEURO-RESCUE impacts therefore on responding to one of the major challenges facing society in the 21st century and contributed to raising research excellence but also general awareness of these issues. In doing do, linkages with local association of patients affected by neuroscience-diseases were created. In a long term vision, exchangs of best practices among regions participating to the project will be possible helping in defining an European harmonised strategy in this caring field.

Potential Impact:

(see above description)

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