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"Lebanon-Europe ""on boarding"" to innovate and enhance research links in health"

Final Report Summary - LEB'IN (Lebanon-Europe "on boarding" to innovate and enhance research links in health)

Executive Summary:
Lebanon is one of Europe‘s neighbours, and the reinforcement of the cooperation with Lebanon in the context of the European Research Area (ERA) is an important part of the European Union‘s international collaboration activities. It aims at promoting closer scientific cooperation between Lebanon and the European Union, and at preparing Lebanon‘s possible future association to the Framework Programmes. It also aims at increasing Lebanon’s participation to the European funded research projects.
The 30-month LEB‘IN project gives Lebanon the possibility to improve its research activities to their highest quality within the FP7 thematic priority “International cooperation”. It also provides an important contribution to the “Health” field, and, in particular, in the field of “Human Genetics and Genomics”. This is achieved through twinning activities between Saint-Joseph University (USJ), one of the leading Lebanese scientific and educational organizations, and Aix Marseille University (AMU), a long term partner of USJ, located in Marseille (France). inno, an international S&T collaboration expert, with a strong experience in coaching and training scientific organizations on European programmes, is providing methodological, coaching and training support to the project partners. Berytech, a Lebanese incubator and business development center, brings to the consortium the dimension of research-industry partnerships.
The finality of the project is to establish a framework for EU-Lebanon cooperation in the “Human Genetics and Genomics” field with the help of the USJ - AMU tandem; and to offer to researchers from USJ, from other Lebanese educational institutions, or from other neighbouring countries, the possibility to perform research on adequate levels in order to be able to support the industry in this region with the necessary skills to participate in this economically important sector.
During the first project period, the project focused on the analytic activities in the objective of preparing the basis for a coherent development strategy for USJ. SWOT and socio-economic analysis, on a Lebanese, regional (Mediterranean) and European level, have been realized thanks to the contribution of the LEB’IN Scientific reference team, that has been set up in September 2012. More than 30 Health stakeholders from Europe, Lebanon or world-wide, have been involved in the process. A Strategic Development Plan of USJ has been developed based on these precedent analyses.
In order to improve the networking capacities of USJ, a dissemination strategy has also been developed and implemented, both for the LEB’IN project and the institution. Promotion of scientific information & results of research will help to identify new partners and to build new consortia in future collaboration opportunities.
In its second phase, the project has reached a significant progress on the main types of activities, thus forming a coherent plan for improving the USJ’ capacities in a number of fields:

- Twinning activities, based on the twinning and joint research plan prepared and implemented jointly by USJ and AMU. This activity includes exchange of researchers and young specialists, organisation of joint scientific workshops, set up of joint research experiments, feasibility study and pre- negotiation on setting up a joint virtual laboratory USJ-AMU, joint publications, etc.
- International cooperation activities, such as networking & brokerage, ETP and FP7/Horizon 2020 consortia integration implementing at wide European and regional level, involving other European organisations in order to broaden the impact of the project.
- Training and coaching activities to increase USJ’s understanding of European programmes, build competences and prepare the participation of USJ to the Horizon 2020 programme.
Three peer reviews were organized in order to validate three projects’ key deliverables by the high level Scientific Reference Team (SRT), nominated by the project.

In term of figures, LEB’IN has succeeded to implement the following:
• 5 Seminars,
• 4 Technical Scientific workshops,
• 4 short term researchers exchanges,
• 4 management staff visits and coaching activities,
• 3 Summer Schools (of which one under organization for November 2014),
• 4 Satellite Workshops,
• several consortia integrations (under evaluation),
• 8 participations in external events,
• Organisation of one final large scale conference,
• 10+ publications,
• 5 newsletters and news articles, etc.
However, the realization of all these figures, that are largely beyond the initial targets, wouldn’t be possible without a strong commitment of partners to work together to promote the genetics/genomics field across Europe.

In sum, the LEB’IN co-operation translated into concrete joint activities, demonstrated a high return on investment made by the European Commission not only in strengthening the bilateral scientific cooperation between the two leading scientific centers in Lebanon and in France, but also in supporting the improvement of European research in the field of genetics/genomics. Due to the effective twinning, Lebanese and French research centers (as well as other EU institutions involved) have confirmed and strengthened their respective competences aimed at innovative implementation of joint scientific projects in the field of genomic research as well as medical diagnostics.
The LEB’IN project has played a significant role in the development of the ground for networking of the European research centers and showed a strategic interest in the study of rare genetic diseases in the Mediterranean region improving European research in this specific field by overcoming existing fragmentation of the research centers and knowledge through the creation of new approaches.

Project Context and Objectives:
The overall objective of the LEB‘IN project is to stimulate win-win cooperation and strategic partnership between Europe and Lebanon in the Health field (in particular in the “Human Genetics and Genomics” thematic) through international cooperation activity, and at integrating Lebanon into the European Research Area, by strengthening Lebanese participation in the EU Framework Programme (Horizon 2020), increasing Lebanese visibility of the European Research Area and improving international cooperation capacities.
The project had the following overall objectives via four groups of activities:
1. Prepare USJ to the new steps in its strategic development;
2. Set up and implement an ambitious twinning programme between USJ and its long term European partner AMU;
3. Reinforce international cooperation capacities of USJ and integrate USJ in the international networks and research consortia
4. Organize events (eg. conference, summer school, networking & brokerage sessions, information sessions, FP7 trainings...) to strengthen FP7/Horizon 2020 skills of USJ and to raise awareness about collaboration opportunities with USJ.

These activities were divided into two periods, the first period the project had three main objectives that were successfully attained:
1) Undertake preparatory and analytical activities, allowing to build on the results of the twinning and integration activities,
2) Launch twinning activities,
3) Launch implementation of awareness raising campaign and activities aiming at the reinforcement of the international cooperation capacities of USJ.

Activities of the second period consisted in pursuing the following objectives:
1) Deepening the understanding of USJ’s structural research needs
The project has reached a significant progress on the main types of activities, thus forming a coherent plan for improving USJ’s capacities in a number of fields relevant to the FP7 Thematic Priority “Health” (even though being an international cooperation project). For the second period, it was important for the project to build upon the analysis that had been carried out in the project’s first phase: SWOT, socio-economic analysis as well as the development of a Strategic Development Plan (SDP) in order to assess the setting of priorities while undertaking the twinning activities accordingly (the SDP was finalized during the second project period).

2) Implementing Twinning activity
The objective of this group of activities was to develop an ambitious twinning programme between USJ and its long term European partner AMU (France) and to launch its implementation.
The first sub-objective was about preparing the basis of the twinning work between the two research organizations, by elaborating an overall Twinning Plan and a Joint Research Plan, preparing a Memorandum of Understanding and a formal Twinning Agreement.
The second sub-objective was to implement and monitor joint twinning activities. This activity includes conducting of joint experiments in different EU locations, setting-up of short-term researchers’ exchange (especially young researchers), organizing scientific workshops, practical exchange, data and knowledge sharing between researchers, joint publication, etc. Accurate feedback was guaranteed by means of regular peer reviews.

3) Awareness raising and reinforcement of international cooperation capacities of USJ
This group of activities was prepared in the first phase and implemented in the second; it was the basis for the reinforcement of USJ’s international cooperation capacities through the strengthening of USJ’s cooperation skills, as well as raising of the awareness about collaboration opportunities with different Lebanese research centres. It included dissemination actions, joint USJ/AMU participation in EU events, development of the LEB’IN project website and the preparation of an informational basis for USJ integration into the European Research Area and networks.

Project Results:
The implementation of the LEB’IN project provided a substantial added value to the activities enhancing EU-Lebanese research cooperation between members of the consortium, mainly Aix-Marseille University and Saint-Joseph University of Beirut through the genetics research laboratories of Valerie Delague at AMU and André Megrabané at the unit of medical genetics UGM at USJ. This was also true on a second level for the S&T specialist (inno TSD), an international S&T collaboration expert and experienced FP& and H2020 coach and trainer for the scientific organizations who implemented the project’s analyses and provided methodological coaching and training support to the project and finally Berytech, a Lebanese incubator and business development center, who provided input for SWOT and socio-economic analysis, supported the organization of scientific workshops and other events and elaborated on a technology/knowledge transfer concept in the framework of a “health cluster”.
This added value includes many exploitable results, such as the knowledge that has been acquired on the collaboration schemes between the researchers in the common scientific field of health and genetics as well as on the technical and logistical coaching from which benefited USJ’s research administration.
The major project achievements include:
- Preparatory and analytical activities, that allowed better understanding about USJ’s
o strengths and weaknesses
o socio-economic demand
o Strategic Development Plan

- Twinning activities, based on the twinning and joint research plan prepared and implemented jointly by USJ and AMU. This activity included several types of joint training events, as well as other sub-activities that have been organized with different objectives each:
o Seminars by well-known specialists in the field were targeting Master and PhD students but also clinicians and scientists, with an objective of developing and extending scientific networks.
o Technical workshops intended to train the audience, mostly students and lab technicians and engineers to a technology or an experiment. They were usually 1 to 5 days long and aimed at implanting durably a new technology/method at the Genetics Research Unit of USJ.
o Technical trainings: these trainings were longer (1-3 months) and were targeting PhD students. The objectives were that the student could develop a strong expertise, in order to translate the concept/experiment/analysis method in UGM-USJ and thus transfer knowledge at a profound basis to a wider audience among other colleagues at USJ.
o General exchange of researchers and young specialists among the research institutions.
o Joint research experiments with training on methods and tools for USJ staff
o Annual thematic summer schools consisting in a series of workshops over 4 days to introduce students and young researchers to different topics.
o Satellite workshops that took place during the different summer schools.
o One large scale conference.

- International cooperation activities, such as networking & brokerage, ETP and FP7/Horizon 2020 consortia integration implementation at wide European and regional level, involving other European organisations in order to broaden the impact of the project.

- Visibility, awareness raising and dissemination actions in Lebanon, on a Mediterranean and a European level. The project team has used several tools and channels to spread information on the LEB’IN project:
o Awareness raising in the institution through exchange of staff in a well-established mobility activity between USJ and Aix-Marseille University (AMU): this clearly raised the knowledge in both institutions among their staff members; common work, mostly on research projects and networking activities and has helped to raise the awareness also to an external level (partners, congress participants, etc.)
o Awareness raising through Experts’ networks: The experts come from different countries, from high quality institutions or laboratories working mainly in the area of genetics/genomics/rare diseases and are experienced networking specialists and European programme participants.
o Awareness raising through visibility in events: organization of project events and participation in renown international conferences clearly could raise the visibility of USJ among Health professionals (mostly researchers) on an international level
o Joint publications:
+Newsletters and news articles
+ Publications in scientific journals
o General dissemination material

- Coaching/Training activities to increase USJ’s understanding of FP7, build competences and prepare the participation of USJ to the Horizon 2020 programme. Three trainings have been organized in the framework of LEB’IN and networking sessions took place during the participation in external events.

Potential Impact:
The main long-term objective of the LEB’IN project was to improve Lebanese and south Mediterranean cooperation to enhance research in the field of congenital genetic disorders and hereditary rare diseases and Exome sequencing studies. The cooperation strategy and sustainability issues were discussed and considered throughout the entire progress of the project. The activities aimed to ensure the durability of the twinning actions and of the laboratories functioning beyond the end of the project. A Sustainability plan summarizing the results and decisions of both research organisations has been prepared in order to allow the:
- Continuation of the twinning activities after the end of the project;
- Continuation of use of common data, information, knowledge and material on-line tools;
- Continuation of collaboration in common networks;
For the preparation of such sustainable cooperation, appropriate funding sources have been detected and analyzed, proposals for future joint projects have been prepared in the aim of developing and strengthening the cooperation between USJ and AMU giving impulse for USJ (especially to UGM) to reinforce its scientific capacities and thus become a major center for the education of young scientists from the Arab and Mediterranean, as well as European countries.
The project team believes that LEB’IN will also give impulse to Genetic research development and the improvement of the related academic programmes in Lebanon. It is hoped that by allowing exchanges between the two structures, the project will facilitate the fast development of new technologies and capacities in Lebanon. It will also pave the way for emerging innovative genetic businesses and new fields of scientific exploration in the epidemiological and psycho-social dimension of genetic diseases, genetic counselling and genetic therapies. After the project, collaborative research projects will continue as well as summer schools, built on the lessons learnt and the best practices acquired during the LEB’IN implementation.
The project activity has a focus on involving the Mediterranean Partner Countries overall in activities, so the link to those countries has also been taken into account for the activity of network and consortia integration. The twinning activities between USJ and AMU in the field of genetics/genomics being an important component of the project, the two laboratories have jointly programmed and organized common activities that respond to the needs of the Region.
Successful activities of the project demonstrated high outcomes not only in strengthening bilateral scientific cooperation between the two research centers of Lebanon and France but also due to the fact that the effective twinning activities between the Lebanese and the French research centers have confirmed and strengthened their respective competences aimed at innovative implementation of joint scientific projects in the field of congenital genetic disorders, hereditary rare diseases and Exome sequencing studies.

In addition, LEB’IN has generated many indirect but nevertheless, important outcomes laying the foundations for long term collaboration and enhancing the competitiveness of the involved actors:
First, the four analyses undertaken in the first period of the project were extremely beneficial to Saint-Joseph University:
1. The SWOT analysis indicated that USJ has enough research capacities to become a Key player for overcoming the fragmentation on the EU-Lebanon research in the field of human genomics.
2. The socio-economic analysis highlighted the importance of the research and development for the public health, assessing their major impacts on health, economy and society (growth, employment, life conditions). The findings and conclusions of the exercise were helpful to the project team in formulating main priorities for USJ’s research and development themes.
3. The Strategic Development Plan of USJ helped to set the priorities in its research policy especially in developing :
a. The university’s research environment: research governance, research structures as well as internal and external (local, regional and international) collaborations
b. The visibility and impact of research undertaken at USJ
c. The socio-economic dimension of research: funding, innovation and knowledge transfer
4. The feasibility study of a joint virtual laboratory between USJ and AMU that hosted the twinning activities and the implementation of which took place throughout the duration of the project.

All these studies have been carried out under the LEB’IN project in order to assist USJ in the identification of its weaknesses, capabilities and opportunities and further institute strategy development and in order to strengthen its international collaboration capacities.
The project activities implemented the strengths of UGM/USJ’s international cooperation capacities, enhanced the dissemination of scientific information & results of research and helped to attract new partners for further collaboration.
LEB’IN helped particularly UGM/USJ staff participation in international conferences, workshops and other sessions increasing opportunities for networking and partner search during these events and offered identification of collaboration opportunities and enlargement of cooperation between USJ and European institutions in the field of UGM’s interests.

Secondly, LEB’IN was the initiator of the development of a strategic tool which is the joint virtual laboratory. The close collaboration between USJ/UGM and AMU built within a joint virtual laboratory, on joint research, scientists exchange, organisation of joint scientific workshops and mutual participation in European events and spreading excellence beyond the partnership prepared the background for extending of collaboration, increasing knowledge exchange and providing availability of current research techniques. An extension is even planned to other research centres from Europe and the Mediterranean.
LEB’IN assisted in the training of young specialists to become proficient in different scientific branches in relation with the genetics field.
The project had a significant impact on involvement of USJ in the international teams and networks. USJ’s competences became more visible in Europe for the mutual benefits of both USJ and the Euro-Mediterranean institutions (see deliverable D3.3 for more details).
Strategic common research fields were identified and consequently to the twinning research activity a significant number of scientific publications is being written and a couple have been already published.
In a second phase, it seemed important to develop a common strategy for translating human genomic research into clinical practice. Thus specific test kits like the “all-in-One” for the Lebanese region were developed and put on the market. These tests aimed to support diminishing the prevalence of genetic diseases.
Many of the twinning activities performed led to the discovery of the causative genes in the affected patients/families and a result was given to the patients as well as genetic counselling.

On the whole, this joint research activity allowed the identification of more than 6 individualized new genes involved in rare hereditary neurological diseases and 6 new mutations in genes already known to be involved in these diseases. Many results are currently under publication.
Partners have discussed a joint USJ/AMU virtual lab model and possible ways of its development and inclusion of new partners in the future. Achieving the ambitious goal defined by LEB’IN consortium partners as a result of activities undertaken during project life-cycle required a combination of focused efforts on Euro-Mediterranean levels, greater availability of funds, intelligent solutions, mobility of people and development of specific instruments such as joint virtual lab, as well as joint participation/organisation of conferences, trainings of young scientists and distance learning using the informal network.
LEB’IN contribution to the informal network setting up has been provided by the organisation of scientific workshops, networking and brokerage events at numerous international conferences, etc.
During the whole project lifetime, the partners have paid a particular attention to involve young researchers in the projects’ activities, both EU, Mediterranean and Lebanese, and this approach will certainly help to increase the opportunities of young scientists to benefit from involvement into upcoming international projects, joint research conducted together with leading scientists using unique facilities and therefore accelerate their professional advancement.

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