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Creating the Hungarian Centre of Excellence for Molecular Medicine

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HU-MOLMEDEX (Creating the Hungarian Centre of Excellence for Molecular Medicine)

Reporting period: 2015-06-01 to 2016-05-31

The starting point of this project was the realization that there is a gap between the output of Hungarian molecular medicine and that of leading European countries, presenting a need for improvements that would positively impact biomedical research in Hungary. This reason of lagging behind high performing countries is related to several aspect of research activities such as the fragmentation of organization and teams, lack of effective cooperation with industry, lack of coordinated infrastructure development, inadequate mechanisms for selecting and rewarding excellence, instability in long term funding and brain-drain. Some key accelerators of transformative change have emerged that could offer an unprecedented opportunity for Hungarian molecular medicine as a whole to change in a way that these shortcomings can be addressed and to start closing the gap.

Having identified the barriers and disparities hindering European level competitiveness and the challenges of the postgenomic area, the partnering institutions including a governmental agency, three universities and a research institution have prepared the strategy that manifested as a Business Plan describing the establishment and functioning of a new research institute, the Hungarian Center of Excellence for Molecular Medicine (HCEMM). The process of Business Plan development was conducted by the MOLMEDEX project (a Coordination and Support Action project funded by the European commission under the HORIZON 2020 Framework Program) and greatly utilized the bilateral cooperation with the high performing partner, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). The project partners were the National Research, Development and Innovation Office of Hungary (NKFIH) as Coordinator, the EMBL, and four leading Hungarian research institutions: the University of Szeged, the Semmelweis University, the Biological Research Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and University of Debrecen. The supporting role and commitment of NKFIH was crucial as NKFIH is the main governmental body responsible for research, development and innovation in Hungary and plays a significant role in the design, implementation and monitoring of the smart specialization strategy of Hungary.

The main result of the MOLMEDEX project was the detailed description of the process how to establish HCEMM as an autonomous, sustainable, “game changer” organization, which can influence the research environment in a large segment of the Hungarian institutional and university environment with a long term reforming effect. A detailed analysis on the research and technology potential of the founding institutions and their surrounding regions was prepared, a long term research and innovation strategy has been outlined, the organizational structure, technical and human resources of the new center of excellence was defined, communication strategy has been worked out. The financial sustainability and long term stability of HCEMM could be realistically planned based on commitments from the Hungarian government and the participating institutions in the country.
The overall objective of the WP 1 (PROJECT AND FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT) was to ensure the effective management of this project. In this work package, the coordination, management as well as the internal communication of the project were executed together with the scientific management of the consortium, monitoring of the work progress and taking actions in case of delay and problems.
All partners were contributor to the tasks, as all the partners shall be involved in reporting, participation on meetings, decision making, and communication activities.

The goal of WP2 (Market strategy) was to deliver an assessment on the research and innovation landscape in Hungary and in the surrounding regions for the strategy to be prepared in WP3. A market analysis study was prepared on the potential users’ and partners’ needs, planned research and innovation activities. An important task was the description of the emerging research trends. The final outcome was the Market Analysis (D2.1). The Market analysis was used for the Business Plan.

The research and innovation strategy (WP3) included the work on the research and innovation strategy (D3.1) preparation of the HCEMM. This was one of the most important inputs for the Business Plan as it was based not only on partners needs but also on the market and research trends and initiatives (coming from WP2). An important output was the D3.2 the Service portfolio of the project which work was completed together with the WP4 implementation (there was a delay in delivering the D3.2).

In the frame of WP4 (Infrastructural requirements) the infrastructural needs of the future HCEMM were defined. In WP4 an important task was the definition of HR needs required for the use of the infrastructure of HCEMM (D4.1 Final list of technical specifications for HCEMM, D4.2 Analysis on the research and human infrastructure of the partners and D4.3 Evaluation of HR needs regarding infrastructure and equipments).

In WP5 (Organizational and HR development) some of the most important questions were discussed regarding the establishment of HCEMM: namely the form of legal entity of the future HCEMM and its location. The other main output was the D5.1 the HR strategy that defined general and specific HR-related issues (e.g. the rules of selecting, evaluating PIs, the composition of RGs etc)
A call for offer was published among the partners to decide where to establish and host the headquarter of the future HCEMM. This WP included the most important milestones of the project. The other important task was the definition of the organizational development plan for the HCEMM which were discussed and accepted by the Steering Committee (SC) (D5.2).

The main output of the WP6 (Communication, business and public relations) was be the communication strategy of the future Center of Excellence (D6.1).

The WP7 (Sustainability) was the most important workpackage in the project as it focused on the preparation of the Business Plan of future Center of Excellence based on the input of the other work packages. This was the main deliverable of the project. The WP2-WP6 were interlinked in several ways in the project which highlighted the importance of the smooth and adequate management and the outputs of WP2-WP6 served as input for the Business Plan (D7.1).

The details of the work performed are included in Part B of the Final Periodic Report.
Expected impact nr.1 – according to the call text
Actions will lead to the creation of new (or significant upgrades of existing) Centres of Excellence in Member States and regions currently identified as low performers in terms of research and innovation, increasing on the one hand their scientific capabilities and on the other, enabling them to engage in a strategic growth path in terms of economic development.
It is also expected that improved scientific capabilities will allow them to improve their chances to seek competitive funding in international fora (including the EU Framework Programmes).

Activities done to reach this expected impact:
Exchange of best practices have been analyzed

1. Cooperation with EMBL who was a member of the consortium by undertaking several visits (eg. infrastructural planning, SC meeting) and

2. Cooperation with the members of the International Advisory Board (IAB) who were visited by the Scientific Director of the project and by some SC member. The IAB consisted of the

- VIB which is a life sciences research institute in Flanders, Belgium which performs basic research with a strong focus on translating scientific results into pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial applications. As VIB works in close partnership with four five universities − UGent, KU Leuven, University of Antwerp, Vrije University Brussel and Hasselt University and is funded by the Flemish government, VIB has provided a number of good examples of working methods and approaches to the different WPs of HU-MOLMEDEX. VIB was represented by Mr. Jo Bury.
- FIMM is a similar institute in Finland and has offered a series of good practices for HU-Molmedex. The Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) is an international research institute in Helsinki focusing on human genomics and personalized medicine. FIMM integrates molecular medicine research, Technology Centre and Biobanking Infrastructures “under one roof” and thereby promotes translational research and adoption of personalized medicine in health care. FIMM is part of the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine, composed of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the centers for molecular medicine in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. At the national level, FIMM is a joint research institute of the University of Helsinki (primary host), the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa, the National Institute for Health and Welfare, and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. FIMM was represented by Mr. Olli Kallioniemi.

3. Two high level scientists representing two good practice institute have accepted the participation in the International Advisory Board, namely Mr. Bass Hassan at University of Oxford and Luis Serrano at CRG Barcelona, who contributed actively to the Business Plan development process as IAB members.

As VIB and CRG are founding members of the EU_Life, the HU_Molmedex consortium decided to join this programme after setting up HCEMM.

Expected impact nr. 2 – according to call

Over the medium to long term there will be a measurable and significant improvement in the research and innovation culture (such as research intensity, innovation performance, enhanced strategy, values and attitudes towards research and innovation) within Member States currently with low R&I performance.
These will be fostered through constructive and sustainable partnerships achieved between research and innovation-intensive institutions of excellence and the partnering organisation in the low performing Member State or region.

Activities done to reach this expected impact
As culture is based on the people and the processes governing the life of an organization, a cultural change may be induced by the exchange of researchers, inclusion of new processes, mechanisms to support competitive research in the field of molecular medicine. It has been agreed and included into the Business Plan that the main goal of creating the new center of excellence is to develop an autonomous, “game changer” organization, which can influence the research environment in a large segment of the Hungarian institutional and university environment with a long term reforming effect.
The internal processes of the one year action were orchestrated in a way to allow the free exchange of ideas within the consortium and with and from the organizations as listed in chapter 1.3 a)

Target groups for the communications are defined as the public, researchers’ community, decision makers, business developers and industry during creating the technical and professional guidelines of the communication strategy.
As a Center of Excellence, HCEMM will communicate the groundbreaking science and its innovative research programs with and to the public. This is achieved through several initiatives to the wide range of audiences: from students and citizens, to journalists and politicians.
As HCEMM is expected to take the lead in creating a scientific community in the different regions, in which communication and networking is a constant feature, fast and efficient information channels were defined in the Business Plan.

Expected impact nr.3 – according to call
Benefits will also accrue to the institutions from the more intensive research and innovation performers, in terms of issues such as access to new research avenues, creativity and the development of new approaches, as well as a source for increased mobility (inwards and outwards) of qualified scientists

Activities done to reach this expected impact
The communication to the wider scientific community will be based on the partnership with the EMBL which was analysed quite deeply during the project. During the HU-Molmedex project implementation the preparatory work was done to become a fully assessed member state and to be part of the EMBL partnership. Therefore HCEMM will be embedded into the scientific community at the European level and worldwide. The key component of this will be related to the shared use of the EMBL logo. The communication to the wider scientific community will be based on the partnership with the EMBL. By becoming a full member state and being part of the EMBL partnership HCEMM will be embedded into the scientific community at the European level and worldwide. The key component of this partnership will be related to the shared use of the EMBL logo which will contribute to better integration and participation of HCEMM research groups. HCEMM will be able to refer to the partnership with the EMBL in its promotional material, including job offers, which is expected to attract well qualified young researchers.
This picture was taken at the Final workshop of the HU_Molmedex project
This picture was taken at the SC meeting of the HU_Molmedex project in Heidelberg on the 26.01.2016