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Leveraging the unique organismic approach to health and disease of the Champalimaud Foundation through the inception of a quantitative biomedicine research programme focused on cancer

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - QuantOCancer (Leveraging the unique organismic approach to health and disease of the Champalimaud Foundation through the inception of a quantitative biomedicine research programme focused on cancer)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2019-12-31

QuantOCancer will cement the reputation of the Champalimaud Foundation as a world-leading fundamental and translational research centre where scientific discoveries illuminate healthy-living systems and major ageing-related pathologies with significant social and economic burden: brain disorders and cancer.

The primary pillar of QuantOCancer - attracting and retaining an outstanding researcher and research manager (the “ERA Chair”) to incept a quantitative biomedicine research programme focused on cancer - will bridge and transform the three main research operations at CCU (Neurosciences, Physiology and Cancer and Experimental Clinical Research) and root an effective bridge between research excellence and clinical practice.

The second pillar of QuantOCancer will fully unlock the potential of the institute, the Lisbon region and Portugal through the implementation of an additional set of measures, geared towards:
• Capacity building (expansion of the research programme, advanced training opportunities)
• Institutional development and structural change (further exploration of the installed research and technology capacity, HR strategy)
• Intersectoral and international partnership activities, bolstering a Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) culture.

Where possible, activities supported through QuantOCancer will be open to external stakeholders, amplifying efforts towards a truly open and international Research and Innovation ecosystem, beyond academia.
The primary achievement of this period was the successful installation of the ERA Chair - the cornerstone of the QuantOCancer project - in October 2019. An open, transparent and merit-based recruitment process was conducted by a specialised Search and Selection Committee, composed of internal faculty and external Scientific Advisory Board members. The selected candidate, Adriana Sánchez-Danés, will drive an ambitious frontier project that will tackle the fate of tumor cells in vivo. She will combine genetic, modelling, imaging and quantitative systems to understand the mechanisms involved in tumor progression, resistance and relapse. The ERA Chair subsequently effectively recruited a five-element experienced research team, effectively overcoming the major potential risks associated with this action.

Further expansion of the Champalimaud Research programme is in the pipeline, with the launch of a new call for Group Leaders to join the Physiology and Cancer programme and significant resources allocated to this process. Under the scope of Capacity Building, the current in-house International Neuroscience Doctoral Programme has been updated to include Physiology and Cancer and additional training programmes for the next generation of researchers are being developed.

The implementation of structural changes is underway, with investment in new technologies, including a Light-sheet microscope (to visualise whole biological systems) and strengthening of the existing MRI pre-clinical imaging platforms. These technologies will complement those available at the regional level and be employed directly in novel international collaborations, respectively. To render the research environment more attractive to mobile researchers, institutional practices have been reviewed against the European Charter and Code for Researchers and a HR strategy designed, aiming to standardise policies and procedures.

In October 2019, Champalimaud Foundation successfully joined the Crowdhelix Vision 2020 partner-finding platform, which will provide further access to an extensive academic and non-academic network, sustaining effective participation in international and intersectoral collaborative Research and Development.

A highlight of this reporting period was the initiation of a series of events focused on RRI themes, disseminated at the national-level and organised in collaboration with national research infrastructures (CONGENTO and Biodata.pt amongst others), an advocacy organisation (European Animal Research Association, EARA) and other institutes within the Lisbon region, with corporate sponsors attracted. One key event was the workshop “Improving Openness in Animal Research” (Public Engagement, Ethics) hosted in November 2019, with 60 participants plus streaming. Several future RRI-focussed events are planned for 2020 and beyond, with foci on open science, data integrity and researcher wellbeing.

Regarding project management, baseline widening Key Performance Indicators have been evaluated, procedures and standards defined and responsibilities established. An Independent Ethics Advisor has been appointed to monitor the ethics issues involved through the project’s duration.
Increased attractiveness of Champalimaud Foundation, the Lisbon region and Portugal for internationally excellent and mobile researchers:
The successful recruitment of a highly qualified QuantOCancer research team has already significantly increased research capacity at the institutional level. Sustainability is key and several measures are being implemented, including the appointment of the ERA Chair holder beyond the project terminus and training of the next generation of researchers equipped to face societal challenges. Through research programme expansion and development of an innovation strategy, capability to successfully compete for international research funding and innovation potential will be increased. Complementary structural changes will ensure implementation of ERA priorities: a more open labour market for researchers, gender equality and open access.

Impacts through added value to existing regional, national and international Initiatives:
QuantOCancer promotes synergies with ongoing regional, national and international initiatives, ensuring maximisation of resources. QuantOCancer already collaborates with national Research Infrastructures supported by European Structural Investment (ESI) funds, CONGENTO, BioData.pt and PPBI, clinical and translational projects, including UM-CURE 2020, H2020 MSCA Innovative Training Networks (ELBA, CAST) and European Research Council (ERC) grants. The cementing and expansion of networks will be key in increasing capabilities to secure internationally competitive multi-partner funding as well as to ensure the expected benefits spread to the regional and national community.

Impacts on health, demographic change, wellbeing challenges and international policy:
QuantOCancer is uniquely positioned to effectively contribute to further understanding the complex fundamental mechanisms behind cancer development. Through the design of advanced training programmes and implemented intersectoral activities, aiming to achieve a better integration between fundamental research and clinical practice, QuantOCancer will guarantee that created knowledge will be effectively translated into advancements in early diagnosis and treatments options for the benefit of citizens.

QuantOCancer is aligned with current and post-2020 EU Research and Innovation goals (impact-focussed, large-scale, inclusive and open approach, mobilisation of multiple super-disciplinary actors, overseas cooperation and investment in people). Beyond Europe, QuantOCancer will contribute to global sustainable development goals and targets (e.g. United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development), particularly to the goals of ensuring healthy lives and the promotion of wellbeing for all and to achieving gender equality.