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Leverage research EXCELLence and INNOVation potential of Instituto de Medicina Molecular (IMM) through translational biomedical research in immunity and infection.

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - EXCELLtoINNOV (Leverage research EXCELLence and INNOVation potential of Instituto de Medicina Molecular (IMM) through translational biomedical research in immunity and infection.)

Reporting period: 2018-07-01 to 2021-06-30

EXCELLtoINNOV provided iMM means to achieve a sustainable excellence level by recruiting of an ERA Chair Holder in translational biomedical research in immunity and infection. The strategic goal – placing iMM at the forefront of Research, Development and Innovation (R&D+I) by the establishment of a biomedical research hub anchored in Lisbon – will (i) leverage the national potential, (ii) act as the interface of Europe with America and Africa, and (iii) effectively address the health, demographic change and wellbeing societal challenges through scientific advancements.

The implementation involves:
1) Development of a new research line by the ERA Chair Holder, Dr. Marc Veldhoen – Epithelial T Lymphocyte Immunity – that will impact the progress of immunity and infection as well as HIV, inflammation, T cells, vaccines, tumour and cell biology.
2) Structural changes at iMM to align with ERA priorities.
3) Expansion of overseas collaborations in R&D+I projects.
4) Integration of iMM in the regional, national and international business community.

The completion of these activities will improve our abilities to compete for international research funding. It will also contribute to the objectives of national and regional RIS3 through the increased internationalisation, competitiveness and innovation potential of iMM, Lisbon and Portugal. EXCELLtoINNOV aims at knowledge creation and valorization through investment in highly qualified human resources, connecting with the business and clinical sector locally, which will effectively strengthen the national and Lisbon’s Priority Axis 5 – Health, Wellbeing and Territory.
Our main achievement is the appointment of the ERA Chair Holder following an open and merit-based recruitment process who has quickly become operational, having the Scientific Team and the methodology for implementing the actions in place. The project deliverables were submitted to the REA/EC and the Management Team is fully committed to the timely achievement of the objectives set, meeting GA provisions and legal obligations.
Under the scope of the WP1 (Project Management), we have reported a baseline for the Widening Key Performance Indicator evaluation. Defined Procedures and Standards were revised upon the ERA Chair recruitment, then discussed during the kick-off meeting and the Project Meeting with the Advisory Board. The Governance Structure and clear responsibilities of the Management Team have been kept. The Ethics Advisory Board has been chosen according to the research line to be developed by the ERA Chair and his Team, and has already held its first meeting. The project, designated as Immune regulation, metabolism and tissue integrity, involves animal experiments personnel licences of the staff were obtained prior to the commencement of such activities.

Recruitment of the Scientific Team (WP2) includes Senior Researcher Cristina Ferreira, Research Assistant Marta Batista, two postdoctoral researchers, and Project Manager Tiago Reis; all went through a recruitment process considering excellence as the most deciding factor.

Further significant achievement (under the scope of WP3 – Capacity Building) is the acquisition of the Amnis ImageStream®X Mark II imaging equipment, which fully addresses the scientific needs of the ERA Chair and will boost the research potential at iMM – in immunity & infection, and tumour and cell biology. This state-of-the-art equipment will accelerate knowledge creation in the national research community.
Mentoring and Training (WP3) activities include:
- Seminars Series hosting renowned experts.
- Sex and Gender Issues in Research discussed among experts and the iMM community during a conference.
- The outline of a mentoring plan for the iMM Funding Office.

The Management Team is currently defining the action plan to position iMM in the regional, national and European business community (WP3), and the best approach to align with the ERA priorities (WP4), relying on the commitment of internal stakeholders in these tasks.

Establishing a sustainable collaborative network, particularly in Brazil, USA and Africa (WP5 – International overseas cooperation) is aligned with iMM’s strategic goal to strengthen its international profile. We’ll launch a forum for discussion and a database of worldwide academic and industrial experts in immunity and infection to facilitate initial matchmaking and subsequent engagement.
The initial set of communication activities (WP6) included: project logo and webpage, three press releases, two brochures and the 1st newsletter featuring the ERA Chair and his research. The first Capacity Building Workshop held was an opportunity to introduce Dr. Veldhoen and increase awareness of the project at iMM. New scientific data produced by the ERA Chair will be relevant to iMM and the global scientific community. Dr. Veldhoen has provided ten scientific talks and initiated collaborations within iMM and abroad and the Capacity Building activities will provide a landscape for future exploitation of scientific results.
1. Increased attractiveness of iMM, region and country.
· At iMM:
i) fostering research excellence on a sustainable basis.
ii) improving human and technical capacities through mentoring and equipment acquisition.
iii) increasing success rate in international competitive funds through mentoring and collaborative efforts.
iv) alignment with the ERA priorities.

· Regionally: a close collaboration with the business and clinical sectors will form a value chain and contribute to one of Lisbon’s RIS3 priorities – Health; promoting highly qualified HR employment and seeding entrepreneurial mind set, interactions with regional authorities on optimising R&D+I resources.

· Nationally: improving the international perception through the ERA Chair and strengthening the research infrastructure with the acquired Amnis ImageStream®X Mark II imaging equipment; contributing to R&D+I performance of Portugal by reducing brain drain, open labour market and gender equality, boosting knowledge creation, circulation and transfer, intensifying internationalisation, forming innovation clusters with the private sector, promoting creativity, entrepreneurship and scientific culture.

· At the EU level: expanding overseas collaboration; increasing participation in the Framework Programmes; minimising internal disparities in R&D performance; contributing to competitiveness and innovation capacity; training of the next generation of researchers prepared to face societal challenges.

2. Impact on health, demographic change and wellbeing challenge.
The current population aging view places immunity and infection at the centre of many age-related disorders. EXCELLtoINNOV will provide basic and translational insights in immune responses at epithelial barrier, which may impact personalised healthcare and public health policy. Through the engagement with industrial partners, clinicians and patients, it will contribute to innovations for the benefit of European citizens.

3. Impact through existing European initiatives.
EXCELLtoINNOV will promote synergies with ongoing initiatives in immunity and infection. Worth mentioning is the involvement of ERA Chair in two projects funded by Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme; namely: TwinnToInfect (GA No 692022) and ENLIGHT-TEN (GA No 675395), maximising the impact of EXCELLtoINNOV results and strengthening iMM international visibility.