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Gene2Skin - Roadmap for advanced genetic engineering-based skin therapies

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Gene2Skin (Gene2Skin - Roadmap for advanced genetic engineering-based skin therapies)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2018-11-30

Skin diseases and disorders are among the most common health problems worldwide and are associated with a considerable burden. It
encompasses psychological, social and financial consequences not only on the patients, but also on their families and on society. Chronic and
incurable skin diseases/disorders, such as bullous disorders, fibrosis and ulcers, are associated with significant morbidity in the form of physical
discomfort and impairment of patients' quality of life; moreover, malignant diseases, such as malignant melanoma and basal cell and squamous
cell carcinomas, are associated to substantial mortality. Advances in the field of skin tissue engineering and regenerative medicine have been
progressively paving the way to develop innovative therapeutics but much is yet to be achieved. Deeper understanding of the molecular
mechanisms underlying these diseases/disorders can be the key to further unravel advanced therapies. GENE2SKIN aimed at improving UMINHO's expertise in skin biology and genetic engineering by establishing the link between UMINHO and two
leading European Institutions in these fields. During the project, UMINHO was be able, with the support of the leading Institutions, to start reinforcing the network of collaborations within these fields, establishing fruitful partnerships and improve the quality
and the innovative nature of the developed research thereby reaching excellence. Not only was the interaction
between GENE2SKIN partners strengthened but the potential of UMINHO to perform research of excellence was also greatly reinforced. This allowed UMINHO to become a relevant player in the pursuit of novel therapies for skin diseases and novel strategies for skin regeneration.
Overall, all the predicted actions were achieved during the duration of the project. Below, a breakdown of the different activities, including exploitation and dissemination actions, is made:

Achieved Actions in terms of Staff exchange (SE), Experts visits (EV), Short-term trainings (STA), Joint research project applications (JA), Joint summer schools and workshops (WS), Scientific retreat, Participation in complementary skills courses offered by the high performing institutions:

- UMINHO visits to KCL: Mariana Cerqueira and Mariana Malta (SE)
- UMINHO visits to RCSI: Helena Moreira and Maria Goreti Fernandes (SE)
- KCL visits to UMINHO: Ajay Mishra, Matteo Rudan, Emanuel Rognoni and Eamonn Morrison(EV, STA)
- RCSI visits to UMINHO: Rosanne Raftery and Fergal O'Brien (EV, STA)
- Approved joint application to a M-ERANET project call. (JA)
- Joint application to a H2020-MSCA-ITN-2017 project call (rejected) and H2020-MSCA-ITN-2018 project call (under evaluation). (JA)
- Gene2Skin Winter School 2017 in Porto. (WS)
- Gene2Skin Summer School 2018 in Porto. (WS)
- Workshop 1: “Tailoring of 3D gene-activated matrices” was held by RCSI (WS)
- Workshop 2: “New Tools for cutaneous wound healing and clinical progress in diseased skin” took place at KCL (WS)
- Workshop 3: “Mechanobiology and Tissue Engineering of Skin” at World Congress of Biomechanics (WS)
- Gene2Skin scientific retreat in Douro, Portugal.

Achieved Actions in terms of Dissemination/communication actions in Hospitals and Patients Organizations/Groups:

- Alexandra P. Marques participation European Wound Management Association (EWMA) meetings.
- Scientific collaboration with EB House Austria.
- Interaction with DEBRA Portugal.
- Interaction with the Portuguese Society of Podiatry
- Project Newsletters

Achieved Actions in terms of Generation of IP (patents/disclosures filling), Industry and Investors collaboration agreements, Joint applications to innovation programmes, Involvement in expert advisory boards, Contact with regulatory authorities:

- Collaboration agreement between UMINHO and Clinica Saúde Viável.
- Collaboration between UMINHO with the company IZERTIS.
- Bi-lateral meetings (UMINHO/Different companies) at EWMA industry exhibition in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
- UMINHO staff part of a EWMA committee that wrote a document on advanced therapies in wound management.
- Fergal O’Brien is a former member of HPRA and was invited to give a keynote at the HPRA Innovation Day, Dublin, 2017.
- Alexandra P. Marques part of the EWMA council.
- Rui L. Reis global president of TERMIS.
- Submitted patent and preparation of others.
- Participation of Fergal O’Brien (RCSI) in a discussion panel of Knowledge Transfer Ireland 2017 'Accelerating Ideas' Summit.
- Participation of companies in Gene2Skin events: GenoSkin, France, Aurealis Pharma, Switzerland/Finland, Organogenesis Inc, USA.

Achieved Actions in terms of Education and transfer of highly-skilled researchers to industry, Definition of an exploitation pipeline, Dissemination/communication actions involving industrial players:

- The 2016 Gene2Skin conference was organized back-to-back with the industry-focused TERMSTEM meeting.
- Participation in EWMA industry exhibition in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
- Submitted patent and preparation of others.
- Participation of companies in Gene2Skin events: GenoSkin, France, Aurealis Pharma, Switzerland/Finland, Organogenesis Inc, USA.

Achieved actions in terms of Dissemination actions and Outreach activities:

- Project website
- Participation in relevant conferences.
- Organization of Symposia in different conferences.
- Regenerative Medicine International Symposium organized by RCSI in Bahrein.
- Talks at seminars organized by undergraduate students.
- Press release related with Alexandra P. Marques and Rogério P. Pirraco ERC grants and Alexandra P. Marques (UMINHO) as commissioner of Ciência 2018: National Summit in Science and Technology
- Display by RCSI at InspireFest 2016.
- Display by RCSI at National Ploughing Championships 2016.
- Social Media dissemination
GENE2SKIN aims at strengthening UMINHO skin tissue engineering and regenerative medicine area by establishing a link with KCL, the best institution at European level working in skin biology, and with RCSI, a gene therapy expert, to allow the use genetic engineering tools to specifically direct cellular behavior envisaging not only skin regeneration but also the development of advanced therapies for genetic skin diseases. Therefore, KCL will show UMINHO the “what” while RCSI will supply the “how”.

UMINHO gaps in the understanding of skin regeneration at molecular level were narrowed by KCL expert visits and short-term trainings as well as with UMINHO staff visits to KCL. Further, UMINHO capabilities in using genetic engineering tools to specifically direct cellular behavior were greatly improved after the visits of RCSI staff members and further improved after UMINHO staff members stay at RCSI. The culmination of the scientific partnerships and knowledge sharing can be seen by the UMINHO-based PhD students that are currently being co-supervised by UMINHO and either one of the high-performing partners.
Additionally, the contacts resulting from UMINHO staff participation in several scientific and industry-focused meetings vastly expanded UMINHO’s network of high quality contacts, greatly contributing for increasing this institution potential for performing excellent research with sufficient added-value for subsequent commercial exploitation.