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« The goal of IHI is to tackle challenging unmet public health needs that can only be addressed by cross-sector collaboration »

Apr 23, 2024

Interview with Dr. Niklas Blomberg, Executive Director of the Innovative Health Initiative (IHI)

Nextep: Could you describe the idea behind the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), now Innovative Health Initiative (IHI), including its goals and principles?

Dr. Niklas Blomberg: The Innovative Health Initiative (IHI) is a public-private partnership between the European Union and the European life science industries. The idea behind IHI is broadly similar to the two IMI programmes: there are some key problems and challenges in health research, which can only be tackled by bringing key stakeholders together to work on them. The goal of the IHI is therefore to make major advances in health research, especially during pre-competitive phases – indeed, some clinical areas are so difficult that the industry prefers to collectively work together to solve fundamental issues. The objective of the IHI is not to solve every problem, but the hard, difficult public health challenges. We look into the bottlenecks and try to work together to advance in those areas. IHI is basically a platform where we bring together various industries across sectors, as well as leading academic experts and other groups such as patients, to tackle these issues collectively instead of working on it separately.

Nextep: What would you say is different in IHI compared to IMI?

Dr. Niklas Blomberg: While IMI focused largely on pharmaceutical research, IHI takes a comprehensive view and brings in key sectors such as health technologies and medical devices, digital devices and imaging. Under IHI, we have exciting new projects in cancer (for instance, how to use a combination of imaging and micro-devices to attack tumors) and in Alzheimer’s.

Nextep: What is the place of the patients in IHI?

Dr. Niklas Blomberg: Patients are involved in different ways. They are part of the projects as partners as they are the beneficiaries of the research, but they are also involved within IHI itself. We have a Patient Pool whose members may be invited to get involved in IHI activities in a variety of ways, ranging from participating in project meetings to evaluating project proposals. We also have a patient representative on the Science and Innovation Panel, one of our governance bodies. And we are looking forward to increasing their involvement.

Innovating in the health sector is very risky and we work together at IHI to decrease this risk.”

Nextep: What are the key advantages for industry members joining the IHI?

Dr. Niklas Blomberg: The biggest benefit for the industry is cross-sector collaboration. It is the opportunity for experts from various companies (clinical trials experts, regulatory experts, …) to work together with experts from other companies to advance health science by better understanding diseases. This attracts a lot of industry partners – 50% of IHI industry partners’ contribution to the programme comes in the form of people, as they allow their staff to contribute to our projects. The fact that they consistently choose to contribute to the projects with their experts’ hours speaks to the value of fostering scientific collaborations for European industries. Also, joining the IHI means creating a network and building relationships with other types of experts, such as academia, which is very attractive for industry members. Innovating in the health sector is very risky and we work together at IHI to decrease this risk.

Nextep: Could you describe key achievements of the Initiative?

Dr. Niklas Blomberg: A key recent win has been the positive evaluation by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) of a compound developed with IMI support for treating complicated intra-abdominal and urinary tract infections and hospital-acquired pneumonias caused by Gram-negative bacteria (link). In addition, IMI projects contributed significantly to the development of Ebola vaccines and diagnostic tests which are currently being rolled out in Africa (link).

“Health data is key to us, as it helps us better understand treatment, better understand patients, and look at the whole healthcare pathway.”

Dr. Niklas Blomberg: Regulatory wins are huge for us. But ongoing projects on data are also important. Digital health and data, including real-world evidence, are an essential part of many projects that we fund. IHI was a pioneer in making health data standard and scalable, and our projects have contributed to EMA initiatives on the topic. An example here is the European Health Data & Evidence Network (EHDEN), a network of 25 partners addressing challenges in generating insights and evidence from real-world clinical data at scale, to support patients, clinicians, payers, regulators, governments, and the industry in understanding wellbeing, disease, treatments, outcomes and new therapeutics and devices (link). Health data is key to us, as it helps us better understand treatment, better understand patients, and look at the whole healthcare pathway.

Nextep: What are the next steps for the IHI and your ambition as Executive Director in the upcoming years?

Dr. Niklas Blomberg: 2023 was a pivotal year for the IHI: we started with zero projects and now we have sixteen. There is still plenty of ambition for 2024 to continue this way! A key next step for IHI will be to keep building our portfolio of cross-sectoral projects. In the longer term, we will also strive to ensure that the results of our projects are implemented within healthcare systems at the national and regional levels.

Finally, we want to work with projects on regulatory science to ensure they are efficient, making the most of regulatory sandboxes for instance, to improve the medicines of tomorrow. Data and digital will be of great help to achieve this goal, particularly with the impact of artificial intelligence on the healthcare sector, which will undoubtedly be transformative. Personally, I would like to see that we help to bring the innovations from our projects to broadly impact healthcare systems around Europe. The IHI programme – as the world’s largest public-private partnership for health research, can help to bring novel science to another level and make it effective. Close collaborations with European healthcare systems and regions are critical to make this happen.

Interview by Anaïs Ronchin & Guillaume Sublet (Nextep Health) for Opinion Santé