InFLAMES (Innovation Ecosystem based on the Immune System) is a Finnish research flagship that aims at identifying novel drug targets using the most modern technological platforms and finding novel diagnostic tools to identify the patients benefitting from personalised therapies.
The central objectives of the InFLAMES Flagship are breakthroughs in the fields of drug development and diagnostics. The Flagship’s Professor of Practice in Drug Development Timo Veromaa believes that this can be achieved as long as the science community is prepared to challenge themselves to consider how they could help alleviate patients’ suffering.
The recipe for an immunomodulatory drug – a drug acting on the immune system – is, in theory, quite simple. The first step is finding out which part of the immune system is disturbed and causing the person to develop for example cancer or a rheumatic disorder. When the malfunctioning organism or function has been identified, the next step is finding a molecule which can be used to manipulate this malfunctioning part to affect the disease process. This molecule becomes the medicine.
Veromaa emphasises that all of this requires and stems from top-level basic research. It is impossible to create anything new without it, and in reality, the whole procedure is far from simple. Consequently, Veromaa sees that the InFLAMES research groups should be allowed to concentrate on their research and discovering new, preferably revolutionary findings.
– The groups and their researchers do not need to conduct applied research, and they can also leave the commercialisation of the discoveries to others. The objective of InFLAMES is, however, to inspire the research community to recognise already in the early stages of their research what aspects of it could be potentially useful in diagnosing diseases or treating patients. In other words, alleviating suffering. If we are able to inspire them to do this, it is a major achievement in itself!
Looking in the Same Direction
For researchers to be able to recognise the potential in their research, they need to know what kind of problems clinicians face; what do they have need for? Or what would people in drug development think about the research findings; would they represent something promising for them? Is the researcher able to see the same potential or not? This is why researchers need to meet other professionals, discuss, collaborate, and try to see things from other people’s perspectives. InFLAMES offers a forum for all of this. Veromaa is particularly excited about the idea of a University–hospital community brought together by InFLAMES.
– InFLAMES brings together top researchers with their research groups, experts in drug development, top diagnosticians, clinicians, and companies. This creates synergy which helps to strengthen the already strong immunology expertise in Turku, says Veromaa.
Veromaa emphasises that there is plenty of evidence for the drug development and diagnostics expertise and success in Turku. Already before the Flagship was founded, most approved and marketed pharmaceuticals originating from Finland have been developed in the Turku region, and lately, the diagnostics field of the region has flourished – partly due to the coronavirus pandemic. When InFLAMES determinedly brings together different actors and directs their efforts in the same direction, this will create something new. Not immediately, Veromaa notes, but with time. There are no quick wins in drug development, as the drug development process from an idea to a product on pharmacy shelves takes around 10–12 years. And in money, this process takes around one billion euros.
Veromaa sees founding a national drug development centre as practically a necessity for the success of InFLAMES.
– The centre could take charge of identifying new targets, discovering molecules that modulate these new targets, and further developing the drug candidates with the funds allocated to it, outlines Veromaa.
The InFLAMES Flagship (Innovation Ecosystem based on the Immune System) is a joint effort of University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University aiming at being an internationally recognized, top-level, immunological research and development cluster which will be globally attractive both for the researchers and business partners.