The big impact of smaller companies on treating blood-based diseases


Project acronym: BLUEPRINT

Thanks to the human genome project finished 10 years ago, scientists now know the full genetic code of human DNA, but they don’t yet fully understand how this genetic information is used in creating different types of cells with distinct functions.

DNA is the basic building material that is identical in every cell, but how do we create both brain cells and liver or lung cells using this same basic material? In this context, the genome contains all the genetic information, but not in a form that is readily understood. Therefore, a masterplan, or blueprint must be applied to instruct molecules how to create specifi c cells and this blueprint is called the epigenome.

In the very complex area of genetics, the Blueprint project is aiming for big practical results which one day will take bloodbased disease treatments to a new level. The partners, who represent an exceptional body of knowledge in epigenetic science, are working together to map the formation of infi – nite combinations of blood cells starting from one common genome. Among the 41 partners, nine are SMEs with vital expertise for the success of this project. Ultimately, the project, together with genome analysis, is expected to unravel many of the questions surrounding the regulation of normal as well as abnormal blood development.

The Blueprint project is focusing entirely on understanding the epigenomes of blood cells. 41 European partner institutes with world-class expertise are united within the project which is the cornerstone of the EU’s contribution to the IHEC, the International Human Epigenome Consortium. Around the world, other collaborative research projects are also active in the fi eld of epigenetics, not primarily related to blood but other cell types, and all feeding into the IHEC.

They have an agreed goal and challenge between them to create 1 000 epigenomes. Collectively, this will push the scientifi c boundaries much further and set up the next stage of research into how the epigenome changes in disease, in aging and under diff erent (environment) conditions and how it responds to drug treatments.

The hope of reaching such ambitious project goals in drug development is only possible with some very dynamic companies on board that can bridge the gap between academia and pharmaceutical companies. Typically these are SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), because they thrive in this middle ground. They are contributing unique expertise and technology and also tend to be more fl exible and collaborative than large companies.

Sigolis, a small innovative company based in Sweden, has experience in the development of microstructures for a wide range of areas in life science. The technologies they design may in due time contribute towards clinical applications for diagnostics or prognostics.

Cellzome, another SME participating in the Blueprint consortium, has a strong track record of developing novel compounds that alter the enzymes that read, write and erase the epigenome. An article published in Nature in October 2011 explains their groundbreaking approach and they have featured again in the March 2012 issue of Nature Biotech.

A vast project such as Blueprint, means that researchers must draw on all relevant knowledge and work across academic and medical fields.

It’s reassuring to know that around three-quarters of the participants are experienced not just in their field but also in other European research projects. They know the challenges of communicating between languages and cultures, but they also have a vision for the addedvalue that this generates. Their commitment and perseverance ensures that the vision becomes a reality.

This innovation was made possible by Israel’s continued participation in the official Horizon 2020 fund, managed in Israel by ISERD part of The Israel Innovation Authority (Formerly the Office of the Chief Scientist and MATIMOP). The initiative has taken Israeli R&D to the next level with the help of ground-breaking collaboration between scientists in Israel and Europe, as well as essential funding and support.

Project details
Project acronym: BLUEPRINT
Participants: The Netherlands (Coordinator), Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, Israel
Project FP7 282510
Total costs: €39 867 280
EU contribution: €29 996 664
Duration: October 2011 – April 2016