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Proposal to Step Up Cardio-Vascular Disease Research

An ambitious European collaboration proposes to set up a new institute to focus funding, coordinate projects, and nurture the requisite skills for accelerating research into cardiovascular disease, the cause of between 30 and 50 percent of the continent's deaths, depending on the country.

The European Vascular Biology Institute (EVBI) is being presented at the annual EuroBioForum conference in Lisbon in December 2007 with a specific brief to convert research into concrete therapies more effectively. EuroBioForum is the annual conference of EuroBioFund, which was established in 2006 to bring together public and private sources of funding to catalyse the development of large scale pan-European life science research programmes. EVBI is one of several major themes being presented at EuroBioForum this year.

The EVBI aims to make another dramatic advance in the fight against cardiovascular disease. Although great progress has been made in recent decades with drugs such as angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors that reduce blood pressure and statins that reduce cholesterol levels, more sophisticated therapies acting directly at the molecular level are needed to take a further major step forward. The aim is to develop a new generation of drugs that are highly specific in their action.

The EVBI will focus strongly on atherosclerosis, according to one of the institute's main proposers Alain Tedgui, because this is the underlying cause of 80% of all cardiovascular related deaths including myocardial infarction (heart attacks) and strokes, as well as other conditions such as tissue death and organ failure. It occurs to varying degrees in all humans, being a chronic inflammatory disease of the arteries in which atherosclerotic plaques develop, leading ultimately to a variety of complications including blood clotting and loss of blood supply to organs. The EVBI aims both to block progress of atherosclerosis through drug therapies and vaccination, and also to tackle the related diseases, for example via stem cell based therapies to repair the heart after myocardial infarction.

Fortunately the EVBI does not have to start from a clean slate, but proposes to build on existing projects, and in particular the European Vascular Genomics Network (EVGN), which has been running since January 2004 as part of the European Commission's FP6 framework research programme. EVGN has been promoting multidisciplinary interaction between 30 world class basic and clinical institutions in 11 European countries. The EVBI will harness this work. "The EVBI sets a milestone for our perpetuation strategy," said Catherine Clusel, the Project Manager of EVGN. This is also where the EuroBioFund comes in, Clusel added. "It will allow us to present the existing framework to potential funders, including on one side the pharmaceutical companies involved in the elaboration of the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) for the Innovative Medicines Initiative, and on the other side the European public or private foundations that are eager to support the most prestigious high profile research groups working in this area in Europe. EVBI addresses bottlenecks identified within the SRA for safety and efficacy in inflammatory diseases with an emphasis on atherosclerosis, and unites the European key opinion leaders in cardiovascular disease."

On the scientific front, EVBI will exploit existing project platforms, notably the EVGN's Zebrafish animal model, which allows vascular disease progression and the action of therapies to be monitored and analysed closely. The aim is to build on these platforms within an integrated and ongoing programme, said Clusel, providing secure long lasting funding with the aim of keeping Europe at the forefront of this crucial area of medical research.

Thomas Lau | alfa
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