Bringing in modern clinical research to tackle public health challenges
Today in the CARE Partner spotlight is Jens Lundgren - principal investigator of the CARE project, professor of infectious disease and director of CHIP (Centre of Excellence for Health, Immunity and Infections, Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, Denmark).
What is your role and CHIP's role in the CARE project?
I have been coordinating large international research collaborations for my entire professional life, starting with the first project in 1990. Over the years, it has been possible to bring together different constituencies in a joint research consortium structure and ensure that the project was progressing. This track record may have been the reason why I have been nominated to coordinate the scientific aspects of the CARE project.
CHIP has been involved in the development of the scientific partnership with colleagues from Eastern Europe, including Russia, for many years. We have been carrying out activities in support of the WHO Europe Regional office as a WHO collaborative centre for HIV, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis - the three diseases that are the focus of the CARE project. So, we have extensive expertise in assisting countries in a comprehensive evidence-based public health response for these infections.
Besides this, CHIP has also performed extensive research in this area (primarily in the HIV field) for many years, and we are therefore able to bring in our knowledge to many work packages, focusing on viral resistance, host genomic influence and predicting outcomes for HIV patients, as well as in studies on viral hepatitis.
What is the difference between CARE and the other research projects that CHIP has been part of?
The two main aspects of novelty are:
Dual funding of the CARE project with the HORIZON2020 Programme from the EU side and the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education from the Russian side. The two funders are not necessarily completely in line in terms of how they approach the application process. We have a lot of experience in large international studies with multiple sponsors, but typically there is a primary sponsor and the other sponsors contributing to specific substudies. Here, in order to unfold CARE, we need both sponsors to work together to move the entire project forward.
The CARE project is a collaboration of different groups with long-term experience in their fields. For example, the work packages related to TB are led by the investigators working in this field for many years and EUResist has solid expertise as a collegial laboratory-focused network. Joining their experience together with the expertise that we have is an interesting process that unfolds as we are aiming to achieve the goals of CARE project.
This consortium and the CARE project creates an environment where investigators work not only in their area of expertise but are also involved in the collective scientific environment. That, I believe, will strengthen all components of the projects.
Modern clinical research should strive to multidisciplinarity and bringing in different expertise areas together is absolutely essential.
Was the current epidemic situation in Eastern Europe one of the reasons for the launch of CARE project?
The specific epidemic situation is not actually a novel aspect of CARE, because we have studied it extensively for several years already. I am a strong believer that in order to overcome public health challenges such as HIV, MDR-TB and HCV, which are the pressing issue in Eastern and - to some extent - also in Western Europe, we need to bring together expertise from around the continent.
I think that clinical research has been a driver for innovation and new approaches to addressing public health challenges. For example, we couldn’t treat HIV up to 1996, and now people on treatment can live an almost normal life. This transition was possible only because of the strong collaborative research environment.
Bringing together expertise from the whole continent into one consortium and creating an atmosphere of collegial dialogue could enhance the understanding and to help us reach the stakeholders responsible for the organisation of the healthcare system. Probably that was the reason why both the European Commission and the Russian government were particularly interested in the funding of the CARE project, and it is the first time where we work together in this field as equal partners.
That puts a lot of responsibility on our shoulders, as two years are too short to develop a long-term research strategy for HIV, TB and HCV but hopefully, the next opportunity will unfold when we reach 2020.
Could you tell us more about the CARE project plans in 2020?
We are currently organizing a two-day meeting in Moscow at the end of January 2020 to ensure that stakeholders who are not directly involved in the CARE consortium have an opportunity to learn about our activities and progress so far.
I am proud of the consortium’s progress and the movement towards the aims outlined in the application within all work packages. From the start, we all understood that it would not be without hurdles because it is the first time, we are doing such a project of this type, but we are really progressing in CARE along the planned line, and I am really proud of the team that made it possible.
However, I would like to stress: the only thing that works in this area is hard work. We should do our best and stay focused on resolving different tasks that we move through.
There is no easy way to do good research, it requires a lot of hard work and dedicated and motivated people to do it.