July 01, 2021

Presentation of the winning projects

WWTF Life Sciences Call 2020

WWTF Life Sciences Call 2020

More than €6 million for precision medicine in Vienna.

By researching their fundamental mechanisms, serious diseases can be detected and treated in the future through more personalized human medical therapies in a more targeted way.  The WWTF Life Sciences Call 2020 "Precision Medicine" funds seven excellent research projects with a total of €6.07 million following a competitive call with rigorous international peer review. The funded projects range between basic research and clinical application. One million of the total funding comes from the City of Vienna as additional funding.

The city of Vienna has a great tradition as a health metropolis and also looks into a great future. In order to continue this development, three conditions are needed for the medicine of the future with its most important trend "precision medicine": excellent basic research, great scientists and outstanding research institutions and clinics. With the WWTF Life Sciences Call 2020 on the topic of precision medicine, these three building blocks come together in an impressive way.

In times of COVID-19, a great deal of energy and attention is being focused on fighting the pandemic. Nevertheless, it is especially important to continue keeping a strong focus on all other diseases: Vienna is doing everything it can to fight the pandemic, while at the same time striving to have a high-quality range of therapies available for all diseases. This requires research, as Mayor Dr. Michael Ludwig emphasizes: "Vienna is working every day with all its forces to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, as a healthcare metropolis, we care about all diseases in the sense of comprehensive care and therefore support the important funding activities of the WWTF for precision medicine."

Background

With a focus on "Life Sciences," the WWTF has regularly funded projects in the field of medical research since 2003. Since 2016, the WWTF has placed a focus on "Precision Medicine" as one of the important medical topics of the future. In total, the WWTF has already supported 12 projects with a funding volume of €10.75 million. This initiative is also related to the efforts of important Viennese research institutions to create infrastructure for precision medicine. At the Medical University of Vienna, for example, a large research building will be constructed for this purpose in the next few years, as MedUni Vienna Rector Univ. Prof. Markus Müller explains:

"Precision medicine is the most important trend in medicine in the 21st century. In order to meet this development at our medical location, major investments will be made in buildings and infrastructure over the next few years. In addition to this infrastructure expansion, internationally competitive, excellent funding for research projects is crucial. The WWTF plays a prominent role here for the implementation of numerous, large projects."

What is Precision Medicine?

Precision medicine takes an approach to disease prevention and treatment that incorporates differences in each patient*s individual genetic makeup, environment, and lifestyle into the clinical evaluation. Through this targeted approach, more accurate predictions can be made regarding treatment and/or prevention strategies for specific/the right/appropriate group of patients. This requires collaboration between basic research, genetics, clinical and informatics. Precision medicine aims to advance treatment regimens away from "average patients" to the individual. Precision medicine can provide longer-term treatment strategies that are not only more effective, but also help reduce the side effects often associated with conventional treatments.

Strong community interest, € 6.07 million awarded

 The interest from the scientific community was high, with a total of 82 short proposals received by the WWTF, 24 of which entered the full proposal phase. The current WWTF president and former mayor of the City of Vienna, Dr. Michael Häupl, underlines the dynamics in this field: "Covid-19 has shown why science is so important. With Precision Medicine, the WWTF supports the interaction of basic research, genetic analyses, computational models and clinical trials. In doing so, we help create a community that can target serious diseases through research."

An international jury of seven, chaired by Martina Muckenthaler (Heidelberg University Hospital, Germany), has recommended a total of seven projects for funding with a total amount of € 6.07 million on the basis of a global peer review. The funded projects deal with a wide variety of areas of medical research, ranging from a better understanding of individual types of cancer and the application of new drugs to the use and combination of new technological processes. The quality of the projects is impressive, according to WWTF Executive Director Dr. Michael Stampfer: "Our international jury of experts and the reviewers tell us: 'You have many world-class research groups in Vienna that can make important contributions to the medicine of the future.' Supporting this is an important mission for the WWTF." Each project receives nearly €900,000 in funding; project durations vary between three and four years.

The WWTF Life Sciences Call 2020 projects in detail:

Six research teams at the Medical University of Vienna (MedUni Vienna) and one group at the St. Anna Children's Cancer Research Institute (CCRI) were awarded prizes.

Three projects aim to improve the treatment of children - from premature babies to adolescents:

  • For Ewing's sarcoma, a bone cancer that occurs primarily in adolescents, Eleni Tomazou (CCRI) and her colleagues are developing and validating a minimally invasive liquid biopsy to identify high-risk patients.
  • Lukas Wisgrill (MedUni Vienna) and his team are studying the unique nasal microbiomes of preterm and mature infants and their impact on respiratory viral infections to analyze unknown virus-microbiome-host interactions.
  • With a focus on premature infants, research by Monika Resch (MedUni Vienna) and her team aims to enable more accurate diagnosis of intraventricular cerebral hemorrhage to pave the way for better clinical interventions.

Two projects deal with cancer in adult patients*:

  • Adelheid Woehrer (MedUni Vienna) and her colleagues are investigating how dying cells in the brain can contribute to tumor progression.
  • Georg Langs (MedUni Vienna) and his team are using both molecular analysis and imaging to identify a subgroup of breast cancer patients who can avoid curative surgery.

Kidney disease is being looked at in more detail in the last two funded projects:

  • The project by Manfred Hecking (MedUni Vienna) and colleagues aims to develop an automated therapy for hemodialysis.
  • For patients waiting for a kidney transplant, the research of Rainer Oberbauer (MedUni Vienna) and team should enable individualized risk assessment based on rare genetic variants.

Precision medicine - the role of  WWTF for the Viennese research landscape

The potential of precision medicine for the treatment and the promotion of the quality of life of patients* has been recognized and has meanwhile arrived in the clinical everyday life in Vienna. For several years, a scientific community with a strong interdisciplinary character has been emerging in Vienna, which can compete with the best in the world in terms of scientific quality and relevance of research. In this context, the WWTF is actively driving the development of the community in its role as a funder. Several projects from the 2016 call have published in top-tier journals, and new diagnostic platforms and therapeutic approaches are being clinically tested. A spin-off - Allcyte - with a new diagnostic approach has emerged from one project; this company is already growing rapidly with substantial private funding.

For further questions please contact Michael Stampfer or Grace Liu.

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