UCD Heads New Cancer and Eye Treatment Consortium

THIS year, UCD will lead a new initiative to develop treatments for cancer and eye disease. The Drug Discovery and Delivery Network for Oncology and Eye Treatment, or 3D-NEO-NET creates an international consortium of scientists, engineers, chemists, and other specialists who hope to gain new research knowledge.The consortium brings together 18 partners across seven countries and aims to bridge the gaps between academia and industry research. Over the next four years, each of the 68 fellows will spend a period of time from one month to one year in their placement, learning new skills and sharing their expertise.Brendan Kennedy lectures on biomolecular and biomedical science in the UCD Conway Institute and is the consortium coordinator. He says that the goals of the program include allowing fellows to gain experience working internationally and within industry. The hope is that the fellows will gain knowledge in fields they wouldn’t have access to before.“They’re broadening the width of what they do, rather than the depth,” Kennedy said. “It’s a little bit different though than a standard grant because we don’t have four people working on it full-time for four years. We’re building a community, rather than a skyscraper.”Kennedy also said one goal of the consortium is to prevent duplication of research. Instead of academic and industry partners working on the same techniques individually, the consortium will allow the exchange of knowledge.The link between cancer and eye treatment lie in angiogenesis, the formation of blood vessels. Yolonda Alvarez is the project manager for the consortium. She says that both fields can share a lot of research.“This is where the link between ophthalmology and cancer comes because in both diseases… angiogenesis is the main target,” Alvarez said.The current 3D-NEO-NET consortium emerged from the 3D NET project, a partnership of five organizations launched in 2013. The four year effort hoped to further networking and research for eye therapeutics. Out of this consortium came the idea to expand the program to include more partners.“The aim of this project is to establish stronger collaborations,” Alvarez said. “You have to experience really, to live yourself, what this exchange is, to open your mind, to go to a different country.” Kennedy agreed that this consortium could open new doors for researchers and drug developers.“Where this should go next is that some set of those partners will come together and form a very tight research collaboration and will apply for a regiment of money to build a skyscraper,” Kennedy said.“Normally, if you’re on one of these skyscraper projects, you need to be the expert in that project. Here, everyone works on things that they don’t have good competency in, but nobody judges them. What you’re doing is trying to find something different.”The consortium was awarded close to €1 million over the next four years under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program. The funds come from the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research and Innovation Staff Exchange. As the head of the consortium, UCD serves as the direct legal and reporting connection to the EU.