2019 02 09

Building Bridges of Partnership to Ireland

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In March of this year, the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA) organised its first networking visit to Ireland. Representatives of the Lithuanian scientific community visited Ireland’s universities and institutes. The Irish audience was introduced to the potential of OPEN R&D Lithuania, the MITA-curated research and development network.

“Over the course of several days, we managed to arrange multiple meetings with the aim of making connections and strengthening ties in the area of scientific research so that Lithuanian companies and especially institutions of science could find serious partners in Ireland for joint projects and the exchange of services,” recalled Ričardas Valančiauskas, head of the MITA Department for Innovation Programmes and International Cooperation.

World Class

Delegations of researchers from Vilnius University (VU) and the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU) travelled to Dublin and Galway to meet with colleagues from local universities and institutes. Researchers looked mostly to the life and biomolecular sciences with a view to building partnerships with their Irish counterparts.

The work of the VU Life Sciences Centre (JGMC) is globally significant. For example, the team led by Professor Virginijus Šikšnys of the Institute of Biotechnology has identified almost a third of the globally-known spatial structures of DNA-cutting enzymes and is a leading researcher of new CRISP anti-virus defence systems. The technology the team has developed has been successfully licensed.

Professor Saulius Klimašauskas and his colleagues are successfully exploring the operation of genetic information encoded in cells, the mechanisms underlying the encoding and decoding of epigenetic DNA modifications, and creating new methods for studying modifications of the genome.  Professor Klimašauskas also attended the meetings in Ireland and networked with representatives of local universities and institutes.

Professor Rolandas Meškys has successfully identified new and unique enzymes and self-assembling proteins that are incredibly important to the pharmaceutical sciences and developing new types of technology – biocatalytic recycling and nanotechnology. This is especially useful and relevant to the modern-day bio-industry.  The team works in close partnership with business.  They even receive commissions for new enzyme studies by international pharmaceutical companies like Bayer.

The VU JGMC Open Access Centre provides world-class services and access to equipment to research, academic and business enterprises from Lithuania and the rest of the world. It has nine biotechnology and molecular medicine R&D centres and 17 open access laboratories with cutting-edge lab equipment.

JGMC scientists are experts in macromolecular marking, proteomics, genome modification and the latest microliquid technology. They have successfully registered international patents and commercialised the technology they have developed.

The result of one of JGMC’s successful collaborations with business is a recombinant viral protein technology. The teams working in the JGMC laboratories were responsible for doing all the work that now allows us to produce various recombinant proteins and utilise them for diagnosing viral infections. Some of these were manufactured by the commission of international partners such as Abcam Ltd (United Kingdom), SantaCruz (USA), Euroimmun Medizische Labordiagnostika AG (Germany), ArcDia International Oy LTD (Finland) and others.

From Personalised Medicine to Drug Research

In cooperation with the Kaunas University of Technology, the scientists of the LSMU Advanced Pharmacy and Health Technology Centre are working on several internationally significant research projects on advanced disease diagnostics. For example, an ultrasound skin tumour analyser will soon be used in clinical practice helping to determine the development of disease faster and more effectively. Another group of scientists is at work developing an algorithm for analysing pathologies of the voice that will help identify vocal fold dysfunction in the blink of an eye. These diagnostic methods will allow doctors to identify the right treatment for the patient faster and more effectively.

The Open Access Centre for Advanced Pharmaceutical and Health Technology – a modern complex of laboratories and auditoriums – is equipped with the latest in biomedical research technology. A close cooperation with the LSMU Kaunas Clinics gives researchers unique possibilities to apply their research in practice and provide clients with various biomedical R&D services.

Among the Centre’s principal areas of expertise are personalised and regenerative medicine as well as pre-clinical and clinical drug trials. The genetic research conducted in its labs allows specialists to choose the most effective type of treatment based on genotype, and scientists are researching how stem cells can be used to regenerate damaged kidney and joint tissues. Critically important is the biological cardiostimulator being developed by LSMU scientists and their partners from Columbia University and other Lithuanian research institutions. Pharmaceutical technology is also being developed. All laboratories are open access and their infrastructure is accessible not only to LSMU researchers but to other scientists too.

From Irish Experience

During the meeting with Irish organisations involved in the promotion of innovation and research in the country as well as the award of research grants, MITA representatives shared their experience of successful initiatives and discussed various measures that were being implemented in their respective countries.

“We were very interested to hear about the experience of our Irish colleagues and we’re already considering trying out some of the strategies they are using to promote the development of the innovation business in Lithuania,” emphasised Valančiauskas.

In Ireland, the life sciences sector, which includes companies working with medical devices, pharmaceutical technology and biotechnology, export over 45 billion euros in products annually. The sector employs over 50 thousand people. Ireland is home to eight of the world’s 10 largest medical device manufacturers: Abbott, Bayer, Becton Dickinson, Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson, Guidant, Medtronic and Stryker. Over 50% of the medical technology companies established in the country are involved in research and development.

Moving Towards Concrete Projects

Prospects for partnership were discussed in the Lithuanian-Irish cooperation symposium BRIDGE–2018. The event concluded the nearly week-long visit of the Lithuanian delegation and brought together around 70 policy-shapers, scientists and business representatives from Ireland and Lithuania. Participants of the symposium were welcomed by the Lithuanian ambassador, Egidijus Meilūnas, Irish Senate member Padraig O’Ceidigh and the mayor of Mayo County, Richard Finn. Presenters from Lithuania introduced the audience to the country’s achievements in science and business, as in turn, did the Irish representatives.

Later, in an informal environment, representatives of both countries conversed about potential mutually beneficial areas of cooperation and joint Lithuanian-Irish projects that could be facilitated by Open R&D Lithuania, the largest Baltic network of infrastructure, services and competences which brings together 14 national universities, 13 national research institutes, seven science and technology parks as well as 25 open access centres.

Open R&D Lithuania offers over 2,500 services in the fields of biomedicine, biotechnology, laser technology, future energy, IT and communications technology, marine sciences, food technology, civil engineering, material science, medical innovation, ultrasound research, smart cities, agriculture and nanotechnology. A single-window system allows potential clients to make sense of the broad range of services available. This single window can be accessed by enquiring at the MITA-founded Open R&D Lithuania Contact Centre.

“The Irish representatives were interested in our infrastructure and advanced laboratories. We haven’t signed anything yet, but both LSMU and VU are already thinking about concrete projects,” asserted Valančiauskas.

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