For this month’s member highlight, we’re pleased to share the work of the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED).

The Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) was established in 2015, and its mission is to fast-track medical research and development. Under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet and national ministries, AMED provides a single point of contact for researchers and institutions seeking funding for medical research and development.

AMED’s President Makoto Suematsu, MD, PhD said: “Our most important role is to catalyze the processes of medical innovation and overcome the barriers between sectors, connecting talented individuals in order to accelerate discovery. To this end, I am determined to facilitate DATA SHARING in 3 important biomedical research fields: Rare and undiagnosed diseases, human genetics, and infectious diseases.”

AMED’s work is guided by the Japanese government’s Plan for Promotion of Medical Research and Development. Its mission is focused on three components:

  • Support funding on medical research and research facilities;
  • Link organizations, institutions and researchers; and
  • Promote the practical application of beneficial research outcomes.

In 2017, it supported approximately 2,360 projects in 23 countries. Many of those projects are in the basic research stage, but they are also supporting a large number of pre-clinical and clinical studies.

Recognizing the strength of global cooperation, AMED has entered into formal partnerships with leading institutions, including GloPID-R member Medical Research Council (MRC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore. AMED has offices in London, Singapore, and Washington DC to further reinforce their networks.

In regards to infectious diseases, AMED has allocated a little more than $47M(USD) to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases for effective control measures. Recently, they funded a three-year Ebola Research Project taking place in Sierra Leone. Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka from the University of Tokyo, whose team hails from Japan, United States and Sierra Leone is working on a vaccine that will help those infected with the Ebola virus.

AMED not only supports vaccine development but also virus detection. They funded the Zika research project, led by Dr. Chang-Kweng Lim, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and his team from Nagasaki University and Canon Medical Systems succeeded in developing Zika diagnostics with a Zika virus detection kit. AMED provided extra support to accelerate the team’s diagnostics development.

In addition to supporting infectious diseases research projects, AMED supports the Japan Initiative for Global Research Network on Infectious Diseases (J-GRID). J-GRID was established in response to the threat of infectious disease pandemics that occur in Asia and Africa. The program creates networks between nine research centers on these two continents and focuses on new diagnostics systems, therapeutics and vaccines, influenza, antimicrobial resistant strains, infectious diarrheal disease and dengue fever.

From J-GRID’s work, Dr. Hasebe and his team from Nagasaki University conducted a study that provided medical evidence to prove the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly in Vietnam—the first of its kind in Asia. This research was done in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE).

Integral to AMED’s mission and work is leveraging the collective strength of its global research network. As part of the Japanese Initiative for Progress of Research on Infectious Disease for Global Epidemics (J-PRIDE), eight Japanese researchers visited the UK in December 2017 and held joint workshops at research institutes, such as the University of Glasgow, to develop concrete ideas for Japan-UK collaborative research projects. During the visit, researchers from both sides introduced their work, and discussions took place to identify possibilities for collaborative research and joint projects.

For the moment, most of the proposals that AMED and other Japanese agencies receive are written in Japanese. However, AMED has made a commitment that many of its projects and proposals be in English.

From President Suematsu’s interview with Pharmaboardroom in February 2017, he reaffirmed: “AMED will make sure to use English as our official language within a couple of years. This is necessary to facilitate the fast-track of medical R&D as well as to empower mutual understanding among all researchers fighting against infection in this planet. Our community is very keen to contribute to global health and improving people’s quality of life, together.”

In every action they take, AMED is one research funding organization that is committed to their mission of “Connecting people, Changing Lives.”

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