After having covered the role of Executive Director of the VPHi for two years, Adriano will leave the directorship of the Institute in the hands of Prof Lies Geris to coordinate the Avicenna Alliance more closely.
Two years ago I took over the Directorship of the Institute from Marco Viceconti who, as you know, had been either closely associated with, or responsible for leading many initiatives that culminated ultimately in the creation of the VPH Institute. As he wrote in his valedictory message, he stood down on the tenth anniversary of the meeting that laid the foundation to the Virtual Physiological Human Initiative, at a time when the Institute needed to move on to the next phase of its evolution: not just growth in terms of the membership, but growth also in terms of influence and its relevance to industry. I was deeply flattered to be invited by the Board to succeed Marco, largely based on my management experience in industry. Marco’s were big shoes to fill and the tasks the VPHi faced were challenging; they still are. In the two brief years that I have been in post, we have made very good progress towards addressing those challenges and we are well placed to do even more in the coming years.
In terms of membership, this has indeed expanded across the board, notably with the addition of five new Supporting Members. This is a significant achievement that nearly doubles the size of the Board and brings into the fold some valuable new blood, including our first regulator Agència de Qualitat i Avaluació Sanitàries de Catalunya (AQuAS) and two world leading Systems biology and Systems Medicine centres: Systems Biology Ireland and the Luxembourg Institute for Systems Biomedicine. I singled these out for particular mention as they represent interests that hitherto have not been part of the VPH community and are important additions to the breadth of experience, knowledge and application of computational modelling to healthcare. In recent months, this has been strengthened further as the VPHi has become formally associated with the International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS).
One key activity in the last two years was the completion of the Avicenna support action project, led by the University of Sheffield with Marco as the coordinator and in which the VPHi was a partner. The project, rated “Excellent” by the Commission, published a roadmap outlining how “computer simulation will transform the biomedical industry” that laid the foundations to the next phase in the evolution of the VPH Institute: establishing a concrete working relationship with industry. Challenged by the Commission to demonstrate that the output of the Avicenna Project was relevant to industry, our response was to create a formal alliance that would undertake to ensure that the work of the project did not end with just the publication of the roadmap.
The Avicenna Alliance for Predictive Medicine was created in January this year and formally incorporated as a not-for-profit organisation in July. With representation from the medical device, software and pharmaceutical industries alongside the academic community from the VPH Institute, the Alliance has already had an impact on policy development in the area of in silico medicine, not least influencing an amendment to the European Medicines Agency Regulation to take account of modelling approaches. This follows on from the work initiated by the VPHi Policy Affairs Working Group, which successfully lobbied for the inclusion of calls in Horizon 2020 that focus on in silico approaches and contributed to other consultations. These activities have brought us closer to discussions with regulatory agencies, both in Europe and the USA, where the VPHi is recognised as leader in this field that now, working within the Alliance, is helping to shape the future for in silico medicine. This has further been recognised with the VPHi being invited to join the Commission’s influential e-Health Stakeholder Group.
The future of the Institute is now very bright, and the opportunities offered by an ever-growing partnership with industry to raise its profile and demonstrate its relevance to the needs of 21st century healthcare are there to be embraced. However, that will now be achieved under new management. As many of you are already aware, I shall be standing down as Executive Director at the end of this month and handing over the reigns to Liesbet Geris, who was unanimously voted by the Board to be my successor. I wish Liesbet great success in her new role and look forward to working closely with her and her team in my new role as Secretary General of the Avicenna Alliance, and to a partnership that will increasingly demonstrate that in silico medicine has a key role to play in tackling the challenges of healthcare today.
In closing, I extend my thanks to my colleagues on the Board of Directors, the Trustees and to Marco as President for their strong support. I also owe a special vote of thanks to Martina Contin who has managed the Institute and the transition between the three Directors very professionally and effectively. Finally I wish you all every success with your own personal endeavours and look forward to hearing about your successes in the coming months and years.