Push the envelope
Article: Neuronet
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21st September 2022
final interview with carlos díaz, neuronet's project coordinator

What was the original idea behind NEURONET?
The IMI call itself was in a way acknowledging that the project-based structure in the IMI neurodegeneration field was suffering from fragmentation. Our contribution was to design an action that would effectively alleviate the problems derived from every project acting as a silo.

Do you think NEURONET achieved what it set out to do?
Yes, I think we can be proud that the original design worked as expected. We got a fantastic response from the projects and were able to put a very modest initiative like NEURONET, with minimal funding and limited duration, on the neurodegeneration ‘map’ as a relevant actor. More than anything, we showed in my opinion that NEURONET was necessary to fully realise the richness and potential of the IMI neurodegeneration portfolio.

What was, in your view, NEURONET’s best achievement?
We took a different approach compared to most similar actions, one where we wanted to effectively engage with projects and be relevant for them instead of an annoying political imposition. We did this by putting the 20+ project leads at the driving wheel and leveraging all our experience about what are the actual pain points for projects. We had little time, and I was impressed by the variety of activities we innovated and tackled: the Knowledge Base, the impact assessment exercises, the working groups, the summit, the NEURO cohort… Not everything worked, but many did. This is a credit to the excellent trio of NEURONET partners, but also to all the projects that believed in NEURONET and actively contributed.  

What was the most significant challenge you faced in NEURONET?
I think NEURONET is the typical project that everyone likes but no one wants to pay for. Despite what I believe were impressive results, and generally getting an excellent response from projects, we weren’t able to make the value proposition work equally well when addressing potential funders.

How do you see NEURONET continuing in the future?
It will depend on what IMI and other funding agencies decide to do. There is a real problem in structuring research on a project-by-project basis. Most of the time, there is no concept of a portfolio or programme beyond the pure list of projects, and therefore synergies and efficiencies are missing, and every project is left to fight its war alone. This leads to repetition, duplication of efforts, disjointed platforms, and a general lack of best practice transfer. If this is to be solved, I think NEURONET can be seen as a unique blueprint on how programme management should be tackled – 90% of what we created would be perfectly applicable to any other disease area or research field that is not neurodegeneration specifically.

The main aim of NEURONET is to set up an efficient platform to boost synergy and collaboration across the IMI projects of the Neurodegenerative Disorders (ND) portfolio, assisting in identifying gaps, multiplying its impact, enhancing its visibility, and facilitating dovetailing with related initiatives in Europe and worldwide.

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