About AMED Message from the President
1. AMED’s Establishment, and Progress during the First Medium- to Long-Term Plan Period
Since its establishment as a national research and development (R&D) agency in 2015, the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) has worked to promote seamless medical R&D extending from basic research to practical application, and to apply the outcomes of such research in practice. In doing so, our aim has been to put research outcomes to practical use, and make them available to patients and their families, as soon as possible. In line with the Japanese government’s healthcare and medicine-related strategies, AMED consolidates the medical research funding that had previously been dispersed among the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT); the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW); and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and facilitates integrated R&D in collaboration with research institutes and other organizations.
To maximize the reach of AMED’s activities, in our First Medium- to Long-Term Plan Period (from fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2019), AMED organized the R&D programs that fund into “integrated projects” comprising five cross-sectional projects (drug discovery and development, medical device development, translational and clinical research core centers, regenerative medicine, and genomic medicine) and four disease area-specific projects (cancer, psychiatric and neurological disorders, emerging/re-emerging infectious diseases, and rare/intractable diseases), which we pursued in a coordinated way. Furthermore, to implement these projects efficiently and effectively, we enhanced our management capability by assigning program directors (PDs), program supervisors (PSs), and program officers (POs) who all have a thorough grasp of the latest developments worldwide to oversee operations.
AMED also worked to create the right environment for medical R&D to be conducted smoothly and efficiently. To that end, we focused our efforts on supporting commercialization, promoting data management including sharing of research data, globalizing the processes of calling for and evaluating proposals, strengthening our ties with research institutes and other organizations overseas, and nurturing young Japanese researchers. Consequently - as indicated by the number of KPIs we achieved for various operational targets under Dr. SUEMATSU Makoto, the former president of AMED - we produced many outstanding R&D outcomes, most notably when the seeds of academic research resulted in practical application.
2. The Second Medium- to Long-Term Plan and Its Operational Policy
On April 1, 2020, AMED’s Second Medium- to Long-Term Plan was launched and I took on the role of president. During the second plan period, we will further advance and consolidate the results we achieved during the five years of the first plan, thoroughly verifying the issues that remain, as we seek to forge a smoother path toward a strong structure and operations. The key concern among issues that have been raised relates to the integrated projects under the first plan, comprising five cross-sectional projects and four disease area-specific projects. Specifically, in the disease area-specific projects, the development of modalities (technologies and techniques) that should usually apply across all diseases - such as building of data infrastructure and data utilization, genomic and genetic medicine, middle molecule and macromolecular drugs, and drug delivery systems (DDS) - was instead divided up among the specified disease areas.
In response to this, under the Second Medium- to Long-Term Plan we will be deploying new medical technologies and techniques effectively across the full range of diseases, organizing our programs into integrated projects that are not limited to certain disease areas, but are instead focused on six modalities: drugs; medical devices and healthcare; regenerative, cellular, and gene therapies; genome data infrastructure; basic disease research; and seeds development and research infrastructure. These six integrated projects will provide the framework for promoting R&D relating to fields of disease that constitute social issues for Japan now or in the future (including cancer, lifestyle diseases, psychiatric and neurological disorders, diseases of old age and dementia, rare/intractable diseases, child development disorders, and infectious diseases). It is necessary to ensure full coordination among projects and establish a structure that enables us to manage each specified disease area flexibly. In particular, it will be intended to appoint coordinators with a wealth of knowledge about each field of disease so that they can act as advisors to the PDs who are in charge of executing the integrated projects.
To implement the structure and operational policy described above both flexibly and effectively, communication among a variety of stakeholders will be essential. The government stipulates the overall direction of R&D by determining “the Plan for Promotion of Medical Research and Development”, while AMED is responsible for R&D as a funding agency that puts this plan into practice. Most important of all, therefore, will be for these two parties to show mutual respect for this key division of roles between them and forge a robust relationship based on coordination and cooperation. It will also be important, meanwhile, to pay attention to ensuring dialogue with the representatives of MHLW, MEXT, METI, and MIC (the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) responsible for AMED programs, and to ensure that information on progress in R&D is shared internally among the PDs overseeing the six integrated projects and the coordinators for each field of disease. Furthermore, development of the healthcare and medicine-related field from now on will require engagement with a broad perspective that encompasses science and engineering, social sciences, psychology, and praxeology, in addition to medicine and pharmacology. AMED will always keep the interdisciplinary collaboration necessary to achieve such a broad perspective uppermost in our minds, and seek to achieve it. To this end, AMED intends to proactively pursue collaboration with two think tanks - the Center for Research and Development Strategy (CRDS) within the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), which is under MEXT’s jurisdiction; and the Technology Strategy Center (TSC) within the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), which is under METI’s jurisdiction. We will also actively collaborate with the work of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO), which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
3. AMED’s Role of Support for R&D on the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
During the period since AMED’s First Medium- to Long-Term Plan ended and its Second Medium- to Long-Term Plan got underway, the novel coronavirus pandemic has shaken the world. With no clear path out of the pandemic yet visible, AMED is expected to play a key role in Japan’s measures to take measures against this infectious disease. In order to do so, AMED has made use of the government’s supplementary budget and other means to launch a range of new programs since February 2020. Programs funded to date include the following areas of R&D: (1) molecular epidemiology and elucidation of pathology to track COVID-19’s transmission routes, infection mechanisms, and exacerbation mechanisms; (2) development of extremely accurate and sensitive high-throughput diagnostic procedures and testing equipment to detect novel coronavirus infection early; (3) assessment of potential for using existing drugs to treat patients, development of new drugs, and use of medical devices that can ameliorate symptoms; (4) development of technologies for producing new vaccine candidates to prevent the spread of infection in future and for ensuring a reliable supply of vaccine within Japan; and (5) foundational basic research, provision of equipment, identification of animal models, and establishment of assays necessary to elucidate pathology and develop therapeutics and vaccines. In addition to supporting these areas, AMED has also taken swift action - starting with the most urgent topics - to support R&D targeting other areas, such as the measures deployed internationally to combat infectious disease, and support for industry. A number of research outcomes have already been produced as a result. AMED will continue to support R&D addressing measures to combat COVID-19.
MISHIMA Yoshinao, Ph.D.
Last updated 07/15/20