IMI's fields of research are officially supposed to be based on recommendations made by the World Health Organization (WHO), but it's often the pharmaceutical industry that sets the research agenda. WHO released its first report on essential medicines in 2004. These included new antibiotics, as well as medications to treat strokes, diabetes, tuberculosis and depression.
But only some of the list's 25 focus areas can be found among IMI's research projects. Our reporting determined that malaria, heart disease and arthrosis, for example, have been left out, while many research projects relating to cancer or diabetes made the cut.
"The goal has always been for the pharmaceutical industry to profit from IMI," says Jan Raaijmakers, a professor at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and former vice president for external scientific collaborations at pharmaceutical company GSK Europe. "That's why it is also clear that the pharmaceuticals companies set the tone to a large degree at IMI."
That hierarchy is built into IMI's structures. The invitations to bid -- and along with it, the research agenda -- are developed by the consortium at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). Researchers and smaller companies aren't allowed to take part until those submitted proposals have been reviewed.
In response to our questions, EFPIA claimed that many of the diseases on the WHO list are in fact being researched and that the direction of the research during the initial project period had been the result of "broad-based consultations between the most important participants in the area of biomedicine." The organization said it is a matter of course that it should orient itself on the WHO principles, but "it is inevitable that IMI will also be active in other areas," adding that this was acceptable as long as these were also in line with "IMI's general goals."