This project aims at significantly strengthening the scientific and technological capacity of the linked institutions with a principal focus on the Yerevan State Medical University (YSMU), Armenia. The aim would be to enhance the YSMU research capacity in the field of infrastructure development for clinical genetic research, in particular targeting the collection and use of biological material, and the data integration for downstream analyses in relation to chronic, non-communicable diseases such as cancer. This will be achieved by networking the excellence from three leading research-intensive expert centres: the Medical University of Graz (Med Uni Graz), Austria; the Charles University (CU), Czech Republic; and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization (IARC/WHO).

In terms of excellence, currently Armenia is one the lowest performing countries when compared to the EU. According the EC/JRC Scientific and Policy Report based on the composite indicator evaluation for scientific and technological research excellence this indicator for Armenia has been estimated at 20.7, while the average EU28 is 40.5.1 Armenia has one of the lowest R&D intensities,2 as well as one of the lowest numbers of scientific publications as compared to the EU average. The national innovation system is overshadowed by low scientific performance, even when compared against similar benchmarked countries. Low performance indicators also characterize the participation activity or success rates in EU research programs such as FP7 and H2020.3

Founded in 1920, YSMU is the only medical research university in Armenia able to provide multidisciplinary education and research across the entire medical, scientific and clinical research spectrum. The admission rate is competitive, making it one of the most desirable higher education institutions within Armenia. The current progress is characterized by the fact that YSMU was recently included in QS Top World University Rankings rating list, with position No 5895 in this list.4 U-Multirank global university rating score for 2017 reports the performance profile for YSMU above the average for most of the indicators. In terms of inter-disciplinarity of the research, regional involvement as well as teaching and learning competences of Faculty of General Medicine, YSMU has exceeded other national universities on average, while the absolute number of research publications, citations of publications, number of top-cited publications and doctorate productivity is indicated as low-performing indicators.

The ambition of the YSMU is to become a research driven university with high quality research that would also benefit students by providing them with education based on the latest research developments. The department of Medical Genetics of the YSMU is based at the Center of Medical Genetics and Primary Health Care (CMG) as the only clinical, research and educational center in medical genetics in Armenia. The staff of the CMG is involved in educational programs using high molecular technologies aiming to provide genetic diagnoses, management, monitoring, including cancer targeted therapy. CMG was also a participant and coordinator of EC FP6 and FP7 framework projects. One of the major aims is development of research infrastructures such as a national biobank and registry of genetic diseases in Armenia.

YSMU students, trainees and residents follow pre- and post-graduate educational programs in Clinical Genetics and Clinical Laboratory Genetics approved by an international collaboration with leading European universities after completion of the EC “Tempus MedGen Project”. The research and education potential serves to create bridges between research and clinical implementation. Through its research and education programs the staff supports creation of innovative projects in different fields of medical genetics, especially cancer genetics promoting collaborations and partnerships with Armenian and international research, educational and clinical institutions. The expertise in research-related educational projects, promotes integration of young researchers in genomics and genomic health care, especially in the field of cancer genetics.

Cancer is one of the primary causes of mortality and has a growing annual incidence in the Armenian population. However, cancer research is poorly organized and efforts spent on it are barely enough. In this regard for the last years the CMG/Department of Medical Genetics has recognized research in hereditary cancer and personalized treatment of cancer as one of the major topics of research (in particular the genetics of breast and gynecological cancers). CMG has extended activities in diagnostics of other forms of solid tumors and hematological malignancies. The newly created laboratory of genomic research through NGS analysis and the laboratory of cytogenetics are ideal premises for the realization of cancer genetic research, if supported appropriately by relevant infrastructure. At the same time, CMG/Department of Medical Genetics has a unique role in the provision of pharmacogenetic testing for cancer patients supporting all clinical oncological services of Armenia. Therefore, enhancement of research infrastructure, such as biobanking and data analysis, will boost the efforts of the CMG/Department of Medical Genetics placing it at a higher level for further national, regional and international cooperation in cancer research.

The ARICE project has been developed by considering the internal and external limitations to achieve scientific excellence by YSMU. The ARICE consortium involves the leading expert institutions in the particular field in the EU and on the global scale. Med Uni Graz and CU are internationally high rated universities, leading global research in the project-related areas (e.g. cancer research, as well as linked to relevant research infrastructure reviews). IARC is an international organization, an executive research agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) leading permanent research efforts to decrease cancer-related burden. IARC, Med Uni Graz and CU are the EU and international leaders in biobanking good-practice implementation. This expertise will be utilized throughout the realization of the ARICE Project.

1 Vertesy D, The Adjusted Research Excellence Index 2018. Methodology Report, EUR 29567 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2018, ISBN 978-92-79-98383-2, doi:10.2760/126300, JRC114345
2 OECD (2017), OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2017: The digital transformation, OECD Publishing, Paris – and reports thereof.
3 Horizon 2020 Policy Support Facility (2019) Background report: Scientific support to Armenia. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-76-04191-7, doi: 10.2777/010205