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The University of Southampton

DRAGON project to join fight against coronavirus

Published: 8 June 2020

Scientists at the University of Southampton are leading molecular phenotyping in a €14m EU-funded international consortium for Covid-19 advanced diagnostics.

Molecular phenotyping uses the quantitative measurement of thousands of biomolecules such as genes and proteins to measure biological pathway activity to better understand diseases, leading to improved diagnostic and treatment approaches.

The project, called DRAGON (rapid and secure AI imaging-based diagnosis, stratification, follow-up, and preparedness for coronavirus pandemics), will design and build a patient-centred system that enables more rapid and precise diagnosis and prognosis.

The consortium will collect and use imaging and molecular phenotyping data of Covid-19 patients from across Europe. Artificial intelligence techniques will be used to create a system to inform medical decisions about patient care.

The University, in collaboration with its spin-out TopMD Precision Medicine, will bring expertise in molecular phenotyping for AI-assisted biomarker discovery for diagnosis and prognosis.

Diana Baralle, Professor of Genomic Medicine and Consultant in Clinical Genetics, Ratko Djukanovic, Professor of Medicine and Director of Southampton Centre for Biomedical Research, Tom Wilkinson, Professor of Respiratory Medicine, Yihua Wang, Lecturer in Biological Sciences, James Schofield, Lecturer in Systems Biomedicine, and Paul Skipp, Associate Professor in Proteomics, will lead the University’s role in the project.

Dr James Schofield, co-founder of TopMD, said: “As Covid-19 infections continue to spread, DRAGON will make a real contribution to the rapid development of advanced diagnostics to support patient care.”  

Professor Diana Baralle said: “This is a large collaborative international project, in which the University’s Faculty of Medicine, Biological Sciences and spin-out companies, TopMD and Synairgen will have a central role. The Covid-19 clinical studies we are undertaking, and the patient samples collected from those, may provide vital clues to questions such as who gets affected more severely, and whether patients are responding to treatment. Collaboration – between universities, hospitals and companies – will maximise the advances we are going to make through this project.”

DRAGON is being led by OncoRadiomics, a Belgian company that uses AI to develop medical products and services, in partnership with 21 SMEs, academic research institutions, biotech and pharma partners, patient-centred organisations and professional societies from the UK, Belgium, China, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland. As well as scientists, citizens and patients will be involved the development of the system.

The University of Southampton has been awarded funding worth €248,523 and TopMD has been awarded €649,000 for the three-year project.

This project has received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking (JU) under grant agreement number 101005122. The JU receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations.


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