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ECRAID-Prime Primary Care

Driving innovation and collaboration

ECRAID-Prime plays a significant role in advancing the search for new treatments for COVID-19 and COVID-like illness, as well as addressing urgent global health crises related to infectious diseases.

The EU-funded project is coordinated by its WP1 (ORG) leads, Aida Salčić and Ram Venkatachalam from University Medical Centre Utrecht (UMCU). In this interview, we shine a spotlight on ECRAID-Prime’s social relevance and the indispensable roles played by Aida and Ram in managing this pioneering project.


Could you tell us, what are your roles and responsibilities within ECRAID-Prime? 

Aida: Both Ram and I take care of the day-to-day management of the grant. This includes technical and financial reporting to the European Commission (EC) and making sure our deliverables and milestones are met. We act as a liaison between project partners and the European Commission, ensure that our project partners are compliant with our grant and consortium agreements, as well as help facilitate ongoing communication and collaboration among our internal and external stakeholders. We also work closely with the project’s communication team to organise regular project meetings.

Ram: As the lead of the Grant Management Team (GMT), I am involved in strategic planning, project execution and high-level decision-making for (EU-)funded initiatives.

Together with Aida, we support the consortium in achieving its objectives and deliverables towards establishing Europe’s first adaptive platform trial in community settings. This ambitious undertaking is aligned with the EC’s broader vision to fortify Europe’s clinical research preparedness in response to emerging outbreaks. At the same time, we are very proud to be working with a highly talented dedicated group of researchers, scientists, partners, and primary care sites.


How do your academic backgrounds and experiences help you succeed in your roles?

Aida: I have experience in (EU) project management and research, and a joint PhD degree in Neurolinguistics from the International Doctorate in Experimental Approaches to Language and Brain (IDEALAB) from the University of Groningen, Macquarie University, the University of Potsdam, and the University of Newcastle.

Besides our experiences in (EU) grant management, research expertise is highly valuable as it enhances our ability to support and understand our researchers’ needs and challenges.

Ram: I have extensive experience in EU grant management, from supporting grants during the pre-grant stage (e.g, grant writing), overall management of the grant once awarded, to post-grant management (technical and financial reporting once the grant is successfully completed). Additionally, I have a research background and obtained my PhD in cancer genetics from Radboud University Medical Centre Nijmegen.


What are some of your milestones and successes in the past two years?

Aida: Since our project started in December 2021, we have accomplished several critical tasks, including the submission of our project’s deliverables and milestones to the EC and most recently, our first periodic (technical and financial) report.

Last year, we submitted the first amendment to the ECRAID-Prime Grant Agreement, which was approved by the EC earlier this year, and were involved in establishing the External Expert Advisory Board and the Data Monitoring and Safety Committee of ECRAID-Prime. In addition, we are actively engaged in organising various project meetings, including our project kick-off meeting, our first network training meeting in Utrecht, the General Assembly meeting in Zagreb, as well as our bi-weekly cross-work package and Executive Board meetings.

Ram: After the project was awarded funding, WP1 liaised with our EU project officer to negotiate and finalise the Grant Agreement. In addition, our team was involved in the establishment of the Consortium Agreement between the partners in ECRAID-Prime.


Have you acquired any new insights from your involvement in ECRAID-Prime?

Ram: One of my key learnings is, starting up a clinical trial in the field of infectious diseases requires more time than expected. ECRAID-Prime’s primary care network spans six countries, each with its unique regulatory and legal framework and procedures governing clinical trials. Coordinating these diverse requirements have proven to be time-intensive, which in turn impacts our project timelines. This is something we will take into account for future grant initiatives.

Aida: I’ve learned the importance of cultivating strong relationships with our internal and external stakeholders. Every consortium member and partner play a crucial role in the project's success, and these connections are essential for effective communication and overcoming obstacles as we work towards our common goals.


What are some of the challenges you encounter in your work package?

Aida: ECRAID-Prime is the first EU project that I am leading. Being a tight-knit consortium makes it possible to effectively monitor our project’s progress. Nevertheless, managing a large EU project independently and anticipating potential challenges are part of a continuous learning journey.

Ram: For me, some of the biggest challenges we face is the complexity and length of clinical trial procedures. This in turn impacts the management of the grant and the deadlines of the project’s deliverables and milestones.


What are some of your hopes for the future of clinical research in Europe?

Ram: I hope to see a reduction in the start-up time for clinical trials, through more efficient collaboration and alignment among scientists, infectious disease experts, regulators, governments, legal experts, trial managers and medical professionals on a global level.

Aida: Yes, indeed. My hope is for an improved clinical research landscape in Europe, achieved through fostering extensive international collaboration and harmonising regulatory processes across European countries to expedite approvals. In addition, I hope for a greater patient involvement in projects beyond ECRAID-Prime, which will in turn bolster interdisciplinary and cutting-edge clinical research.


About the work package

ECRAID-Prime is structured into eight work packages. Work Package 1: Management and Organisation (ORG) is tasked with supporting activities of central organisational, managerial and coordinating activities for the network as a whole. Its objectives are to ensure compliance with the EC Grant Agreement and Consortium Agreement, and that the EU primary care network and laboratory network in ECRAID-Prime strengthen and maintain the critical qualities: Organised, Engaged, Extensive and Sustainable. Read more about ECRAID-Prime’s structure.