Prof. Carel Le Roux to lead new €16M international obesity research consortium


UCD is leading SOPHIA (Stratification of Obese Phenotypes to Optimize Future Obesity Therapy), a new €16 million EU and industry supported international research consortium launched on 01 June. 

Professor Carel le Roux, an obesity physician at the UCD Diabetes Complications Research Centre in the UCD School of Medicine and Fellow in the UCD Conway Institute, is the co-ordinator of the SOPHIA consortium.

SOPHIA (, which includes twenty-nine partners from civil society, academia and industry in 12 countries, aims to improve risk assessment of complications of obesity and predict treatment response for people with obesity.

The €16 million in funding for this 5-year project has been granted from the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a joint undertaking of the European Commission and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA); JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation); the Obesity Action Coalition; and T1D Exchange.

Obesity is a global pandemic currently affecting around 150 million people in Europe and 650 million people worldwide. Obesity complications are common but we cannot yet predict who will develop any of the 200 known complications of obesity.

Moreover, there are insufficient predictors for who will respond to obesity treatments. SOPHIA will identify, characterise and stratify clinically-meaningful subpopulations of patients living with obesity to match the right treatment for the right person at the right time.

Professor Carel Le Roux, UCDProfessor le Roux (pictured) said, “Our mission within SOPHIA is to enable healthcare professionals to reliably predict the complications of obesity and who will respond to treatment.”

He added, “SOPHIA will provide evidence-based classification of predictors for obesity complications and response to obesity treatment while also identifying and charting models for sustainably developing treatment pathways that will be valuable for patients, healthcare systems, researchers and clinicians.”

In addition to Professor le Roux other UCD researchers participating in this research project are; Assistant Professor Fiona McGillicuddy, UCD School of Medicine and Fellow, UCD Conway Institute; Assistant Professor Deirdre McGillicuddy, UCD School of Education and Dr Werd Al-Najim from UCD Diabetes Complications Research Centre and UCD Conway Institute, who is the SOPHIA project manager.

UCD’s involvement also builds on the Institutional Strategic Support Fund from the Wellcome Trust which enabled Dr Tracey McCauley, UCD Diabetes Complications Research Centre, to contribute. 

Atturos, the clinical diagnostics company founded by Professor Stephen Pennington as a spin-out from the UCD School of Medicine with the support of NovaUCD, is also a consortium partner.

Dr Marianne Ølholm Larsen Grønning, Corporate Project Vice-President, Novo Nordisk, who is the SOPHIA Project Leader said, “Obesity is a complex, chronic disease and there is still a lot we do not know, both about the biology of the disease itself and how treatment can improve the lives of patients with obesity. SOPHIA is an important step towards understanding obesity better. The collaboration between academia, industry and associations promises strong and unique results.”

The voices of people living with obesity will be at the heart of SOPHIA through the establishment of a Patient Advisory Board. It will ensure that patients’ insights, opinions and wishes are placed at the core of SOPHIA and interwoven into the multiple layers of the study.

The research group will use its findings to contribute to a more patient-centric and equitable narrative around obesity and its multiple impacts on individuals from both a social and medical perspective. It all starts with obesity being a chronic disease, not something people choose to live with. 

Some of the methods used in SOPHIA will be; creating a database, conducting analysis, conducting in-depth qualitative methods with patients to identify their perceptions and perspectives on obesity diagnosis and treatment and finding a shared value with all stakeholders to ensure better treatment of people living with obesity.

SOPHIA will also investigate health outcomes in people with obesity who have type 1 diabetes. Dr Sanjoy Dutta, Vice-President of Research, JDRF, said, “With the statistical power afforded by such a large European collaboration, we will be able to investigate the two-way relationship between obesity and type 1 diabetes and ultimately be able to make valid predictions about health outcomes in this traditionally underappreciated population.”

“Since recent epidemiological data indicate that nearly half of adults with T1D in some European countries have overweight or obesity, it is critical for the T1D community to address this challenge.”

The SOPHIA project officially kicked-off its activities across Europe on 1 June 2020 and will last until 31 May 2025.

The other partners in addition to UCD and Atturos in the SOPHIA consortium are; Third-I bvba and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium); Novo Nordisk A/S (Denmark); Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Lille (France); University of Ulm, Lipotype, University Hospital Tübingen, Metabolon and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma GmbH & Co KG (Germany); University College Cork and The European Association for the Study of Obesity – Ireland Company Limited by Guarantee (Ireland); Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Pisa (Italy); Erasmus Medisch Centrum and Maastricht University (Netherlands); Girona Biomedical Research Institute (Spain); Medtronic International Trading Sarl and SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (Switzerland); Lund University and University of Gothenburg (Sweden); University of Dundee and University of Exeter (United Kingdom); Eli Lilly and Company, George Washington University, JDRF International, T1D Exchange and Obesity Action Coalition (United States).