UCD obesity experts take leading role in new €16m EU research consortium

Posted 2 June, 2020

University College Dublin is leading a new €16 million EU and industry supported research consortium aiming to improve obesity treatment.

The project called Stratification of Obese Phenotypes to Optimise Future Obesity Therapy (SOPHIA) includes twenty-nine partners from civil society, academia and industry in 12 countries, and seeks to create better risk assessment of complications of obesity and predict treatment responses.

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

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

“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.”

Obesity is a global pandemic currently affecting around 150 million people in Europe and 650 million people worldwide. Moreover, there are insufficient predictors for who will respond to obesity treatments. 

SOPHIA will identify, characterise and stratify clinically-meaningful sub-populations of patients living with obesity to match the right treatment for the right person at the right time.

In addition to Professor le Roux other UCD researchers involved in the project are Assistant Professor Fiona McGillicuddyAssistant Professor Deirdre McGillicuddyUCD 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 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.

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. 

Funding for the 5-year project was 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.

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.”

By: Staff Writers, UCD University Relations (with materials from Micéal Whelan, UCD Research and Innovation)