Hélène Espérou, 2020 Innovation Prize

During the current health crisis, Inserm Clinical Research Unit manager Hélène Espérou and her team have supported the preparation of the Institute’s research projects as part of their mission to supervise clinical trials. It is in honor of her commitment that she has been awarded the Innovation Prize.

Hélène Espérou © Inserm/François Guénet
Hélène Espérou © Inserm/François Guénet

Hélène Espérou joined Inserm in 2017 after 18 years as a hematologist at Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris and various roles at the French Biomedicine Agency, Health Ministry, and Unicancer federation. "Inserm enabled me to return to the clinical research that I had left in 2005 for another professional activity, says this faithful reader of French daily Le Monde who "enjoys devouring novels in the garden just as much as traveling the world".

With its thirty collaborators – "many of whom with a scientific background" –, one particular mission of the Clinical Research Unit that she manages is to act as sponsor of the clinical studies conducted by Inserm – in other words, be legally responsible for them. This involves applying to the competent authorities (French medicines agency [ANSM], data protection authority [CNIL] ...) for the various authorizations needed to launch these trials and then monitoring them until their results are published.

Authorizations within just one month!

At the start of the health crisis, between January and May 2020, Espérou and her colleagues worked on no fewer than ten COVID-19 projects, notably French Covid – whose data have been used in two prestigious studies –, the European therapeutic trial Discovery, and the Sapris and Epicov cohorts. "For all of them we got the go-ahead from the authorities within one month, instead of the usual three to six", recalls Espérou. This is not the first emergency situation that she and her team have known: "During the 2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, we had to launch a clinical trial within a matter of weeks.“ But for Espérou there is something very specific about the current pandemic: "As COVID concerns absolutely everyone, never have we had such a sense of working for the health of each and every individual."

Parmi le Pôle de recherche clinique de l’institut thématique Santé publique, de gauche à droite et de haut en bas : Aurélie Papadopoulos, Carole Pierrart, Christelle Delmas, Michael Hisbergues, Noémie Mercier et Salma Jaafoura © Inserm/François Guénet
Among the Clinical Research Unit of the Public Health Theme-Based Institute, from left to right and top to bottom: Aurélie Papadopoulos, Carole Pierrart, Christelle Delmas, Michael Hisbergues, Noémie Mercier and Salma Jaafoura © Inserm/François Guénet