Tag Archives: Horizon 20/20

Supporting excellent biomedical science in Europe

The first FEAM European Biomedical Policy Forum annual lecture took place in Brussels, in March, dedicated to the topic Biomedical and health research: developing a vision for Europe.

The Forum is an initiative from the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) and aims to bring together representatives from academia, research charities, industry, European and national trade associations and professional bodies, regulators, public health bodies, and patient and consumers groups. Among the topics discussed were: thematic priorities for future research; linkage with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); research missions; current gaps in support; and how to improve coordination and consolidation of research programmes across Europe.

This  is  an  important  time  for  European  health  policy  and  for  sustaining  biomedical  research  and innovation. The forthcoming EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, FP9, provides a critical opportunity for stakeholders across the biomedical and health sectors to discuss their research vision and priorities for Europe, linkage with global goals, and defining approaches to closing gaps in support and to promoting coordination of effort.

Dr Line Matthiessen of the European Commission (DG Research and Innovation) provided valuable insight into the drivers for prioritising biomedical and health research objectives in FP9. These drivers include: the challenges facing society, for example in terms of health and care costs, inequalities and environmental factors; and the need to  promote  innovative  industry  competitiveness.  There  is  also  the  opportunity  to capitalise  on  previous  achievements  in  funding  programmes  associated  with  the  development  of human capital (including in cross-sectoral collaborative initiatives) and the paramount requirement to deliver impact.

Recent proposals to increase mission-oriented approaches in FP9 are very relevant to health research: successful characteristics of a mission orientation were illustrated by the work of a consortium on rare diseases in Horizon 2020 (i.e. the International Rare Diseases Research Consortium – IRDiRC). Increased impact can be anticipated if the scientific community and other stakeholders are mobilised to address shared goals.

High-level experts from academia, industry and patient groups then responded with their perspectives on the vision for  FP9.  For example,  there  were  suggestions  for  other  health  research  missions  with potential  for  EU  added  value  to  address  unmet  medical  needs  in  the  fields  of  dementia,  infectious diseases/antimicrobial  resistance,  and  mental  health.  Among the  many  significant  issues  arising  in discussion was an emphasis on the importance of:

  • Continuing the use   of   animals   in scientific   research.   Despite   progress   in   developing alternatives,  well-regulated  animal  models  are  still  needed  to  provide  biological  insight  and help to tackle unmet medical needs.
  • Continuing commitment to basic, discovery science (investigator – driven, bottom up ideas) at a time of increasing attention to translational science: ensuring a balance between mission-oriented and fundamental research.
  • Addressing the challenges of transdisciplinary in a culture where many academics still work in silos: this may require new incentives but is essential to enable innovation and deliver more integrated approaches to health management.
  • Harnessing the combined skills of academia and industry in partnerships that will also include health services and patients. There is considerable scope to facilitate all stakeholders working together to identify research   priorities and clarify research design, increasing patient representation throughout research. Scientific and clinical communities must augment their efforts to engage with patients and the public to understand their priorities for unmet medical needs.
  • Exploring how to improve collaboration  across  the  large  part  of  health  research  that  is currently organised and funded at a national level. The proposed European Council for Health Research may help in underpinning coordination and synergy,  and act as a single point of entry for all health research. There is a broad agenda for co-ordination in addition to funding. There  will  be  new  challenges  for  maintaining  the  essential mobility of scientists and  their families  and  for  building  multilateral  partnerships  in  Europe. Education  and  training  must incorporate   the   acquisition of  new  complementary skills for researchers and health professionals,  for  example transdisciplinary and  the  capacities for interpreting and  using large data sets.
  • Developing future healthcare systems for people-centred quality care with the focus shifting to health rather than disease and entailing new understanding of multimorbidity and of early pathogenesis. Among the requirements, this transformation calls for renewed commitment to digital health and digital infrastructure, with implications for training and research.

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