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.