EFPIAs Director General Richard Bergström puts forward his views on the hot topic of the EU budget and the importance of preserving innovation.

 

Last week Commission President Barroso gave a passionate plea for an EU budget centred on growth, stating that “cuts, cuts, cuts” was not the only option, and that some of these “may imperil Europe’s stability”. One of the key examples used by President Barroso of programmes that would be affected by the cuts Horizon 2020 was the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI). In so doing he touched upon an important issue for the EU- where does it want to go in terms of healthcare innovation? 
First, a quick tour of what the IMI is and why it is important. The IMI is Europe's largest public-private partnership and aims at improving the drug development process to improve the drug development process by supporting a more efficient discovery and development of better and safer medicines for patients. It has a budget of €2 billion euro shared equally between EFPIA and the European Commission.

But IMI is not just about addressing scientific bottlenecks in medicines development. It is also about addressing key healthcare challenges that our societies face; areas where the burden of disease is the highest in terms of care, social security cost and impact on the patients.  Areas which suffer from disinvestment globally, not just within Europe, because of their scientific complexity, low chance of success and high risk compared to the potential return on investment. Infectious diseases, for example, are still a major issue throughout the EU. To tackle the issue there is an IMI programme that aims at creating and identifying new antibiotics which will address severe and resistant infections, but also to complement the necessary actions related to rational use of antibiotics aimed at preserving patient immune systems. There are also programmes looking into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, an important challenge in the ever ageing societies (see more here). Diabetes, cancer, depression, autism and effectiveness of vaccines are further areas that IMI’s programmes are currently looking into . These are but a few examples of the important societal challenges that IMI is taking head on by trying to find cures, and not just treat symptoms, in areas in which there are none. Challenges that need to be addressed now and not later when our healthcare costs will be simply unaffordable.

IMI is not just another science programme but it is in fact an indicator of where the EU wants to go economically. Through innovation and research it creates jobs and prospects for long term growth. As it is a public private partnership its programmes build networks of industrial and academic experts throughout the EU Europe that will, in the long run, boost innovation in healthcare and acts as a neutral third party by creating a collaborative ecosystem for pharmaceutical research and development (R&D).

One must also not forget that science is what has made the EU what it is.  For all advances that we may have done in other sectors it is our science that has led us to be the largest economic region globally. Our planes, cars, chemicals and biotech- to name but a few- are at the forefront of their sectors. The EU and its Member States of course have to keep budgets under control but one must also look to the future and avoid the disastrous consequences of any loss of competitivity in any of our core sectors. This is a fundamental choice that our decision makers must now make.

Calls have been made to uphold and increase investments in innovation. A recent petition by 44 European Nobel Science Field medallists has, for example, already received more than 130,000 signatures from European scientists. Research Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn stated last week that she wants an increase of €30 billion to a total budget of €80 billion. She believes that it will stimulate jobs throughout the EU and she is right. We have to believe in our future and to do so we have to invest in it. What our politicians need to understand is that long-term investment is needed now not later and that the EU must not give up on the sectors that have been and will continue to be their pillars of growth, not just because of their economic activity, but also because they keep healthy populations at work. On our side we need to translate the science into real healthcare solutions and follow through with our promises of personalised medicines.  A challenge that separately research, industry and academia will not be able to address effectively, and where massive investment at EU level is key.