What is the future for clinical and health research in Europe?

Experts discuss the FEAM-BioMed Alliance paper, which outlines how the next EU Framework Programme can further support biomedical research in Europe

The ultimate goal of clinical and health research in Europe and everywhere is improving people’s health and wellbeing, by addressing medical needs which are still unmet. Such an effort requires collaboration going beyond national borders. For this reason, the European Union has been supporting research collaborations at a European scale from the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1957 until today’s Horizon 2020, the European Union Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. As this Programme will end in 2020, debates have already started on its successor, the so called FP9.

How to strengthen the environment for clinical and health research in Europe? What are the gaps to be addressed to overcome current fragmentation in funding?

The Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) and the Alliance for Biomedical Research in Europe (BioMed Alliance) have joined forces to address these issues. In a recently published position paper on Strengthening biomedical research for the benefit of European citizens, the two organisations put forward recommendations to help improve clinical and health research in Europe. These tackle the following 5 areas:

Collaborative multidisciplinary translational research in Europe

To improve patients’ lives, new approaches are needed in the translation of basic research into real clinical benefit. The European Union and its Member States need to jointly address the current fragmentation in funding for clinical and health-related research and establish collaborative multidisciplinary networks to support novel research and/or explore newly emerging research topics.

Paradoxically, successful collaborative projects would need also mechanisms of selection for individual participants, beyond their need for funding and their willingness to join a particular network. This means that the EU must have a mechanism whereby one individual researcher is funded for one focused precise scientific and biomedical question. If successful, such an individual research group/investigator would qualify to join the networks of translational teams. For this model to function, the networks that provided major advances should be maintained, as we suggest in the next section.

Continuity of funding for excellent projects

EU grants for research and innovation have helped in making important contributions to science. But what occurs after the end of the financial support? Many promising collaborations are often disbanded once the grant has expired and current conditions make it difficult to achieve sustainability.

FP9 should address this issue and introduce mechanisms which allow extending funding for projects which have accomplished unique results, widely used by the scientific and biomedical communities and which need to be continued to maximise the potential of real successes and innovation. Such stable networks would then be joined by new groups, their selection based on merit being essential. As stated above, a first step should be advances made on specific problems supported by early individual grants. This system would combine the advantages of USA system, with the tradition of collaboration and building schools in Europe.

The importance of precision medicine in designing clinical trials

The development of precision medicine is leading to new patient-focused clinical outcome measures, novel approaches clinical trial design and the establishment of new systems and infrastructures to enable the collection of healthcare data. However, lack of sufficient funding and focus prevents the European Union from making the most out of the new interventions under development and from ensuring compliance with regulatory guidelines, ultimately preventing patients to access the best available treatments. This issue is also complicated by the unclear and unequal reimbursement policies with respect to molecular/genomics analyses for patients.

Training programmes for the next generation

Education and training play a key role in preparing the next generation of research-oriented clinicians and clinically-oriented researchers, thus making sure that clinical researchers are knowledgeable in basic research, while basic researchers understand clinical challenges. Major investment will be needed to achieve this and to make sure the current divergence of training requirements across Europe is overcome. Given the increasingly international nature of research and clinical practice, this represents a bottleneck to be urgently solved.

A vision for a European Council for Health Research

FEAM and BioMed Alliance paper support the European Commission’s Scientific Panel for Health’s idea1 to further investigate the concept of a science-driven European Council for Health Research. Such a council can act as catalyst for reform, as proper funding mechanism and as a scientific advice platform. Acting as a unique hub for health research innovation, the objectives of the European Council for Health Research would be to implement long-term sustainable research programs and to exploit in full the benefits of cooperation and coordination across Europe.

As a conclusion, the European Union provided great support to clinical and health research. However, certain challenges emerged and they need to be tackled in order to improve the life of patients and for the benefit of the society as a whole. Solutions can come only through integrated efforts from a broad community of stakeholders including researchers but also policymakers, healthcare professionals, industry, and patients. That is why, to continue debate around this important issue, the FEAM European Biomedical Policy Forum (a new initiative of FEAM which provides a platform for discussion on key policy issues for the biomedical community) will organise in early 2018, its first annual lecture on the future of biomedical and health research in Europe. This will provide an excellent opportunity for interaction and cross-sectorial discussions among European biomedical stakeholders.

1 This idea is expressed in the Scientific Panel for Health, vision on ‘Better Research for Better Health’, May 2016.

Please note: this is a commercial profile

 

Stefan N. Constantinescu, MD, PhD

Professor, Université Catholique de Louvain, de Duve Institute

stefan.constantinescu@uclouvain.be

 

Silvia Bottaro

FEAM Forum Policy Officer

silvia.bottaro@feam.eu.com

Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM)

 

Laurence Legros

Executive Director

laurence.legros@feam.eu.com

Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM)

 

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