Public funding of medical research in Europe needs to double to at least 0.25% of gross domestic product (GDP) within the next 10 years if the region is to see the benefits in terms of better health and welfare for its citizens, a stronger research base for industry and promotion of Europe as a leading knowledge-based society, argues a new White Paper from the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC).

The White Paper, Present Status and Future Strategy for Medical Research in Europe, was launched at a meeting in Brussels last week co-chaired by Janez Poto_nik, the European Union’s Commissioner for Science and Research. The EMRC, the European Science Foundation’s membership organisation for all of the medical research councils in Europe, conducted a comprehensive analysis of the current state of medical research in Europe compared with its global competitors, as well as assessing the new challenges facing the region, including an ageing population, changing patterns of disease and environmental issues such as global warming.

The analysis showed that the US spends considerably more on medical research than Europe. As a proportion of GDP, non-market sector expenditure on biomedical research and development in 2004 (the most recent data available) was between 0.37% and 0.40 % in the US compared with 0.17 % in the original 15 member states of the European Union. If all of the EU member states were included, the difference would have been even more marked.

In terms of medical research output per capita, the US produces roughly one more scientific paper per 10,000 inhabitants than Europe does, the White Paper notes. Output per 10,000 inhabitants increased from 3.2 papers in 1996 to 3.9 in 2005 in Europe, while in the US the paper output rose from 4.4 to 4.9 per 10,000 inhabitants over the same period. And the US share of the world’s citations to biomedical publications between 1996 and 2003 was around 50%, while the EU15 share was about 40%.

Sustaining steady growth
Once Europe has doubled its public funding of medical research over the next 10 years, it then needs to sustain a steady growth of funding above inflation in the years following, the White Paper recommends. Funding should be distributed in competition through peer review, on the basis of scientific excellence, it adds.

Moreover, this financial boost needs to be accompanied by the implementation of best practice in medical research, notably an emphasis on improved collaboration and co-ordination of research through the EMRC and its member organizations, the European Commission, the European Research Councils and learned medical societies.

The other main EMRC recommendations for improving the medical research environment in Europe are:

- Revising the EU Directives addressing medical research so as to facilitate the research effort. “We propose that EC and national regulations that impact on biomedical research should be made as simple as possible, so that research is facilitated and not impeded,” the White Paper says.
- Endorsing the EMRC statement on equal opportunities for performing research, namely: “The EMRC advocates equal opportunities in all aspects of medical research – regardless of age, gender, origin, profession, race, religion, or sexual orientation.”

Commissioner Poto_nik commented: “What Europe needs is a more coherent, strategic approach to research at European level. This was the driving philosophy behind our Green Paper on the European Research Area, and one which the EMRC have taken up in their paper. That national medical research councils are teaming up to better organise medical research in Europe is a very significant signal.”

The full text of the White Paper on Present Status and Future Strategy for Medical Research in Europe may be found at www.esf.org/emrc.