A groundbreaking 2 billion euro initiative to encourage public-private partnerships that make Europe the most attractive place once again for pharmaceutical R&D has been officially unveiled in Brussels.

The previously-announced Innovative Medicines Initiative, which is being described as a “first of a kind” partnership between the European Commission and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, is now up and running. The philosophy behind the scheme is that by removing major bottlenecks in the drug development process through innovative research projects, IMI will accelerate
the discovery of new medicines and “boost Europe’s competitiveness in biopharmaceutical innovation”.

European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik said that “the IMI is about pooling public and private efforts so that Europe can be a big player”. He hopes that the Old Continent can become “a Champions League for biopharmaceutical research by moving from individual project-funding, to joint programme funding involving industry and public stakeholders”.

The rationale behind this ambitious goal was laid out by Arthur Higgins, president of EFPIA. He said that the challenges behind innovation are complex, and the decline in the number of new drugs is due to a combination of scientific, regulatory and economic factors. Therefore, “we as an industry are ready to play our part in bringing forward medical innovation but cannot solve all these issues by ourselves”.

The IMI says that the project is all the more important as Europe was once known as the “world’s pharmacy” and some ten years ago seven out of 10 new medicines originated from here. Today, however, this has fallen to about three out of 10.

The IMI has a total budget of 2 billion euros up to 2013 and grants this year of around 123 million euros will be awarded “to the most promising research projects in the areas of brain disorders, metabolic and inflammatory diseases”. In the future, the initiative will provide cash for proposals to cover cancer and infectious diseases, money which is much needed seeing as drug development costs for a new chemical or biological candidate stand at over 1 billion euros. On average it takes up to 13 years to bring a new medicine to the market and out of every 10,000 substances synthesised in laboratories, only one or two will make the grade.

Jonathan Knowles, chairman of the IMI Governing Board, concluded by saying that the project “brings together experts from the laboratory and the clinic working on new approaches to better predict as early as possible” whether a drug works. “Earlier access by patients in need to new effective treatments is the ultimate goal of this joint initiative," he added.