The European Union needs to increase by 25-35% its investment in biomedical and health research under the Horizon 2020 proposals if it is to keep pace with US spending and the rise in healthcare costs, argues the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC).

EMRC, which is part of the European Science Foundation and represents medical research councils across Europe, has also called for a European Clinical Research Fund, in the mould of the European Research Council and with an initial budget of €1 billion a year, to support “clinical or health research projects that require a multinational approach to be efficient”.

This would include clinical trials for rare diseases, research on new aspects of medicine such as personalised therapies, and health research where large cohorts of patients and longitudinal follow-up over a lifetime are needed to deliver statistically meaningful results, EMRC says.

Open letter

The call comes in an open letter sent to members of the European Parliament and signed on behalf of all members of the EMRC Standing Committee by Professor Roger Bouillon from the Council’s Core Group and EMRC chair Professor Liselotte Højgaard.

The initiative is supported by a number of European science and patient organisations, such as the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) and member associations of the Alliance for Biomedical Research in Europe.

Horizon 2020, the EU’s new framework programme for research and innovation, still needs to be approved by the European Parliament and EU Member States.

€40 per person

In Europe “we spend only about €40 per person, per year, across the broad field of biomedical and health research”, Bouillon and Højgaard note. “To put this in context, spending per capita on alcohol and tobacco is about 20-fold higher.”

Most countries in Europe spend around 25-35% of their overall research budget on biomedical and health-related research, the letter adds. Yet the European Union’s Framework Programmes have devoted less than 15% of total funding to medical research.

As things stand in the Horizon 2020 proposals, only around 11% of the total budget of €80 billion would go to biomedical and health-related research, despite these generating more than 50% of Europe’s research output, as measured by the number of journal papers and citations.

The US spends more than Europe on healthcare, at about €6,400 per head (purchasing power parity exchange rates), both in absolute terms and relative to gross domestic product, Bouillon and Højgaard point out.

Moreover, some 50% of all US public research funding is directed at medical research, “translating to public spending for biomedical research per capita that is about 3.5 times higher than in Europe”.

Industry support

Besides the multiple benefits of health research to European citizens and societies, industry is “highly dependent” on public healthcare investment and research and is “increasingly drawn into collaborations with publicly-funded researchers, receiving public funding for projects to translate research through to treatments”, the letter observes.

Private investment by pharmaceutical companies in the US is two-fold higher than in Europe and “the gap is growing”, it warns.  

EMRC asks the European Commission, and in particular the Commissioners for Research and Health, as well as all members of the European Parliament, to “amend the Horizon 2020 proposals to substantially increase the total amount of European investment in biomedical and health research”.

An increase of 25-35% in this budget would take spending up to the same level as investment in biomedical and health research by national or regional funding agencies in Europe, the Council says.

European Clinical Research Fund

With “due respect to the subsidiarity principle”, EMRC believes this additional money should be invested as a top priority in a new funding mechanism for clinical or health research requiring multinational input, as detailed above.

Such a mechanism “is virtually totally lacking on a European scale today”, the letter contends. A European Clinical Research Fund should operate largely on a “bottom-up” basis, “so that the best projects with the best return on investment would be funded”.