While Europe spends considerably less per capita on biomedical research than the US, the investment is comparatively more productive in terms of the volume of journal publications that ensue, a new report has found.

For example, notes the white paper released by the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC), in 2007 combined total minimal spending on health research and development in the public and private non-profit sectors by the EU9 countries (Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the UK) was €14.0 billion or US$17.0 billion on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.

That came to only 53% of standard minimum spending in the US, reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as US$32.0 billion. Moreover, the Obama administration gave an unprecedented one-off spending boost of US$10 billion to health R&D and new US National Institutes of Health facilities through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Put another way, combined minimum spending by the EU21 countries (including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia) was €16.7 billion or US$20.3 billion at PPP in 2007, which was less than two thirds of the US standard minimum spending level – although more than three times standard minimum spending in Japan, as estimated by the OECD.

Stable share

Yet Europe’s share of biomedical publications worldwide has remained fairly stable over the last 14 years while the US share has fallen over the past five years, the white paper observes.

More specifically, the US share of global biomedical publications dropped by 4.6% between 1996 and 2009, while the EU share declined by just 0.6%, both reflecting the growing output of emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil. In 2009, Europe accounted for 38% of all biomedical publications worldwide and the US for 33%.

On the other hand, the impact factor was significantly higher for published US research. The US share of global citations for biomedical publications remained at around 50% over the period 1996 to 2007 and the European share at roughly 40%. Nonetheless, the citation rate over that period fell by 5.2% for the US while it increased by 3.5% for Europe.

Punching above its weight

“In spite of the significant difference in funding, Europe is punching above its weight in terms of biomedical research when compared with the US,” the EMRC white paper says, while warning that emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil “are catching up”.

If globalisation brings more competition, though, it “also gives rise to new opportunities for international collaboration, which should be fully exploited”, the paper stresses.

It makes five key recommendations to underpin future policy and strategy for biomedical research in Europe:

-     Citizens and patients should be more closely engaged in biomedical research.

-     The results of this research should be conveyed to patients rapidly and efficiently.

-     Biomedical research should be conducted “with high quality in an open, honest and transparent way”.

-     European research should be conducted within a global context.

-     Investment should be stepped up “to create the right world-class biomedical research”.

The white paper on A Stronger Biomedical Research for a Better European Future published by the EMRC, the European Science Foundation’s membership organisation for medical research councils across Europe, was an update of the EMRC paper on Present Status and Future Strategy for Medical Research in Europe, which was released in December 2007.