Efforts to give medical researchers in Ireland more of a say in policy-making both at the national and European level saw the formal launch last week of a new Academy of Medical Sciences at Dublin’s Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.

Presiding over the launch was Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, who said strategic partnerships between the Irish Academy of Medical Sciences (IAMS) and state agencies or industry would “contribute to building a knowledge-based economy, sustainable employment opportunities for Irish graduates and the overall improvement of Irish society and its healthcare system”.

As the IAMS pointed out, Ireland was until now one of the few European countries without an established body to represent its medical researchers as an independent source of expertise on complex issues around medical science and ethics, and help ensure a coherent and integrated health-research policy both nationally and internationally.

Not had a voice

Consequently, Ireland “has not had a voice in contributing to the medical sciences interchanges which inform EU policy-making in this area, principally through the Federation of European Academies of Medicine”, the Academy noted.

Its absence from this dialogue was particularly marked given that Ireland will take over the presidency of the European Union next year “and may wish to promote particular endeavours in this area”, the IAMS added.

The Academy says its primary objective is to “improve the health of the population through an increased appreciation of the critical contribution of biomedical sciences and excellence in delivery of healthcare”.

In doing so, it will focus on:

• Influencing and supporting political and government department decision-makers in formulating public policies around complex issues of, or related to, medical sciences or ethics.

• Generating and publishing position papers on “matters of key importance in and relevant to the medical sciences”.

• Recognising and advancing excellence in the field of biomedical research.

• Promoting the importance of medical-sciences research by arranging discussion meetings, lectures, conferences, colloquia, etc around the discipline.

• Improving public understanding and appreciation of the value of medical-science research by engaging in relevant public comment and debate, as well as communicating complex medical-science issues via the public media “in a language which is accessible and amenable to non-professionals in the area”.

• Timely interventions and responses on topical issues of political/societal interest  where a medical-sciences perspective is warranted.

Value, status and future

The Academy’s first position paper, A framework for Irish clinical research in the 21st century, addresses the value, status and future direction of biomedical research in Ireland, emphasising the need for sustainable funding.

A second position paper, currently in development, will centre on the need and approach required to structure career trajectories and pathways for biomedical scientists.

While investment in biomedical research increased substantially during Ireland’s boom years, “it is essential that this momentum be maintained”, warned Professor Dermot Kelleher, honorary president of the IAMS and chairman of its Inaugural Council.

Hospital infrastructure

“In terms of developing the key industry relationships for the knowledge economy, it is critical that the infrastructure in our teaching hospitals is seen as a source of real academic strength in terms of expertise and capacity in clinical research,” Kelleher commented.

Investing in publicly funded biomedical research, and in particular clinically-based research, “will lead to significant economic benefit, job creation, added value to the knowledge economy, and individual and societal gain for Ireland”, he added.

“It will also assure the development and retention of the brightest research capacity and capability in the country.”