EU calls for more research into ‘complex brain’

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As society ages, brain-related disorders are expected to affect at least one in three persons during their lifetime, costing some €800 billion in Europe every year. The EU has declared May 2013 European Month of the Brain to highlight the need for more research in this field.

During recent decades, brain research has made great progress on all fronts, but much more is still to be discovered, according to the European Commission.

"Research and innovation are really necessary in order to bring us to the next step and to find solutions in addressing what patients need," said Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, director of the Health Directorate at the European Commission's DG Research and Innovation.

"We also know that the cost of mental health problems are huge and they do continue to grow. Unfortunately, in response to that not a lot has been done," she stated at a stakeholder event in Brussels hosted by the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a joint undertaking between the European Union and the pharmaceutical industry association EFPIA.

Advances in neuroscience are crucial to keep ageing societies healthy. Brain-related disorders will affect at least one in every three people during their lifetime and treating these disorders costs already now some €800 billion in Europe every year, according to the Commission.

This is more than what is spent on cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Deciphering how the brain works has long-term benefits for society and could play a greater role in driving innovation in  Europe's pharmaceutical industry.

"The Commission is working in order to address future challenges in 2020 and beyond and this will be reflected in what hopefully will be our proposal for a second innovative medicine initiative," Draghia-Akli said, referring to the European Innovation Union initiative.

Not failing patients

One of the future challenges is that despite progress in translational research, the industry is failing to develop the innovative medicines required to address public health needs.

Peter Andersen, chairman of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations' (EFPIA) Research Directors Group, emphasised that a change of value within the industry was important, but the main focus should be the patient.

"If we don't make sure that progress and basic research are translated into something that benefits the patient from better diagnostics to better treatment and prevention, we have failed," Andersen stated.

Mary Baker, the president of the European Brain Council, added that brain research is not only about the brain, but also about its capacity to manage other diseases. By the age of 65, an average person will suffer from three different diseases.

This also means that clinical trials process has to be changed when inventing new drugs. Clinical trials are not reflecting the real world, Baker said, as they are for the most part excluding people over 65.

Background

As part of its 'European Month of the Brain' initiative, the European Commission has earmarked some €150 million of funding for 20 new international brain research projects.

It will bring the total EU investment in brain research since 2007 to over €1.9 billion.

The 'European Month of the Brain' will highlight European research and innovation in the area of neuroscience, cognition and related areas through over 50 events across Europe this May.

The initiative aims to showcase the latest achievements in the field, but also to urge a more decisive effort to combat brain diseases. It also aims at highlighting how studying the brain can revolutionise computing.

Timeline

  • May 2013: "European Month of the Brain".
  • 14 May: Commission-organised conference in Brussels to showcase European projects in the field and outline future scientific challenges.
  • 27-28 May: Commission-organised conference in Dublin on European foresight policy for brain research and healthcare.

Further Reading

European Commission

EU institutions

  • Innovative Medicines Initiative: Website

Businesses & Industry

  • European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations' (EFPIA): Website

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