Global health research – a chance for Moedas to shape his legacy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Lawmakers must take the chance to strengthen the EU’s investment in treatments for poverty related diseases and make the EU a hub for research excellence, writes José Inácio Faria MEP.

José Inácio Faria MEP sits in the EPP group and is a member of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food safety committee

Commissioner Moedas and DG Research have reason to celebrate, but their proposal for the EU’s research agenda for the next decade is only the start of our work to make Europe the hub for research excellence.

This proposal, Horizon Europe, will receive a sizable chunk of the EU budget, even if it may have been less than we would have anticipated. Yet, how the programme will distribute its funding among the different priorities and objectives remains a point of debate and concern. This week, the Commissioner’s home country – Portugal – is hosting the biennial forum of the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), which will celebrate the achievements of the EU’s unique funding initiative for research into diseases of poverty such as HIV & AIDS, TB, malaria and neglected infectious diseases. Research that, if given enough support through Horizon Europe, could save lives and improve the well-being of millions of people around the world.

Horizon Europe – A global health prescription for the EU

EU research and innovation ministers need to increase funding for Horizon Europe and show they are serious about combating poverty-related diseases, says Cécile Vernant.

While the Commissioner will not be able to attend the EDCTP forum in Lisbon, there are still opportunities to cement his legacy as a strong advocate for global health research. We will need the Commission and the Council to work with us in the European Parliament to beef up Horizon Europe’s commitment to global health research, securing more funding to develop new and improved technologies targeted at real global societal challenges, and capitalising on the successes of the EDCTP to keep the momentum going towards realising the Sustainable Development Goals.

That impetus is key because although the international community has made progress in recent decades, these diseases continue to affect more than one billion people around the world. Decisions made now by the EU will determine Europe’s commitment to support research that could deliver game-changing treatments or medicines for HIV & AIDS, TB, malaria and other diseases of poverty worldwide. The question is whether we will have the courage to live up to our values.

Commissioner Moedas has made the first move, proposing a budget of €94bn for “Horizon Europe”, a big part of which will be targeted at tackling ‘global challenges’, including specific actions on infectious diseases and challenges in low- and middle-income countries. While an important first step, it can be better. Most importantly, the budget for health research in Horizon Europe, whose portion of the overall budget has decreased compared to the previous research programme, needs to be substantially increased.

At the European Parliament, we will also be looking to make sure that there is no backsliding in the EU’s commitment to the fight against diseases of poverty. Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe’s predecessor, stresses the importance of ‘a comprehensive approach’ in research to defeat these diseases. To make sure that we can hold the Commission to account, Horizon Europe must do the same. As well as more funding, Horizon Europe needs better strategic planning for research and innovation partnerships and the often-touted ‘moonshot’ research.

Retooling Horizon Europe to make it fit for purpose in the fight against diseases of poverty means revamping partnerships like the EDCTP so that they can continue to deliver. This was also evoked in President Juncker’s speech on the State of the Union when referring to a strengthening of partnerships with Africa where “reciprocal commitments are the way forward”. Commissioner Moedas, adhering to his commitment of being “open to the world” deserves credit for launching the EDCTP2. We will watch closely what noises are coming out of Lisbon this week, and we hope to see the Commission building on this positive legacy with renewed energy for a successor programme to the EDCTP2 that ensures the sustainability of ongoing research networks and projects, and continues to deliver impact.

As politicians, we want to make sure that EU funding goes to areas that can make a real and measurable difference to the people – within and beyond Europe. Diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria do not respect borders and pose an unacceptable moral and socioeconomic burden for millions of people around the world, and are a major global threat if unchecked. Fostering international cooperation on global health research will help capitalise on Europe’s scientific excellence, save lives and improve people’s wellbeing, and support our knowledge-based economic growth and high-quality employment. It would also bring us several steps closer to ending the epidemic of poverty-related diseases for good.

It could also be a foundation stone in Commissioner Moedas’ legacy; but that remains to be seen.

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