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Draft EU research programme doesn’t deal with disease risk factors, say public health doctors

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f6057 (Published 07 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6057
  1. Rory Watson
  1. 1Brussels

Leading European epidemiology and public health scientific associations are pressing for major changes to the European Commission’s health research programme over the next two years.

They have argued that, in its current form, the programme focuses too much on personalised medicine and biotechnology and too little on identifying research priorities that would tackle major personal, social, environmental, and occupational risk factors of disease.

They added that the 50 page document did not cover research that would mitigate the effects on health of the international economic crisis and that it severely underestimated the importance of health systems and policy research.

Although acknowledging the importance of personalised therapeutic innovations and biotechnology, the associations said that these “cannot alone address effectively the health problems of the European population” and only covered a very narrow part of research conducted in Europe.

The criticism was given in a joint statement from the International Epidemiological Association, the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology, and the European Public Health Association. It was directed at the draft work agenda for health, demographic change, and wellbeing for 2014 and 2015 under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research programme.

This programme currently has a budget of some €1.06bn (£0.9bn; $1.4bn) over the two years. It includes 32 topics on personalising health and care and 10 coordination items, such as support for European reference networks, while a small number of other topics will be added later.

The associations expressed concern that research in environmental health, such as into air and water contaminants, was “mostly mentioned in connection with basic research rather than research evaluating the impacts of these exposures and exposure interventions on the health of the European population.” They also pointed to the absence of research on major health problems, such as musculoskeletal disorders, identified by the European Union and the World Health Organization.

“We call for a major revision of this work programme that will effectively focus health-related research in Europe to the major determinants of health and disease in the European population,” their joint statement says.

Commenting on the criticism, the European Commission pointed out that it had not yet finalised the work programme and that it was in contact with stakeholders as it did so. Michael Jennings, the commission’s research spokesman, noted that an important part of the Horizon 2020 programme was driven by societal challenges, of which public health was an important part.

He added, “For Horizon 2020 we have deliberately not drawn up prescriptive ‘shopping lists’ for the first funding round, so that researchers themselves can shape the agenda and have more freedom to propose what they think will work best.”

The three associations, however, acknowledged that the proposed programme did contain major positive aspects. They welcomed the decision to request applications on wide rather than very specific topics, the inclusion of environmental health, and the priority given to research into neurodegenerative disorders and healthy ageing.

The definitive work programme will be made public on 11 December, when the first call for proposals will be made.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6057

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