Feature Drug Research

Europe seeks to boost research

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39475.547199.AD (Published 28 February 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:474
  1. Geoff Watts, freelance journalist
  1. 1London
  1. geoff{at}scileg.freeserve.co.uk

Europe is losing out in the battle for research into potential new treatments. Geoff Watts examines a new initiative to attract more investment

As even the keenest supporters of the European Union might concede, there is not too often reason to use the words “excitement” and “European Commission” in the same sentence. Yet almost all of the people I talked to when researching this article on one of the commission’s latest plans used the word “exciting” when discussing its core proposals.

The project generating this unexpected enthusiasm is the Innovative Medicines Initiative, which was given the final go ahead last December. For a succinct summary of what prompted the initiative, look no further than the 2007 edition of The Pharmaceutical Industry in Figures.1 Speaking of drug industry investment in Europe it says: “Between 1990 and 2006, R&D [research and development] investment in the United States grew 5 times while in Europe it only grew 2.9 times . . . The current tendency to close R&D sites in Europe and to open new sites in Asia will show dramatic effects in the next few years if nothing is done to maintain pharmaceutical discovery expertise in the EU.”

This is the problem that the new initiative seeks to tackle. Or, more accurately, the problem as the drug industry sees it. The commission—coauthor of the policy songsheet from which both groups are now singing—has a slightly less commercial perspective on future threats and possibilities. No matter. The two are in harmony over what needs to be done. So what is the Innovative Medicines Initiative? And how is it supposed to boost drug development in Europe?

Smoothing the research path

Octavi Quintana, head of the EU’s health research directorate, summarises the initiative as a streamlining policy that encourages drug companies to work with each other and …

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