European Researchers Struggle to Communicate

March 22, 2019
Peter O'Donnell
Applied Clinical Trials

A statement from Europe's drug industry and medical societies calls for adequate funding for translational research, explaining the importance, and highlighting the challenges it faces.

Europe's outstanding achievements in basic life sciences research are not getting through to patients as useful treatments and diagnostics-and the urgency of filling those gaps is not getting through to European policy makers, says yet another new coalition jockeying to
make its voice heard in the crowded space of strategic lobbying in Brussels.

A joint statement from Europe's drug industry and Europe's medical societies calls for a "bold vision" to ensure adequate funding and coordination for translational research. Issued on the eve of the European Union's summit meeting in Brussels on March 21 (where the agenda is dominated yet again by Brexit woes), it makes a plea for recognition from a world where, it says, it is not understood.

Laboriously, it explains the role and importance of translational research, and highlights the challenges it faces. "This type of research is costly and risky involving many steps of collaboration among all stakeholders. Funding activities are scarce," it says. And, it goes on, "instruments aiming to strengthen the various steps in the process of the translational research ecosystem are often fragmented and lack tangible follow through the full medicine’s lifecycle."

In language so convoluted that it risks intensifying rather than clarifying confusion in the outside world it aims to impress, it urges EU policymakers "to work together with the research community, industry, and patient representatives to ensure that these directions are implemented in inter-sector collaborations to progress synergies within and across projects and initiatives."

There's a straightforward action plan-direct and simple. And expressed in just the sort of simple concrete language that politicians love. If that doesn't convince policymakers, then nothing will.

Something better in terms of communication might have been expected from the combined intellects of the drug industry's European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations and the 400,000 researchers and health professionals in the BioMed Alliance-the two partners in this coalition. So far, the top item in their plan, as revealed by their statement, consists of "increasing visibility on the role and needs of translational research to better inform policy makers, academia, patients, and the general public." With no irony, BioMed Alliance presents itself in its statement as conveying "the views of its members in a cohesive and comprehensible form to policymakers, professionals and the public at large." Good luck with that.

As it happens, they may be in luck if the summit ever gets beyond the Brexit quagmire, because one of the items on the agenda of EU leaders is developing an “integrated approach” to promote growth in the EU through “an assertive industrial policy allowing the EU to remain an industrial powerhouse.” The leaders are scheduled to request their officials "to present, by March 2020, a long-term vision for the EU’s industrial future, with concrete measures to implement it.”

And in another stroke of potential good luck, a breakthrough on research strategy occurred just days before the summit, when agreement was reached among EU legislators on the outlines of their next long-term research program. This will put more than $100 billion behind European researchers over the next seven years, with a hefty slice of that earmarked for life sciences and health topics. And the entire program is geared to "societal challenges and industrial competitiveness" and "market-creating innovation," with provide a one-stop shop to help bring promising and breakthrough technologies from lab to market application, and assist in scale-up of ideas. Parallel streams are to be set up for early stages research and for development and market deployment.

If the translational research community can't talk their way into benefiting from some of that, they will have no one to blame but themselves.