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Roundtable Health

Get prepared for Horizon 2020

Grand Societal Challenges Roundtables Series

Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing
University of Twente, June 3, 2013

Together with experts in the field, the EU-Office organized the Grand Societal Challenges Roundtable on Energy on June 3. The event was open for all - senior - UT stakeholders on the theme. After a general introduction by the EU-Office, attendants presented their own competences in the field and the opportunities they foresee for interdisciplinary collaboration. Presentations were then followed by a plenary discussion on specific ideas for partnerships and network sharing.

Introductory Powerpoint Presentations at the roundtable

About the Challenge

Responding to demographic change

One key challenge for modern Europe is the ageing of its population. This requires focusing research even more on domains ranging from those with increased incidence in older persons – such as chronic or neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's – to research that will allow older people to live actively and independently for longer.

Health research also needs to play an important role in helping to prevent costs to healthcare systems, keeping them from becoming unsustainable. As a result of demographic change, fewer and fewer people will be available to generate the income to pay the growing public healthcare bill resulting from a growing elderly population. With the average 75 year old now experiencing at least three chronic conditions and taking five medications every day, research and innovation are clearly required if these costs are not to become unsustainable and if elderly persons are to be allowed to continue to play an active, contributory role in society.

Towards a more personalized medicine

Groundbreaking changes in medicine that aim to understand disease at a molecular/ biological level may one day result in 'personalized medicine' – that is, the ability to treat a given patient at the right time, with the right intervention. Nowadays, the effectiveness of many medicines prescribed to patients varies tremendously; among other difficulties, this aspect makes 'personalized medicine' hard to fulfill.

Advances in this area demand further fundamental research, as well as applied research in diagnosis or clinical trials. Supporting the exciting journey to a more individual medicine is in our fundamental interest: it promises to make healthcare smarter, better and more cost-efficient, and may even help Europe cope with the costs of demographic change.

Personalized medicine will require an unprecedented level of cooperation along the healthcare innovation chain. This involves researchers who characterize diseases and their mechanisms, as well as those who exploit this knowledge by developing new biomarkers, diagnostics and medicines, and the regulators who evaluate and approve them.

Harnessing private sector power – innovation through partnerships

To enable such cooperation and facilitate breakthrough solutions, Horizon 2020 champions a multidisciplinary approach in which universities, companies and public authorities work together to translate research into innovation. An open, cooperative approach is more likely to stimulate private sector initiative and leadership when it comes to the testing, demonstration and scaling-up of promising solutions. An analysis of EU research activity between 2002 and 2010 clearly demonstrates the positive effects of involving small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) in EU health research projects – namely a measurable increase in new patents, products, companies and skilled jobs.

The importance of international cooperation

Finally, 'partnership' is the watchword: not only with regard to private companies but also when it comes to the future of cooperation between governments and public institutions. Science itself is also a global endeavor, with scientists sharing their knowledge with their colleagues around the world. And furthermore, most health and biomedical challenges are borderless, requiring an international collaborative approach if research is to help meet these challenges.

The right type of health research in Europe

Adapting to an ageing population, pursuing the path to more personalized medicine, harnessing private sector power and expanding global cooperation are only some of the most important features that EU health research will need to address if it is to deliver its full potential. The threat of a new flu pandemic, the possible emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, the promise of translating stem cell research into new treatments for incurable diseases, the need to curb the global rise of Type 2 diabetes and obesity, or the colossal health problems caused by poverty related diseases tuberculosis, malaria or HIV show just how broad the demands on Horizon 2020 are, and how difficult budget allocations will be.