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The annual World Health Summit took place from 24-26 October and included a series of interesting sessions with keynote speakers like Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Minister Jens Spahn, Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and many more.

The BioMed Alliance organised a session on Sunday 24 October at 11.00: Europe: Follower or Leader in Health Research and Innovation? The session was chaired by BioMed Alliance President Wilfried Ellmeier and featured prominent speakers including Dr. Özlem Türeci (Chief Medical Officer BioNTech), Jan-Philipp Beck (CEO EIT Health), Jan Geissler (CEO Patvocates), Prof. Karin Sipido (KU Leuven) and Robert Madelin (Chairman FIPRA). Discussions dove into the research and innovation landscape in Europe, persisting challenges and what Europe must do to position itself as a frontrunner in Biomedical and Translational research.

Support groundbreaking innovation
Dr. Özlem Türeci (BioNTech) highlighted her experience in bringing innovative products to the market, such as their project lightspeed, which led to the development and worldwide distribution of a successful COVID-19 vaccination. She highlighted that they had to act fast, but that their result would not have been possible without decades of research and innovation and support from investors and funding programmes.

Dr. Türeci argued that we should see the pandemic as a use case to learn from it regarding all stages of vaccine development and response to health threats. The front-end of developing innovation is very important and we need better ways to invest, for example in basic research and translational research. We already have investments but we lack an efficiency in ensuring these investments deliver. We also need to work on the back-end where we integrate cooperative work between companies and regulators and policy makers to facilitate regulatory approval and decision making. Overall, we have to create a climate that is open to innovation, science and translation.

Involve patients from the start
Jan Geissler (Patvocates) referred to his own experiences as a patient advocate, and mentioned how important it is to have research here in Europe and evenly distributed throughout the entire EU. He also argued how nothing in healthcare would work without patients, and how patient involvement gives insights into unmet needs, patient preferences and waste in the healthcare systems. Patient advocates also play an important role in research and can help in many stages around research design and execution, including on identifying the right research questions that matter to patients. But this is currently not done systematically enough, and we need raise awareness that patient engagement is relevant. We need early patient involvement and resources and infrastructure for patient involvement, by systematically involving patients we can become leaders in Europe.

Support & scale up success stories
Jan-Philipp Beck (EIT Health) highlighted how success stories inspire further scientific development. His first case was a platform focusing on prevention of diabetes which benefited from a cooperative structure and a creative new financing instrument. His second example centered on accelerating the growth of massively scalable healthcare companies in Europe by supporting young companies showing strong scientific potential and pairing them with life science advisors. He argued that we have to build optimism in the European life science ecosystem, by creating success stories and encouraging entrepreneurship . We also have to focus on company growth and scalability and deepening strong collaboration. And finally, Beck said that we have to keep the focus on unmet needs, better outcomes and solutions that can support the resilience and sustainability of our healthcare systems.

Facilitate & accelerate health research
Prof. Karin Sipido (KU Leuven) presented the case of research and innovation for cardiovascular health and mentioned how mortality rates of heart attacks have decreased significantly due to research & innovation, international collaboration and EU policies. However, she did warn that there is no room for false optimism because the number of cardiovascular deaths is still increasing globally and the drug discovery pipeline for cardiovascular diseases shows that there are very few drugs coming to market in this area. Prof. Sipido remarked that we need to match investment to medical and societal needs and address fragmentation in Europe in terms of funding and regulation. Therefore, the Scientific Panel for Health (SPH) proposed the foundation of a European Council for Health Research. COVID-19 really demonstrated this fragmentation and different levels in research and healthcare, but there have been positive developments including the new package of proposals for a European Health Union and the proposal for a Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA). She concluded by arguing that fragmentation in health research funding needs to be addressed at EU level, and we need a comprehensive vision and leadership for health research involving stakeholders from the start.

Cooperation is key
Robert Madelin (FIPRA) mentioned that we need everyone in Europe, by shaping connections and finding new allies. He described the need for cooperation between different sectors and with other partners in the rest of the world. Ensuring cooperation also includes engagement of citizens and patients, as patients are a success factor and we must not leave the broader public behind. Madelin also argued that we should not waste a good crises and move forward to really act on the lessons learned from COVID-19. The pandemic has demonstrated that we must set up new structures and Europe needs to move faster and be bolder. Europe also has to be consistent, and we need to facilitate collective and smooth decision making especially in times of crisis. He concluded by mentioning that innovative capacity in Europe is breathtaking, but it is unevenly distributed and we need to scale up the know-how and get the landscape for innovation right.

In the panel discussion, participants raised several issues on what needs to happen to ensure Europe becomes a leader in health innovation. Dr. Türeci argued that we need to look from a clean slate perspective and ask ourselves, what is our vision for our healthcare system in Europe? For her the true personalisation of medicine, and particularly oncology medicine, is key and its development and use must be facilitated. Jan Geissler argued that many actors are still not fully aware of the value of patient engagement. He also claimed that we are in the stone age of health data sharing in Europe and that we must make better use of the health data that has already been collected and facilitate data sharing. EU initiatives like the European Health Data Space show great potential but Geissler said that patients must be involved from an early stage. Mr. Beck also argued that we need more strategy and vision for innovation at EU level to decrease fragmentation between EU and member state level and support innovation. Prof. Sipido mentioned that we don't have clear leadership at EU level to develop the European Health Union and the research that comes with it. She thinks a structure like a Council for EU health research would greatly benefit European health research, but that it could be a challenge to implement and that help and political support are necessary. Mr. Madelin agreed that we need a structure, and that it needs different elements including funding, a political decision and a cultural change from the bottom-up.

President Wilfried Ellmeier closed the session and briefly summarised that we must capitalise on Europe's potential in research and innovation and ensure better coordination and more transparency in health research and provide better funding to ensure that excellent basic research result in effective treatments for European patients and citizens

The recording of the session is available on Youtube here.