In an era where Europe is frequently in the headlines and economies are struggling to keep afloat, it’s timely to pause and ask: what role does global health research & development (R&D) play in all of this? Why should Europe care, when economic pressures are rife at home?
According to a recent report on European Union (EU) investment in poverty-related neglected diseases (PRND) R&D – Saving Lives and Creating Impact – the answer is both clear and simple. Europe should care because, in addition to improving the health of millions in developing countries, investing in new PRND products benefits Europe. PRND R&D investment is good for European citizens, companies and economies – it boosts growth, creates smart, highly-skilled jobs and protects European residents from new and existing diseases.
Putting money into research and innovation is often hailed as a smart investment by governments, and it’s true – it makes sense for all sorts of reasons. By creating new products and new markets, it lifts a nation’s productivity and competitiveness. It also helps us to address the major challenges of our time – we can’t combat issues like climate change, energy security and importantly, the global burden of disease, without new leaps in technology. Europe knows this is part of the answer to getting out of the crisis, with research and innovation as one of the key priorities under the Europe2020 growth strategy.
Investing in PRND R&D ticks all these boxes. It supports European laboratories, universities and companies and, as the report shows, it created over 13,000 smart, high-value jobs in Europe between 2002 and 2010. In fact, European governments get more out of PRND R&D investment than they put in – according to the report, for each euro that EU governments invest in PRND R&D investment, a further €1.05 in investments in Europe is generated from companies, philanthropic organisations and other governments.
Of course, investing in PRND innovation also helps to combat disease, saving the lives and improving the health of millions in the developing world. And who better to do it than Europe, with its deep and long-standing cultural and trade links to the developing world, outstanding tropical disease research centres and unique history of pharmaceutical companies working in diseases like malaria.
Products developed with European support – including new pneumococcal and meningitis A vaccines, and new formulations of malaria drugs especially for children – are already doing this, and the current pipeline of hundreds of global health products promises to deliver many more. Yet health benefits are not just limited to those in the developing world – with high rates of drug-resistant TB and cases of other PRNDs (such as Chagas’ disease) reaching Europe, new PRND products will be equally important for protecting EU citizens.
With allocations under the EU’s new research programme (Horizon 2020) currently up for negotiation, it’s time to reflect on the past successes and the future benefits of European investment in global health R&D. Stepping up support now will mean these products actually reach our poorest neighbours as quickly as possible, and will help Europe boost economic growth and create new jobs just when it needs it most.