Partnerships between UK and EU medical researchers have increased the value of research, benefiting patients across Europe, according to a report* published today (Tuesday).
The report, commissioned by eight leading UK medical organisations, highlights how the UK’s contribution to research throughout the EU has fostered and strengthened scientific co-operation.
As negotiations begin on a new relationship between the UK and the EU, it’s vital that they result in the best possible outcome for science and patients across the EU.
Clinical trials have benefitted hugely from UK and EU researchers working together, especially those for rarer diseases where the UK leads the highest number of trials. As the number of patients with rarer conditions is low in each country, it’s only possible to recruit enough patients for clinical trials by carrying out trials across countries.
The leadership role played by the researchers in the UK in Europe is reflected through their extensive membership of influential scientific committees and panels. UK researchers accounted for 17 per cent of the membership of the Scientific Advisory Boards at Germany’s Max Planck Institutes, the highest proportion from one country.
This leadership extends to the UK’s authorities, including the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Between 2008 and 2016, the MHRA acted as Scientific Advice Co-ordinator in at least a fifth of centralised EMA medicine approvals.
A number of experts from across Europe were interviewed for the report. Many highlighted the UK’s ability to conduct translational research to discover new treatments and devices that can benefit patients across Europe. This has included the development of a new generation of genetically targeted personalised medicines through to interventions for wellbeing and mental health.
The UK’s role as a key trainer of scientists is also laid out in the report. Around 16,000 students from EU countries are enrolled on biomedical courses at UK higher education institutes. Around 20 per cent of EU nationals trained in the UK went on to take up positions in other European countries.
Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Science is global and this report highlights the benefits that researchers working together can have for patients wherever they are in Europe.
“As the UK and the EU enter into negotiations to determine the new relationship it’s vital that ensuring collaborations between medical researchers across Europe continue is a priority. By creating an environment that allows the best minds to work together, wherever they are, we will accelerate the life-saving discoveries that will help people across Europe.”
*The report – The role of the UK in creating value to EU Science and health – was commissioned by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, the Medical Research Council, Arthritis Research UK, MQ: Transforming Mental Health, Association of Medical Research Charities, Wellcome, the Academy of Medical Sciences. The research was undertaken by Technopolis.
Professor Sir Robert Lechler FMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Our relationship with researchers within the EU is mutually beneficial for both scientific research and patient care. The UK must prioritise maintaining and strengthening this valuable symbiotic alliance/partnership as we begin negotiations to leave the EU. This will ensure the best outcome for research, innovation and most vitally, for patients in the UK, Europe and beyond.”
Dr Liam O’Toole, Chief Executive Officer at Arthritis Research UK, said: “Today’s report shows the importance of continued collaboration for researchers across the UK and the EU. It highlights the UK’s unique contribution to EU medical research, and the leading role research funders and research plays in improving the understanding and treatment of a range of health conditions.
“It is vital that research is prioritised in EU negotiations. Close ties with Europe are essential to recruit enough participants in some clinical trials, such as studying diseases in children.”
Aisling Burnand MBE, chief executive of the AMRC, said: “Uncertainty about the future has not only been a major concern to those involved in developing new drugs and treatments but also to those who benefit from it the most – patients. Medical research is a collaborative endeavour. The best is done by bringing together the best minds. The future of those vital collaborations must be at the forefront of everyone’s minds during Brexit negotiations.“
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation and President of the European Heart Network, said: “You need to work with the world’s best scientific minds and resources to produce world-class research. This report shows that our research has a bigger impact when it’s an international effort so it’s essential that the UK’s new relationship with the EU helps strengthen existing scientific links, encourages new collaborations, and maximises our ability to contribute to the global research effort.
“There are around 50 million people living with cardiovascular disease in the EU, including 7 million in the UK, which means a lot of people stand to benefit from close ties between UK and EU researchers. This is especially important in rarer diseases, where progress has been slower and international collaboration is essential to make the breakthroughs that are so desperately needed.
“Research is helping us to save and improve lives in every single country. By continuing to work together across borders we can make sure that progress is as rapid as possible.”
Cynthia Joyce, chief executive officer of MQ, said: “MQ can only echo the important findings of this report on the value of collaboration. Mental illness presents a major global challenge that requires global solutions. MQ is proud to work with colleagues across Europe and internationally to support mental health research and foster scientitific collaboration. As Brexit negotiations unfold, it’s vital that opportunities to build and grow this work are championed.”