Prof. Monica Di Luca, President, European Brain Council, sheds light on the larger Brexit effects on health and brain research currently under negotiation
In recent decades, collaboration between the EU27 and the UK has been an important factor in research and innovation in a variety of therapeutic areas and in ensuring the availability of innovative therapies, including brain research. The UK has been instrumental in health research and clinical trials in Europe, and UK partners are often closely involved in EU-funded research projects. The UK has supported and participated in a wide range of EU health programs, platforms and networks, with many UK-based institutions being leading research consortia.
In addition, the EU27 and the UK are currently working closely together on the approval, testing and mutual recognition of medicinal products and medical devices, which is crucial for patient access to potentially life-saving treatments. These issues have become even more important given the COVID 19 pandemic. It is therefore of the utmost importance that health care cooperation is maintained as far as possible after the transition period on December 31, 2020.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, we as a Union are neither fully prepared nor able to tackle individually the majority of the health epidemics we are facing or which we may experience in the future. Understanding even the basic mechanisms of cancer has been going on for decades, and to date, an EU cancer plan and mission has been a fundamental need for further research into the disease. What can you say about brain disorders that continue to confuse and fascinate researchers around the world? COVID-19 has shaken European health systems and continues to do so until a form of normality can be found through the discovery of a vaccine. In times of closure and the unknown, we forget that there are many other diseases, though not communicable, that continue to affect people with no appropriate treatment or cure in sight.
Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)
Organizations such as the European Brain Council, which call on the European institutions to recognize the full burden of brain disorders, rely on a disproportionate response from most health and research-related frameworks to coping with the burden. In presenting its latest plans for the EU4Health program, the European Commission speaks of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and mentions mental health in areas where action is needed. However, as before, neurology was not considered in the Commission's health priorities.
Brain diseases – both neurological and psychological – together with diseases of the musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular diseases and tumors constitute the greatest burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Europe and worldwide. Indeed, due to a rapidly aging society, brain disorders in combination will be the main burden for society. Remarkably, brain disorders account for around a third of the years lost worldwide due to deaths and disabilities of all diseases1, and neurological disorders alone are the most common cause of death worldwide after cardiac disorders.2 Despite advances by researchers, this burden continues to grow. The age of the population and science cannot keep up keep up with the pace. For the most part, the brain community can identify the greatest need: sustainable funding and support play a key role, but strengthened and improved frameworks for research collaboration play the greatest role if progress can be made to tackle this NCD epidemic.
EU research programs
The UK and EU27 countries are currently negotiating the agreement on the future relationship between the two blocs. Given the many health problems, it is crucial that health is not overlooked in the ongoing negotiations. Among other things, this would mean that customs cooperation on medicinal products and medical devices and mutual health regulations will be maintained and maintained in the context of future relationships.
The UK has also made a major contribution to health research, which is funded through EU research programs. As part of the ongoing negotiations, the UK and the EU discussed the possible UK participation in EU programs, including the Horizon Europe program, which is due to start in 2021. In order for this important health and research collaboration to take place, it is crucial that decision-makers commit to fully involve the UK in the Horizon Europe program and involve the UK in Europe-wide research projects and partnerships.
There should be no further obstacles preventing EU and UK scientists from working, traveling and researching in blocks, and the UK and EU rules on research and clinical trials should be coherent stay tuned. This would not only allow “enlarged Europe” to remain a center for research and innovation, but would ultimately also strengthen the work of the UK and EU governments to address the effects of brain disorders that are widespread and severely impacting conditions .
We have to learn from the experience of COVID-19 that when we work together we are stronger and more capable. Although the UK is detaching from the Union, it is vital that our partnership and cooperation remain in the interests of cross-border science, education and the future of brain research and those that affect it.
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