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White Paper II of the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC)

Image EMRC Whitepaper

It is remarkable that the cover page of the recent white paper presented by the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC) shows a retina stained with four distinct markers

for the main retinal neurons and their synaptic connections (provided by our colleagues from Alicante, Nicolas Cuenca and Laura Fernandez Sanchez, well known from the previous picture competitions on

In their foreword the authors stress the major impact of biomedical research on the European citizen and society. For Vision scientists the EMRC white paper should be a strategic key document in order to position our research field within the broader field of biomedical resear

Executive summary

Medicine is advancing at a rapid pace. Genome sequencing is becoming routine, and the prospect of medical treatment tailored to individual patients on the basis of a genetic profile is now realistic. Stem cell technology is progressing at a fast rate, with new possibilities for replacing damaged cells and tissues. Innovations in information technology are producing powerful new imaging and diagnostic techniques. 

These technological advances are not happening in a social, cultural or economic vacuum. In the West we are on average living much longer and healthier lives than just a few generations previously. However, society is changing both within Europe and globally. In Europe we are facing a number of great challenges: an ageing population, obesity and metabolic syndrome, mental health disorders, allergy and chronic diseases – and cancer and cardiac diseases as the big ‘killers’. Healthcare expenditure is rising as we can do more and populations expect more. Globally, the geopolitical landscape is being reshaped, with powerful new economies emerging, such as China, India and Brazil. 

It is against this backdrop that the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC) have produced this new White Paper, “A Stronger Biomedical Research for a Better European Future”. It complements and updates the previous White Paper, published four years ago, “Present Status and Future Strategy for Medical Research in Europe”. This white paper presents a thorough examination of the present status of biomedical research in Europe and the rest of the world with a special attention to the North-American situation. Through a detailed analysis of funding and of data relating to research publications, the relative strength of biomedical research in Europe compared with its international collaborators is assessed. 

Europe spends substantially less per person on biomedical research than does the US. Despite this, the share of worldwide biomedical research publications produced by EU countries has remained stable over recent years while that of the US has fallen: in 2009 Europe had a higher share of world publications, at 38%, than the US at 33%. While US biomedical research tends to be published in journals with greater influence than research from the EU, as measured by citation rates, the gap is closing. In spite of the significant difference in funding, Europe is punching above its weight in terms of biomedical research when compared with the US. Emerging economies such as China, India and The white paper makes five key recommendations which should underlie future policy and strategy for biomedical research in Europe:

  1. Citizens and patients should be closely engaged with biomedical research 
  2. The results of biomedical research should be rapidly and efficiently brought to the patient 
  3. Biomedical research should be conducted with high quality in an open, honest and transparent way 
  4. European biomedical research should be conducted within a global context 
  5. Investment should be increased to create the right world-class biomedical research 

Brazil are catching up. Globalisation presents issues of greater competition, but it also gives rise to new opportunities for international collaboration, which should be fully exploited. The white paper provides a detailed description of how biomedical research activity is distributed across regions within Europe, and also provides, for purposes of comparison, a description of how research is organised in the US and Canada. 

In the future global collaboration and cohesion will be needed more than ever to overcome the grand challenges of tomorrow. Investment in medical research has been shown to yield a return of 39% per year perpetually, so appropriate funding and best practice for medical research are not only essential to secure health and welfare in Europe and the rest of the world, but also make sound economic sense. 

More information

Get more information on the website of the European Science Foundation (ESF) or download the White Paper II as PDF document