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BMJ. 2007 December 15; 335(7632): 1232.
PMCID: PMC2137085

Europe’s research councils call for spending to be doubled to 0.25% of GDP

Europe’s medical research councils have made a strong plea for an increase in public funding to strengthen research in this area and prevent Europe falling further behind the United States.

The call for public funding of medical research in Europe to be doubled over the next decade so that it reaches a minimum level of 0.25% of gross domestic product (GDP) comes with the publication on 6 December of a white paper by the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC).

In concrete terms, this would mean increasing the €40 (£29; $59) per capita now spent annually on medical research from the public purse in Europe to €80 by 2017.

Professor Liselotte Højgaard, the councils’ chairwoman, said: “To be competitive worldwide, basic funding is important. We need to change our attitude towards research funding. The US has a large pot and spends half of it on medical research. Europe has a smaller pot and devotes only a quarter to this research.”

According to the Strasbourg based body, which has 75 member organisations in 30 countries, the report is the first comprehensive analysis of the level of medical research funding in Europe.

It reveals that in 2004 (the most recent figure available), the US public sector spent between 0.37% and 0.40% of GDP on biomedical research and development whereas the then 15-member European Union devoted 0.17%. If the 12 countries that have since joined the EU were included, the gap would be even wider.

The white paper contains a bibliometric analysis of the output of medical research. This confirms that American biomedical publications attracted far more citations between 1996 and 2003 than their European counterparts. US publications received about 50% of total world citations, European publications 40%.

The medical councils are hoping that by drawing attention to the low levels of research funding in Europe they will be able to build up momentum among governments and the public for increases in the current rates. As part of their campaign they are organising a conference on the subject in Frankfurt at the end of January.

National authorities, rather than the European Union, would seem to be the best route for any early boost in funding. The European Commission has already committed €6.1 billion to health research for the 2007-13 period. This is unlikely to be increased before the next multiannual financing package is agreed four or five years from now.

Increased finance is just one of the five recommendations proposed in the white paper for strengthening medical research in Europe. Others are wider implementation of best practice for funding and performing research, more extensive collaboration and sharing of research results, and a review of EU legislation in order to facilitate medical research.

Notes

Present Status and Future Strategy for Medical Research in Europe is available through www.esf.org


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