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The European aspiration for innovative medicine: towards a worldwide leadership?

The first thing that usually comes to mind when one hears the term innovation, is technological advancement. But one of EU’s pillars in terms of Innovation is the improvement of European citizen’s health and well-being.

This involves the development and implementation of pre-competitive research and innovation actions. One of the EU’s tools in the achievement of this aim is the Innovative Medicines Initiative.

The Innovative Medicines Initiative

Context and budget

The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is a jointly funded partnership between the European Union and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). The initiative aims at speeding up development and access to efficient and effective treatments through next generation medicines and vaccines.

With a budget of €2 billion for the period 2007-2013, “IMI 1” has been very successful. Therefore, when the IMI 2 initiative was renewed for the period 2014-2020 under the Horizon 2020 programme, the European Commission decided to step up its action by increasing its budget to €3.2 billion.

The 2019 call for proposals to maximise impact of IMI2 objective and scientific priorities has recently been published. It has an indicative budget of €20 million and will close on next September 26th.

Areas of interest and eligible applicants

Unmet medical need is a particularly encouraged focus area by the initiative.  Areas of interest vary from neurological conditions to broader challenges in drug development like drug and vaccine safety. In addition to research projects, a number of education and training projects are supported.

Despite the joint partnership, EFPIA companies do not receive any EU funding via IMI. Indeed, the EU funding supports mainly the participation of universities, research centres, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and mid-sized companies, patient groups, and regulators.

Towards a worldwide leadership in innovative medicine?

Health is a factor of major concern for the EU. This is the reason why several funding programmes aim the health sector. Besides the IMI, we can cite the Health programme with one its specific objective being the facilitation of access to high quality healthcare. For the next programming period 2021-2027, the Health Programme will be integrated into the European Social Fund + (heir to the ESF), which will allocate €437 million to the health sector.  And more generally, Horizon 2020 invests in better health for all by specifically themed calls such “Personalising health and care”.

Then what makes IMI, among all European instruments and programmes, a key tool in the EU’s international dominance in the health sector?

IMI is the world’s largest public-private partnership in health with a total budget of 5 billion (IMI1 and IMI2), thus, enabling transnational research collaboration models across industries and disciplines. This specificity of the IMI enabled its projects to deliver scientific breakthroughs.

Indeed, this unique European partnership delivers tangible results from input to impact. For instance, though largely unknown to the general public, a multi-million euro programme on Ebola was launched by the IMI and it contributed to the creation of a new Ebola vaccine.

As the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Mr Carlos Moedas said, what makes the IMI unique worldwide is its “radical collaboration”, that is, a new type of collaboration where multinational companies work together and share data instead of keeping it secret. Furthermore, the EU provides several financial instruments which englobe all levels of health issues. The increased budget of Horizon Europe will play even a bigger role in enhancing Europe’s leadership in innovative medicine.

Hickmah Tagaully 


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