Biomedical innovation: keeping Europe in the race

I cut my hand (again) with a knife while making dinner tonight. It hurt, but it’s not going to kill me. Once upon a time, it actually could have.

Thanks to the discoveries of past scientists (many of them European!) I could smother my cut with anti-bacterial cream, stick on a plaster, and move on to enjoy my dinner. 

The brilliant minds who discovered anti-bacterials and the like worked at a time when infectious diseases were killing millions. Their discoveries represented a major milestone for public health.

Today we face different challenges

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer, diabetes, dementia and cardiovascular conditions are accountable for 40 million deaths every year around the world. And they’re exacerbated by modern phenomena like sedentarism and aging populations.

But the nature of these diseases, the lack of understanding of the science behind them and the fact that we have exhausted so many avenues of research, means that new discoveries demand overwhelming complexity. The next breakthroughs will likely come in areas like gene therapy or personalised medicine.

For 142 years, Lilly scientists have been working towards major breakthroughs in cancer, diabetes, and neurology. A lot of our research has been conducted in Europe since we opened our first facility here in 1934.

We’ve been trying to unlock the secrets of under-studied diseases with high unmet medical needs because we’ve always believed that all people have a right to a healthy life. But it is so challenging.

And today, we’re even more worried about the future of science in Europe.

Researchers here are doing battle against more than just disease. As science becomes more complex, the success rate of medicines that make it from phase 1 to launch is falling.1 The operating environment for biomedical research has become more challenging. Mandatory trials are – rightly – longer than ever before, involving far more criteria, protocols, and reporting requirements. This makes innovating harder. 

Meanwhile, Europe’s competition isn’t standing by. The competition for R&D infrastructure and skills is increasingly global, requiring countries do more to be attractive for investment. But the United States is continually outraising Europe in medical R&D: from 2014-2015, there was a 6% increase in capital raised by European companies, compared to 35% increase in capital raised by US companies.2 And countries like South Korea and China are emerging as R&D powerhouses in bio-medical research.

It’s expected that the biopharmaceutical industry will invest close to €900 billion globally in R&D between 2015 and 2020.3 How much of this money will be spent in Europe depends on decisions that European policymakers are making right now.

The issue at the heart of the debate: European intellectual property (IP) rights and incentives. A strong and predictable IP incentives framework has been key to building Europe’s incredible legacy in biomedical research and innovation. It has enabled breakthroughs to emerge from Europe’s labs.

Weakening this European framework jeopardises Europe’s proud legacy. It could have devastating consequences for patients waiting for a cure, for a chance at a better life. 

So, what do we need? 

Europe should work to strengthen, not undermine its legacy in biomedical research and innovation. It’s the only way for this life-saving work to continue in Europe in a world where scientific research and the business of innovation are more challenging than ever before.

Dismantling Europe’s healthy IP framework should not be an option. That’s like cutting into Europe’s right hand…with a dirty knife…in 1818.


[1] Nature Reviews: ‘Trends in clinical success rates’, Smietana et al. (2016)
[2] EY: Biotechnology report (2016)
[3] Health Advances analysis; EvaluatePharma 2015 World Preview