EU Commission steps up support for personalised medicine
In the past months, the EU has presented several initiatives that jointly have the potential to advance personalised medicine in Europe. Next to a proposal published in June 2018 for a reformed research programme, several initiatives have been announced that promote data sharing and the further development of High Performance Computing and Artificial Intelligence.
Support for research and innovation
On 7 June, the Commission published its proposal for Horizon Europe, the EU’s new research and innovation programme that will succeed Horizon 2020. It is the ninth Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP9) and supports research and innovation (R&I) from concept to market uptake. The proposal will be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council in the coming months and comes into effect in January 2021.
In total, the Commission proposes to invest €100 billion from 2021 to 2027 to support research and innovation within three pillars:
Digital enablers of research
To advance research in Europe, the EU will support the uptake of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and High Performance Computing. Personalised medicine is dependent on these technologies as it requires the processing of vast amounts of data in a short period of time.
Through the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking, 18 states have announced their willingness to jointly invest in High Performance Computing (HPC) in Europe. This initiative aims to pool European and national resources totalling €1 billion to build a world-class HPC infrastructure. EuroHPC is currently supported by 18 countries and is envisaged to run from 2019 until the end of 2026. The proposal for the Undertaking is currently being discussed in the European Parliament and afterwards it will be adopted by the Council.
The European Commission also presented a communication on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the end of April proposing a European Strategy to promote this technology. The Commission argued that AI can transform our world and can help solve challenges like the treatment of chronic diseases. The European Strategy on AI aims to boost the EU’s technological and industrial capacity and support AI uptake by both the private and public sector. The Commission has appointed a High-Level expert group on Artificial Intelligence supporting the implementation of the strategy and an AI alliance including any person or entity interested in AI.
Open access to data
While adequate research funding and access to innovative technologies and infrastructure are essential, researchers also depend on the availability of reliable data. The EU has presented several initiatives to promote the sharing of data in line with privacy regulations.
The most ambitious initiative on sharing health data is the declaration of cooperation towards access to at least 1 million sequenced genomes in the EU by 2022. In total, 16 countries have expressed support for providing secure and authorised access to national and regional banks of genetic data and other data relevant for health.
Commissioners Gabriel and Ansip stated that: “Health relies on digital innovation and cross-border interoperability. Secure access to genomic and other health data among Member States is essential for better health and care delivery to European citizens and to ensure that the EU will remain at the forefront of health research”
In the declaration on the initiative, signed on 10 April 2018, the need for advancing personalised medicine and remaining competitive at a global level are emphasised. It also states that health data exchanges enable the translation of research into clinical settings, leading to more effective therapies.
The European Commission has presented several proposals that support one another and together promote the development of personalised medicine. While the Commission’s proposal for health research funding is rather modest, personalised medicine can be supported through funding for digital research. In addition, support for infrastructure, technology and access to data are provided through other initiatives.
In its proposal for the Joint Undertaking on High Performance Computing, the European Commission even specifically mentioned potential benefits for health research and personalised medicine. The Human Genome Database is also clearly a means to advance the analysis of big data to discover new insights on human health. The proposals will be discussed and finalised in the coming months.
The EU is thus starting to recognise the benefits of personalised medicine to public health and it is likely that more initiatives will be presented in the future. Nonetheless, investment in e.g. High Performance Computing is still lagging behind investment in countries like China and the USA. The EU thus still has a lot of work to do to further develop its Digital Single Market and ensure state of the art technologies are available to both researchers and citizens. In addition to adequate funding for research, this can advance personalised medicine which has numerous benefits for patients, industry and society.