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Pharmaceutical research brings progress for patients

Forum of the Researching Pharmaceutical Industry in Austria celebrates its 10th anniversary
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Bild: APA/Hörmandinger
v.l.n.r.: Ingo Raimon, Daniela Pollak, Monika Beck, Markus Müller, Thomas Haslinger

(Vienna, 11 October 2019) The researching pharmaceutical industry has generated a large number of innovations. However, in order to secure Austria's position as a centre for research and medicine, a great deal of commitment is required – this was also underscored by keynote speakers, MedUni Vienna Rector Markus Müller and international researcher Daniela Pollak.

Research is what drives medical advances. Yesterday's medicine cannot adequately resolve the health challenges of today or tomorrow, if at all. And it is research that is the common denominator of members of the Forum of the Researching Pharmaceutical Industry in Austria (FOPI). This year will mark the Forum's 10th anniversary as an association and it is using this occasion to take a look back at the last 10 years but, more importantly, to take a look into the immediate future. Thanks to sustained clinical research and development, 341 drugs with a new active ingredient were approved over the course of these last 10 years and are now available to patients in Austria. "And one or often several of the 27 FOPI member companies was/were responsible for many of these innovative treatments, which offer new hope to people with, in some cases, serious or rare diseases. This is an impressive reminder of the innovative capability of the sector," says Ingo Raimon, President of the FOPI, emphasising the importance of the researching pharmaceutical industry. But what is remarkable, says Raimon, is that, regardless of this, the proportion of overall health insurance expenditure spent on drugs has fallen slightly over the last 10 years – from 20.1% to 18.9%. The large number of innovations is the result of intensive research, in which the pharmaceutical industry has now been investing huge sums for a long time. According to a survey conducted by the European Commission, the pharmaceutical industry spends around 15% of its turnover on research and development, putting it well ahead of other high-tech branches such as technology hardware and equipment, the car industry or the aeronautical industry.Research location requires commitment and investmentThe ability to innovate is an essential factor in the competition between European and global locations. "Austria was and is a very strong location for medicine and research," explains Rector Markus Müller. MedUni Vienna is a shining example of how basic research and clinical application can be closely linked, thereby ensuring that scientific achievements are used for the direct benefit of patients.This will be clearly demonstrated by the construction of new research centres on the MedUni General Hospital Campus: One of the largest investment projects will see the creation of three centres over the next few years: the Center for Precision Medicine, the Center for Translational Medicine and Therapies and the Center for Technology Transfer. This will enable MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital to create a self-contained campus. One of the advantages this brings is that clinicians and basic researchers will be able to work closely in immediate proximity to each other to acquire the very latest knowledge for patients.  MedUni Mariannengasse Campus will also be another milestone in the consolidation of research at MedUni Vienna. Large parts of the preclinical sector will be brought together on one site with a floor area of around 35,000 m². It is hoped that this pooling of resources in a centre of excellence for basic research and teaching, in direct proximity to clinical research on the Vienna General Hospital MedUni Campus, will also make better use of synergies and infrastructure, so that patients can benefit from basic research even more quickly than before. The new campus is scheduled to be fully operational for the 2025 winter semester. Future topic of precision medicineMedUni Vienna is striving to take a leading position in the field of precision medicine over the next few years. The pivotal factors of Big Data and digitisation are paving the way for precision medicine, which focusses on the individual characteristics of each patient, based on their genetic make-up. With this approach, it is then possible to develop tailored forms of prevention and treatment, which offer a greater chance of success. "We are all witnessing a unique development in the history of mankind. The current developments in digitisation and molecular medicine have led to an unprecedented acceleration in medical advances," says MedUni Vienna Rector Müller. "Precision medicine is already being used in many areas. For example, in the development of personalised cancer therapies or in the context of modern ocular imaging techniques or in Alzheimer's research. I can see huge potential for precision medicine in neuroscience," adds Daniela Pollak from MedUni Vienna’s Center for Physiology and Pharmacology. Pollak is an internationally renowned neuroscientist, who has already carried our research work with Nobel prize-winner Eric Kandel at Columbia University in New York. Her research work focuses on investigating the neurobiological bases of psychological disorders.Framework conditions for maintaining statusA high level of commitment and long-term investment are necessary to maintain reputation and connections. The pharmaceutical industry has taken on this responsibility of safeguarding Austria's status as a research location. Rector Müller also sees the pharmaceutical industry as an important partner: "We receive significant external funding from the industry for innovative joint research projects. But the universities and the pharmaceutical industry cannot 'pull this train into the future' all by themselves. Equal commitment must come from all the stakeholders in the healthcare system."And last but not least, the framework conditions have to be improved to safeguard the location – for example by strengthening EU patent protection or even by means of a one-stop shop for clinical trials and better networking of centres.Innovation is only of value when it arrives where it is needed – with the patients."It must be ensured that innovations generated by research also reach the patients. The challenges for the future are therefore: We must secure the supply of innovative therapies for the Austrian market. All patients must have access to the appropriate medical treatment – regardless of where they live, their income or insurance situation – in keeping with the latest status of medical sciences." And we must improve our communication with patients to support them in the increasingly confusing deluge of information," explains Raimon, advocating that patient representatives should be included as voting partners in decision-making processes within the healthcare system.