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From Staff Reports
In a bid to re-establish itself as the "pharmacy of the world" - and narrow the growing gap between itself and the United States and Asia - Europe is launching a $3.1 billion drug-discovery initiative.
The program - known as the "Innovative Medicines Initiative" - was unveiled in Belgium, and offers financial grants to both academic institutions and small companies to research ways of beating bottlenecks in the drug-development process. The work is "pre-competitive," meaning it involves issues that are common to drug development, and doesn't give any individual company a competitive advantage.
At one time, Europe was the worldwide center of drug development. But it's fallen behind in recent years. A decade ago, seven of the world's 10 newest drugs were being developed in Europe. But today that number has plummeted to only three.
"We hope to send a very clear signal to the world that Europe is getting serious again about being the centre of biomedical research," Arthur Higgins, the chief executive officer of Bayer HealthCare and the president of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, told Reuters. "The greatest accolade will be if we are seen again as the pharmacy of the world."
It will be a long-term process. Right now, it takes an average of 10 years and $1 billion to develop a new drug. The first research programs in the European initiative won't start until next year and won't generate "practical" results for a number of years.
The European Commission is to contribute $1.55 billion over the course of seven years, with major European pharmaceutical companies providing a similar amount - but "in kind," meaning it will involve equipment and staff, instead of just cash.
The collaboration is the largest of its type in the world. Europe's pharmaceutical industry has been campaigning for such an initiative for some time.
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The initial focus will be on diabetes, brain disorders and respiratory disease, with cancer and infectious diseases following later. The main goal is to discover better ways to predict the safety and efficiency of new pharmaceuticals. In that way, Reuters reports that it's similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's so-called "Critical Path Initiative."
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