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Medicines JTI will include regulators in Horizon 2020

The €2-billion Innovative Medicines Initiative, set up in 2007 to speed up drug development in Europe, will morph into a more wide-ranging partnership for general “innovative health” under Horizon 2020.

The joint technology initiative needs to include public health regulators and ICT researchers, as well as manufacturers of vaccines and medical devices, a European Commission official told IMI members during a meeting in Brussels on 13 November.

The Commission says the revamped IMI is expected to tackle some of Europe’s broader problems in health research, including long product development cycles, high failure risks and protracted regulation. “Drug development is an important area of health research, but it’s not the only area,” a Commission spokeswoman said.

The proposed changes were welcomed by IMI members. “Initially IMI was about technological and scientific bottlenecks,” said Magda Chlebus, director for science policy at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, which represents drug companies within they IMI. “We realised it’s not enough. We need to address societal challenges with health authorities and payers,” said Chlebus.

The IMI selects and funds drug development projects involving scientists from industry and academia. The Commission provides half of the budget, with industry supplying the other half in-kind. The IMI’s successor is expected to support research into the distribution and application of medicines, as well as their production, and to work more closely with regulators.

The IMI’s executive director Michel Goldman told Research Europe that working with regulators is a matter of survival for the drug industry in difficult economic times.

“Even if we manage to bring safe and efficient drugs to market, the question is whether society can afford them,” Goldman says. It’s a problem for industry, which may not be able to penetrate markets, he says, but it’s also a problem for society because it can create a “two-speed healthcare” where some cannot afford the medicines they need.

Negotiations between the Commission and the industry partners of the IMI on the final structure of the JTI continue. The Commission expects to come up with a legislative proposal next year (see View, page 8).