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The European Commission’s Directorate Generals (DGs) for Research and Innovation, Enterprise and Industry and Health and Consumers, jointly organised the second conference on Innovation in Healthcare: from Research to Market, in Brussels on the 30-31 March 2011. This conference brought together key health stakeholders including policy makers, universities, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), industry associations, researchers, patients associations and Member States to highlight and discuss the policy developments needed for research and innovation in healthcare at both European and national level under the framework of the Innovation Union. Participants discussed the major challenges facing the various governments, organisations and stakeholders in relation to improving patient-centered care through innovation and research.

Director General Robert-Jan Smits of DG Research and Innovation explained that Europe faces a lack of venture capital and fragmented regulatory practices. As a means to combat these difficulties, the European Union’s Innovation Flagship and the pilot Partnership on Healthy and Active Aging will serve as the basis for the next generation of support schemes. Additionally, a green paper was issued on 9 February 2011 to discuss major changes to EU research with stakeholders including addressing the societal challenges involved. Stakeholders are invited to submit comments until summer 2011. DG Research and Innovation wants to make sure that innovation and research will remain a key part of the European Union budget after 2013.

Also contributing to the discussion on innovation in healthcare, Hungarian Minister for Health, Dr. Miklós Szócska, described the overarching theme of the Hungarian Presidency which is patient and professional pathways. Under its’ Presidency, Hungary aims to emphasise the need to focus policy on both individuals and processes because “Healthcare systems need to be more efficient and sustainable in light of the extending lifespan.” He further expressed that an important issue for Hungary is its current investment in information technology and remarked that Hungary will build on payment and reimbursement mechanisms for patients to further ensure the sustainability of healthcare.

Representing the European Parliament, MEP Maria de Graca Carvalho (EPP, Portugal), and Rapporteur for the simplification of the Research Framework Programmes Implementation, expressed the emphasis should be placed on research on prevention in healthcare, cancer, heart diseases and neurodegenerative disease, the immune system and poverty diseases. Whereas, Guy Lebeau, Chairman of Eucomed, provided an industry perspective and offered that industry can bring improved productivity to healthcare systems with shortened hospital stays decreases in Health Care Associated Infections (HCAIs).

As one of the keynote speakers at the conference, European Health Commissioner John Dalli, discussed how the European Commission’s innovation and research platform can help to reduce overall costs to EU healthcare systems. He stated, “The innovation and research platform will inspire projects such as the Olive Branch Initiative in the UK, which brings together healthcare and key services such as the fire department.” He suggested that when new technologies are introduced, clear evidence of the costs and benefits need to be established and that Health Technology Assessments (HTA) are important in the evaluation of these new treatments.

Overall, the consensus of the conference was that flexible legislation for research and technological innovation through industry is key to facilitating cost-effective and patient centered healthcare. A full report on the outcomes of the conference will be published by DG Research in the coming weeks.