The Nobel Prize in Medicine and the Lisbon objectives

, by Paul Janiaud, Translated by Kate Robinson

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The Nobel Prize in Medicine and the Lisbon objectives

The important contribution of three European researchers - two French and one German – has just been acknowledged by the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

It represents a clear acknowledgment of the significant scientific work which, as Alfred Nobel would have hoped, years after its initial discovery, has contributed to, and will continue to contribute to humanity as a whole. Nobel, in a European spirit avant la lettre, indicated that the prize should give recognition to scientists – not necessarily of Swedish origin – whose research could be of global significance.

Let’s first note that the prize was given to two French researchers, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (Head of research at Inserm) and Luc Montagnier (Head of research at the CNRS), both of them Professors at the Institut Pasteur, and a whole team of researchers, teaching researchers and clinicians, and a German scientist, the professor Harald Zur Hausen, then in charge of the work of the German Cancer research centre (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, and head of a team of researchers specializing in the viral causes of cancer. As well as bringing to light work demonstrating the required element of continuity for complex and difficult questions necessitating the heavy infrastructure of important research institutes, this prize clearly illustrates the burning obligation to develop the required international collaboration, and in this case strong cooperation within Europe.

In fact, by bringing to the fore such team work, this also illustrates the considerable importance of research collaboration permitted by the research programs within the European programs for the development of research. Indeed, the Institut Pasteur and the DKFZ are important players in these European programs. Moreover, the DFFZ has been the driving force in the development of new forms of cooperation since its creation of two mixed units, one with Inserm in Heidelberg and the other with the CNRS in Lille.

This Nobel Prize also rewards the European Commission’s priorities relating to mortal illnesses and illnesses linked to poverty

The very direction of the work acknowledged by the Nobel Prize corresponds closely to the objectives of the current program within the framework of the development of research, itself an instrument of the Lisbon objectives: that is to facilitate research so that - when possible - the sufficiently stabilised results can be used for the needs of the society, in this case in the domain of health, and if possible to enable developments which could lead to the creation or preservation of jobs. This Nobel Prize thus also rewards the European Commission’s priorities relating to mortal illnesses and illnesses linked to poverty (AIDs currently afflicts developing countries much more than any others.)

Reflections on the near future?

First of all we must celebrate the various existing collaborations (the teams of the Institut Pasteur are also working on the papillomaviruses, and there are numerous exchanges going on in Europe, Prof. Zur Hausen and many scientists from the DKFZ are valued colleagues for French scientists.)

Essential funding is, however, desperately lacking. Due to limitations such as the current problems concerning financial issues showing the insufficiency of Europe, with the delays in its more rapid construction generating serious problems, the budget devoted by each member state adds up to only 1% of its GDP.

The total annual budget for the European framework program for the development of research prioritising health is increasing for the 27 member states and the 10 associated countries to approx. 650 million Euros. This represents only 5% of the total funds devoted within the 27 states to research development (public and private.) An increase in funding is vital, an increase in the possibilities for cooperation within Europe is necessary, an increase in the number of researchers is urgent. This comes under the Lisbon objectives which aim to reach a total of 3% of GDP devoted to research development.

Beyond what has been achieved by the work carried out on viruses linked to cervical cancer allowing for the possibility of a vaccination which should be extended to various sub-types of human papillomaviruses discovered at the DKFZ and the Pasteur institute, the current understanding does not allow for the creation of a vaccination against aids in the near future, despite the accumulation of knowledge and despite work being done in the world, and in France. The DG responsible for research devotes a significant part of the budget to three of the most fatal illnesses to mankind: Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. But it goes without saying that more needs to be done; more resources, more funding and more ideas must be mobilised.

The Lisbon objectives signed by the member states cannot be achieved without political will and coherence from the governments and people of Europe. Of course we should celebrate the current successes, but it would be even better to confront the present and future challenges by creating a powerful impulse within Europe towards vitally important achievements.

Image: image of the European Commission Audiovisual Archives.

TNF thanks Brèves Européennes of the European Movement 77 for authorising us the publication of this article.

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