Why a CSA BrainHealth?
“Brain health is the state of brain functioning across cognitive, sensory, social-emotional, behavioural and motor domains, allowing a person to realize their full potential over the life course, irrespective of the presence or absence of disorders.” – WHO
Diseases of the brain and nervous system represent a major societal and economic burden in Europe, causing more than 800 billion euros per year. More than 540 million Europeans suffered from neurological diseases in 2017. The associated mortality was near 2 million cases with stroke as the leading cause (Eur. J. Neurol., 19:155, 2012; Lancet Public Health, 5:e551, 2020). During the pandemic situation, mental disorders became a prominent brain health issue, when the infections as well as the means to fight them caused severe socio-psychological and psychiatric disturbances. Symptoms of depression among young people more than doubled in several European countries, as evidenced by the OECD-EC “Health at a Glance: Europe 2022” report (Health at a Glance: Europe 2022 – OECD). Mental health issues are also rising in times of political conflicts and climate change, migration and forced displacement. At the same time, neurodegenerative diseases remain a major challenge in European countries. Moreover, with technological developments in neurological and psychiatric treatments questions arise about risk and benefit related to their impact on brain function. Ethical concerns and debates are becoming increasingly prominent, such as e.g. questions of neurorights, deep brain stimulation in health and disease, or brain-computer-interfaces.
The CSA BrainHealth is the result of a common vision of a European Partnership on Brain Health and its goal towards promoting brain health in populations in Europe and worldwide as well as towards restoring the health of citizens living with both mental or neurological brain diseases. This vision has been supported by the main players in the field for more than 4 years – JPND, Neuron, EBC and EBrains – sharing a common objective towards “Coordination in the area of Brain Research”. This shared objective is hence established between the EU member states and associated countries.
Coordinated by Dr. Marlies Dorlöchter (DLR on behalf of BMBF, Germany), the CSA BrainHealth will structure the relevant dimensions of this European Research Area (EBRA) and will enhance concerted actions in the field of research into the brain and nervous system, in health and disease. This will lay the strategic and organisational groundwork for a future European Partnership on Brain Health and take all necessary steps to design and prepare the Partnership, ensuring a smooth transition at the end of the CSA runtime. The CSA BrainHealth will capitalise on the unique opportunity of already existing networking efforts in this field through the four main players, will exploit pre-existing successful collaboration, and build on the achievements of the EU-funded CSA European Brain Research Area (EBRA).
The consortium of the proposed CSA BrainHealth comprises representatives of ministries and funding bodies (including the funding research networks JPND and NEURON and EBrains) of the brain research community (clinicians and basic neuroscientists), research associations and professional societies, a research infrastructure, and of patient organisations. Dr Dorlöchter shares: “In preparation of the envisaged European Partnership on Brain Health, the CSA BrainHealth is ready to start the complex process, and I am glad to rely on such strong partners. Brain health as a common and global challenge requires collaborative and integrative efforts.”
JPND and its crucial role in the CSA
JPND is the largest international collaboration to the combat against neurodegenerative diseases (ND). Initiated in 2008 under the auspices of the French Presidency of the European Commission, JPND aims to increase coordinated and defragmented investment between participating countries in research aimed at finding causes, developing cures and identifying appropriate ways to care for those with ND. Its goal is to accelerate the discovery of cures and to enable early diagnosis for early personalised treatments. It also seeks to implement solutions that can alleviate the plight of families and the economic burden brought about by ND.
As a Member State driven initiative comprising representatives of 30 countries in Europe, North America and Australia, JPND allows for the establishment, alignment and progression of national research programmes to increase the effectiveness and impact of research efforts in the field of neurodegenerative disease research. Since 2011, a cumulated funding of €209 million has been dedicated to competitive transnational calls. Basic, clinical, and health care research are covered in depth in the network’s activities, and Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) is a cornerstone. Chaired by Professor Philippe Amouyel and supported by EU-top-up funding in several projects, JPND plays a pertinent role in its contributions to the CSA BrainHealth as the latter will strongly rely on the knowledge and achievements of the JPND network.
One of JPND’s objectives is to fortify its work in brain health to combat the rising challenges of neurodegenerative disease. JPND Chair, Professor Philippe Amouyel strongly believes in the need to strengthen collaborations between each European brain health initiative, to work towards establishing a common brain health agenda.
In the last ten years, both the European Commission (EC) and its Member States (MS) have established and led initiatives in Europe to face these challenges collectively. JPND forms the largest global initiative in this field/domain. In 2019, JPND, together with NEURON, the Human Brain Project and the European Brain Council, began discussions in the context of an EU-funded European Brain Research Area (EBRA) EC Coordination and Support Action, to discover operational synergies, identify strengths and gaps and foster alignment across European and global brain initiatives.
In February 2022, EBRA released the European Research Inventory and Mapping Report. This mapping report provides insight into the brain research activities that are funded at the European level within the EU framework programmes FP7 and Horizon 2020 (the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020) under the ERA-Net Cofund programme), as well as the funding initiatives of JPND, ERA-NET NEURON and the Human Brain Project. The mapping report gives an overview of the current state of brain research in Europe and the areas of brain research (if any) that are being focussed in Europe. The report shows that, in spite of increased support in brain research, funding is still lacking in all areas of brain research in the EU. For instance, more focus is needed on public and patient engagement and on enabling data sharing.
From 2007 to 2019, the EC and leading European brain research initiatives allocated €6 billion to about 4,000 brain research projects, an average of €500 million per year. From 2008 to 2012, an average of €400 million was invested per year, increasing between 2014 to 2018 to €550 million, marking a steady growth. The EBRA inventory and mapping report demonstrates that annual fundings can reach significant levels to support highly competitive research projects, made possible through sustainable, transnational initiatives as JPND.
Prof Amouyel emphasises the importance of continued funding of research consortia across countries as the key for a lasting impact on collaboration and innovation in the European and global brain research area: “It is now time to accelerate this momentum through an ambitious partnership on brain health in Horizon Europe under a coordinated approach.”
JPND’s crucial role towards the success of CSA BrainHealth cannot be underestimated. The results of the CSA BrainHealth will have a direct impact on the EU policy of the 2nd Strategic Plan (2025 – 2027). As Prof Amouyel aptly pointed out: “Creating a critical mass of researchers and increased funding are the two conditions of success in our work against brain diseases. As one of EBRA’s partners, JPND is committed to a future partnership on brain health in the 2nd strategic programme of Horizon Europe 2025. Only by working together collectively: bringing together all brain research initiatives under one umbrella; coordinating brain research activities under a common brain research agenda, will we be able to make progress in the face of tackling the challenges posed by ND and brain diseases.”
He adds, “Europe can address the challenges of brain health by capitalising on existing international initiatives, facilitating access to infrastructure and resources, structuring brain research area, reinforcing patient and public involvement and accelerating research transfer and innovation.”
Structuring the landscape in Europe for brain research and its health and disorders is indeed one of the overall objectives of the CSA BrainHealth. JPND understands the urgency of addressing the above challenges. As such and in its continued move towards stronger brain health partnerships, JPND’s other commitment is to emphasise and foster greater public and patient involvement (PPI) in brain health research. JPND has been calling for heightened awareness in the need to incorporate PPI in ND and brain health research. There is an overt call for the strategic implementation of PPI in JPND’s annual calls, the encouragement of active PPI participation in all of JPND-supported projects, the training of public, patients and patient advocates, the running of workshops emphasising PPI, the acculturation of scientists and physicians to PPI and a dedicated PPI page on JPND’s website to increase awareness of the important role PPI plays in brain health research.
Overall objectives of CSA:
To structure the landscape in Europe for research into the brain and its health and disorders by creating a platform for involvement of all pertinent stakeholders (ministries and funding agencies, researchers, persons with brain disorders, health care providers and payers, regulators, industry) and their convergence around an ambitious Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA). Extending the collaborative efforts into a global dimension will increase the impact. The CSA BrainHealth will take the necessary steps to design a Partnership on Brain Health that will serve as an umbrella for the stakeholder initiatives in this field and implement transnational funding programmes. The idea of creating a European Partnership has been brought forward by the EU Member States and is planned for the second Strategic Plan of the EU framework programme Horizon Europe.
Specific objectives of the CSA:
- Develop the collaboration framework and governance structure for a future European Partnership on Brain Health to enable its role as an umbrella for relevant organisations and initiatives.
- Create a common understanding of the needs, gaps and hurdles and impactful collaborative actions in the brain health area, identify current and future priorities and opportunities.
- Advocate for the importance of brain health and disseminate the impact of research and how it can contribute to maintaining brain health and overcoming its diseases.
- Advance collaboration strategies with pertinent stakeholders
EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND), along with the Network of European Funding of Neuroscience Research (NEURON), EBrains, the European Brain Council (EBC) and representatives of ministries and funding bodies of the brain research community make up the consortium of the proposed CSA BrainHealth.
Building upon the CSA European Brain Research Area (EBRA, 2018-2022) that fostered collaboration of stakeholder organisations in the field of brain research in Europe: neurological and psychiatric research associations including patient organisations represented by the EBC, the Human Brain Project (HBP) and its Research Infrastructure (HBP, EBRAINS), the funders networks JPND and NEURON, the CSA BrainHealth will leverage on the knowledge gained by the project, its achievements and progress.
While the successful collaboration established in EBRA between the research community, other stakeholders and representatives of JPND and NEURON will continue, the proposed CSA BrainHealth will also build on direct participation of governmental institutions and funding bodies, who are participants in the consortium and will contribute to implementing the CSA BrainHealth work plan. In addition, a Funders Forum will guarantee an intense exchange of information and views with those representatives of ministries and funding agencies, charities and foundations that are not involved in the CSA BrainHealth as participants but will potentially participate in the EP Brain Health. The broad inclusion and strong influence of Member and Associated as well as Third Countries is indispensable in view of staying in line with regional and national strategies, not least considering the political and financial commitments required for an EP Brain Health.
The Three Pillars of CSA BrianHealth:
- Development of a collaboration framework
The EU framework programme Horizon Europe supports European Partnerships to deliver on global challenges through concerted research and innovation efforts with the Member States, the private sector, foundations and other stakeholders. A potential future Brain Health Partnership will be a policy approach with impact on the need for preclinical, and clinical research as well as health care in the area of brain health. It will foster close synergies among national and regional programmes, provide transnational funding, and bring together a broad range of stakeholders to work towards the common goal of improved brain health, which in turn will have positive socioeconomic impact.
- Defining strategic research priorities (SRIA) – the scope and priorities of the CSA will be defined by the SRIA
It is expected that the EP Brain Health will accelerate the cooperation among all relevant stakeholders to maintain and improve brain health. This requires the identification of main assets and barriers of the European brain health community in the context of global developments. The central piece of the proposed CSA BrainHealth will be the SRIA defining the scope and priorities of the future EP Brain Health. A number of research agendas, roadmaps and position papers on brain health have been published by various initiatives and organisations (e.g. JPND, NEURON, EBRA, HBP, EBRAINS, IHI, Brain Initiative, WHO, and others). There will be a thorough analysis of the existing documents and the identification and description of their convergences and gaps and maximising the alignment with national roadmaps. From this approach, an inclusive SRIA will be developed.
- Engagement of global initiatives and research infrastructures
To structure the brain health area, broad participation of European countries, research initiatives, networks and infrastructures is necessary. Beyond this, a global approach towards international organisations and networks (e.g. OECD, IBRO, WHO, NIH BRAIN Initiative) is needed to combine forces for the huge task to preserve and improve brain health. Within WP4 and WP6 links will be established to potential global partners of the future Partnership and plans developed to reach out to and seek input from pertinent key international organisations, their views and opinions. Ways will be explored how to include them in the future European Partnership in terms of joint activities at the highest possible levels of commitment.
For more information about JPND, visit: Home – JPND Neurodegenerative Disease Research (neurodegenerationresearch.eu)
For more information about the CSA BrainHealth, visit: Welcome to the CSA BrainHealth (brainhealth-partnership.eu)