“Europe needs a vibrant research eco-system”

Hubertus von Baumbach was elected President of EFPIA exactly one year ago. At this week's EFPIA Days in Brussels, stakeholders will discuss how to re-establish a research-friendly eco-system in Europe. In our conversation with Hubertus, he provides an overview on his thoughts on how to restore Europe's leading position in pharma innovation.

Innovation is not an abstract concept", says Hubertus von Baumbach. "It means new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines that can transform the lives of people.

Hubertus, for most of the previous century, Europe was the world’s engine room for pharmaceutical innovation. New treatments for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases and neurological conditions were first discovered, developed and delivered in Europe.

Hubertus von Baumbach: That is correct. But sadly, that is no longer the case. 25 years ago, every second new treatment came from Europe, now it is less than every fifth. As the EU reviews its pharmaceutical policy framework, now is the moment to initiate the turnaround, restoring Europe’s position as a leader in the discovery, development and delivery of new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

Why is this important for patients?

Spearheading transformative innovation is not a matter of prestige. It is life-changing for our patients, in need of novel and best-in-class treatments.

But why does it matter if these innovations are developed in Europe – or elsewhere?

The care for patients is what drives our industry. Innovation is not an abstract concept. It means new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines that can transform the lives of people and protect entire populations. Patient prospects are better in centers of research and development. For diseases such as cancer, clinical research constitutes an important route for patients who cannot be helped with conventional therapies. The proximity to research centers gives them a higher chance to get access to the latest innovation in cancer care, for example via clinical trials. Unfortunately, the share of global clinical trial activity in Europe is in decline.   

What does it need to turn things around for Europe?

To change that, Europe needs a vibrant and well-connected research eco-system that will not only improve patient care, drive economic performance and resilience but also further benefit the efficiency of healthcare systems.

"Strategic autonomy ranks high on the agenda"

The scientific foundation is there…

Absolutely. 20.8 percent of the world’s scientific publications come from European researchers, putting Europe behind China (20.9 percent) but ahead of the US (16.9 percent). European policymakers have the opportunity to create the right framework to turn those academic achievements into applied innovations that reach the patients, re-establish Europe as a leader, and not for the least strengthen Europe’s independence. Otherwise, Europe will further lose ground. And that at a time where open strategic autonomy ranks high on the agenda. 

How does Boehringer Ingelheim help restoring Europe’s leading position in pharma innovation?

As Boehringer Ingelheim, we are consciously leveraging our strong European roots and integration into the European scientific community. We have nurtured a collaborative approach across the research value chain, starting in the early days of our 137-year history. Our research department was founded in 1917 at the advice of the German chemist and Nobel-Prize laurate Heinrich Wieland. Today our research footprint is global, while the majority of people and over 60 percent of R&D budgets are allocated in Europe.

Quote from Hubertus von Baumbach

Do you have a positive example that showcases that partnership can tackle serious health challenges?

The world’s collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important rapid innovation, cooperation and decisiveness is. We have done it. We can do it again. And we have to, to detect and address emerging health threats. Take for example antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

​​​AMR kills about 700,000 people globally every year and by 2050, could result in ten million worldwide deaths, making it potentially deadlier than cancer.

Correct. Today, we rely on the availability of effective antibiotics to enable everything from wisdom tooth extractions to organ transplantation to cancer chemotherapy. Yet no new antibiotics have been developed in the past 35 years. We need an urgent collective effort to combat this emerging threat. Industry has taken the initiative. Boehringer Ingelheim has joined other companies in the AMR Action Fund, that has committed more than 1 billion USD to bring new, effective drugs to market. However, there is no viable antibiotic market that would support the level of investments needed. And despite the huge societal costs of AMR, our health care systems do not recognize the value of new antibiotics. This requires political will and action.



Do you see this will and action?

A number of EU member states have life-science strategies in place, including ambitious investment targets. The upcoming pharma review package gives the EU a unique opportunity to overcome serious barriers for the innovative strength of the European healthcare sector. This includes for example a strong protection of intellectual property for researchers, or an innovation-friendly and consistent approach towards access to innovative drugs for patients. ​​​​All stakeholders should be ready to work together to address access issues in an innovative way, while safeguarding Europe’s ability to discover, develop and deliver the next generations of treatments.


Find out more

  • Hubertus von Baumbach, Chairman of the Board of Managing Directors at Boehringer Ingelheim, is President of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). EFPIA represents the biopharmaceutical industry operating in Europe.
  • The annual ‘EFPIA Days’ are taking place on 28 and 29 June 2022 in Brussels. The EFPIA Days include a number of important meetings, speakers and guests, most notably the EFPIA Board meeting.
  • The theme of this year’s Annual Conference is From Crisis to Catalyst: Building Resilience, Backing Innovation and Boosting Access.