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Happy accidents and hard work

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at the opening of Drug Information Association's – DIA – annual EuroMeeting in Copenhagen 26 March 2012.

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Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to open this plenary session. I am very pleased that Copenhagen is hosting this EuroMeeting.

Let me begin by saying that the drug industry is fascinating. When researchers and the industry as a whole toil away to develop innovative drugs for the treatment of global diseases, it expected that nothing is left to chance. That every eventuality is planned for.

But there are already many examples of drugs, whose modern use was discovered almost by accident.

  • Aspirin is considered the world's first headache tablet, but was original developed by a German chemist as a drug for arthritis, not headaches.
  • Viagra was originally tested with high blood pressure in mind.
  • And the chronic alcoholism treatment Antabus was discovered by accident when three Danish researchers were looking for an effective treatment for parasitic worms.

These are truly good examples of happy accidents.

Happy accidents may be accidental, but it is professional insight, competences and tenacious research that lead to their discovery.

As Minister of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, I would like to emphasise some of the research strengths we have in the area.

Last week I attended the official opening of Denmark's National Biobank. A national biobank has just been established that will allow researchers to link biological test data and information in Danish registers. It will be a unique resource that will benefit research into diseases, their prevention and treatment.

Tomorrow I am going to Lund in Sweden to see the building ground of the European Spallation Source. Simple speaking, the ESS is a giant and very advanced microscope that can be used for example to study new materials for superconductors, windmills, fuel cells and not least on how medicine works.

When the ESS is completed in 2019, they will be able to examine material and processes at an atomic level through the use of neutrons. It will create brand new possibilities to understand the structure of proteins for example, and their make-up and interaction with other molecules in a cell. And this can have significant impact on the understanding of drug delivery.

17 European countries are take part in the ESS collaboration. And Denmark and Sweden have entered into an agreement to jointly host the ESS. The agreement involves the ESS facility being established in the outskirts of Lund, just on the other side of the Øresund. And the ESS Data and Software Center will be located on the Danish side of the Øresund – on the North Campus of the University of Copenhagen.

The challenges are great

At this time there is an immense focus on societal health-related challenges in Denmark. It is a focus shared with many other countries around the world.

And the challenges are great. An ageing population, continuous new treatments and medicines, as well as increasing expectations are putting a lot of pressure on the health sector.

And it creates a great need for new effective and innovative solutions. Solutions that will help improve the quality of life for individuals. Solutions that will help solve the socio-economic challenges. And solutions that naturally also create good conditions for growth for companies within the pharmaceutical and medical equipment sector.

Denmark has a good foundation

We have a good foundation in Denmark to meet these challenges and utilise the opportunities presented.

We have a public health service with equal access for all citizens. Furthermore, we are one of the countries with the largest pharmaceutical industry per capita. The pharmaceutical industry is responsible for nearly a quarter of all private research in Denmark. And last year, Denmark's pharmaceutical exports amounted to around 60 billion kroner.

The health sector is based on health research – a mix of strong private sector medicine research and publicly funded health research. Health research is often carried out in a public-private partnership via large private foundation donations for example, or in a close collaboration between research, authorities and companies.

We are working to promote collaboration even more. For the benefit of industry, as it results in highly educated graduates and research-based knowledge. And not least for the benefit of society as a whole.

The research has resulted in great advances such as more valuable education and better prevention and treatment of diseases. But there is a continued need for research that can help solve societal health challenges, such as lifestyle diseases. Lifestyle diseases are a growing challenge with serious consequences for individual in the form of an impaired or shortened lifetime. And they are a socio-economic challenge. A challenge in Denmark, in Europe and a growing challenge in the new high-growth countries.

European cooperation and Horizon 2020

Denmark currently holds the rotating EU Presidency.

As you might know an important task during this presidency is to create the framework of a new strong European research and innovation programme; Horizon 2020. Horizon 2020 has a challenge-approach. At its core are excellent science, competitive industries and better society.

It's about development of future and emerging technologies. It's about supporting innovation and investment in research. And it's about tackling societal challenges for a better society.

The Danish Presidency wants to achieve a partial general approach in the Council of Ministers. Denmark wants to achieve agreement among the EU ministers on the Commission's proposal for the framework programme for research and innovation.

The negotiations regarding the budget take place as a part of the overall package for the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020. The negotiations will not be finalised during the Danish Presidency.

But with regards to content, Denmark wants to stress the following priorities:

  • Ensure greater connection between research and
  • Maintain excellence as the leading criterion for the EU's research and innovation programmes
  • Ensure a strong and independent European Research Council.

We also want to provide a significant simplification for users of the framework programme. There must be an end to bureaucratic application procedures and lengthy response times. Less bureaucracy and more research will be the motto.

In its proposal for Horizon 2020, the Commission wants to allocate more than 9 billion euro to the 'Health, demographic change and wellbeing' challenge. And the health challenge has the largest budget out of the six societal challenges. The final budget will be negotiated later this year.

Horizon 2020 is an important programme.

Innovation is crucial in the healthcare systems and research underpins innovation. And now more than ever, we need the best brains working together across borders.

Research and ethics

New innovative solutions in the health sector must be used and made available in a responsible and ethically sustainable manner.

We have a good tradition of this in Denmark. I previously mentioned the new Danish National Biobank. Where they have strived to provide unique research opportunities while taking individual privacy into consideration.

We are strongly focused on the necessary regulation, a scientific ethics committee system, and a high standard for production, testing and the use of medicines and medical equipment.

There is also a focus on the necessity of a high level of trust between patients, manufacturers and doctors. It requires quality cooperation between the parties.

There is also a continual need to discuss and deal with the new or difficult ethical dilemmas. Here is where international inspiration can play a significant role. And I am therefore delighted that the coming plenary session will also focus on this area.

I would like to conclude by acknowledging the DIA for its work with this conference. I am pleased that the DIA is focusing on the health sector's challenges in a European and global context.

It is vital to focus on new and innovative solutions within medicine and medical equipment. And it is important to meet, exchange experience and discuss cross-border problems.

Remember that the greatest challenges present the greatest opportunities for outstanding discoveries.

I hope that you all have a successful and productive EuroMeeting. And I hope you all acquire some carefully planned knowledge, but perhaps also some happy accidents.

Thank you.

last modified Dec 08, 2021