International cooperation has the potential to create synergy effects for medical progress. Research infrastructures can be developed and used jointly by assigning tasks on an international basis. At the same time, health research also has a responsibility in terms of global health care.
The German Federal Government is strengthening the internationalisation of health research through the joint development of research infrastructures, is establishing cross-border links between researchers and institutions, and is supporting the international coordination of research programmes. A particular focus is on research into neglected and poverty-related diseases in cooperation with developing countries.
Other countries are faced with many of the same pressing health issues that are also affecting Germany: How can we cope with demographic changes? How can we solve lifestyle-dependent health problems? How should we respond to new infectious pathogens? International cooperation delivers important leads and useful synergies in answering these questions.
First-class, innovative biomedical research is no longer conceivable without international collaboration among scientists. As a result of the increased level of technological sophistication required, efficient research work can often only be achieved by combining material and personnel resources. This becomes particularly evident in the case of large-scale international projects such as the human genome project: It was only by means of cooperation between many countries that it was possible to decode the human genome. This resulted in significant progress in genome research globally.
High-performance research infrastructures are the prerequisite for investigating these types of issues. Considerable synergies are created by networking existing infrastructures at a European or global level and by coordinating the joint establishment of new infrastructures. An example here is the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), which was founded in April 2002 and has the task of identifying the need for research infrastructures in Europe over the coming years and promoting the establishment and expansion of these infrastructures.
In Europe, around 15% of funding is currently awarded by international programmes or large-scale projects. In the area of health research, the German Federal Government is actively involved in the preparation and implementation of the European Framework Research Programmes and supports science and the private sector in participating successfully in European partnerships.
Various activities of the EU member states are targeted at coordinating national research funding. Proven instruments here are the ERA networks (European Research Area – ERA), in which national funding measures are coordinated by bringing together ministries and research-funding organisations. The new Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) aims to strengthen strategic cooperation among EU member states in the area of research and development and to jointly tackle the considerable challenges facing society.
Many millions of people in developing countries, particularly in Africa, suffer from globally significant infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and also from tropical diseases such as dengue fever or sleeping sickness which are relatively rare in Germany. Research efforts on these so-called neglected diseases and poverty-related diseases, which also include various zoonotic diseases, have increased dramatically over the last few years around the world. Most of the burden here is borne by a small number of countries and foundations. The successes achieved in basic research in the development of candidates for vaccines or pharmaceuticals deliver grounds for optimism, but considerable efforts will also be required in clinical trials in the years to come.
Another international focus is the cooperation between Eastern European countries in the area of infectious diseases. The occurrence of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, for example, and of other infectious diseases in Eastern Europe is impacting on the infection situation in Germany as a consequence of the geographic proximity. Efforts are underway to strengthen cooperation with Eastern Europe – e.g. by expanding the HIVERA ERA network.