May 2015

Message from the President - May 2015
ECNP e-news
Message from the President
Friday 08 May 2015

We all know that the era of easy development and reimbursement of new drug treatments is over. However, while there remain licensed drugs on the market, this reality may not have fully sunk in. Certainly all the implications have yet to work through. They will particularly have an impact on the character and perhaps the viability of international clinical meetings. In the past, for example when ECNP was established in 1987, pharma was hungry to sponsor medical meetings by paying, on the one hand, for content (satellite symposia) and, on the other, for attendees to travel and stay at the meetings. There was undeniably a tendency for such meetings to appear lavish by the standards of comparable events for basic scientists who traditionally paid their own way, albeit from the grants funding their research.

 

The morality of this relationship between prescribing clinicians and pharma was obviously a matter for debate, then as now. I remember Merton Sandler, who sadly died last year, remarking cryptically that he enjoyed the whiff of corruption that pharma brought to international meetings. This was over 20 years ago. We were jogging rather slowly along the seaside promenade in Nice at the time, and its exotic beauty seemed to be the trigger for this bon mot. Le grand bleu will always be almost too intoxicating for any lad who has grown up in Manchester. However, there can be little debate that without the money that pharma provided, a foundation like ECNP could not have been created.

 

For as long as I have been associated with the ECNP Executive committee, there has been a growing understanding of the pitfalls of the relationship with industry and sincere efforts to adhere to standards of independence from its narrower interests in deciding the policy for and content of ECNP’s meetings.  I believe we have been successful in preserving our independence.

 

And the commercial support of ECNP has continued to allow clinicians to attend a meeting on translational neuroscience who would not otherwise be able to. This is particularly true for young people and mature attendees from developing countries. So, I have always felt that a mixed model which permitted industry to support our meetings met my own criteria for doing good rather than ill.

 

Our self-regulation took place on a voluntary basis. Of course, the interest of zealots (almost invariably public sector employees) who had never understood the yin and the yang of the industry relationship has risen exponentially in recent years. The appetite to regulate has now reached a point where it is increasingly difficult for any meaningful sponsorship to be attempted in many EU countries. The effect can be likened to an armed force coming late to a battle that has already been fought, who can be guaranteed unerringly to shoot all the wounded.

 

However, this is all going to be irrelevant if there are no marketing budgets for neuroscience. Meetings that rely on the current model will either cease or have to adapt. CME may still be provided at an international level, but it is clearly not necessary in a very connected world. Scientific exchange may or may not require big meetings for the same reason. We believe that ECNP’s focus on translation, and the involvement of research active academic, clinical and industrial colleagues will still be important to fulfill our mission. However, as I have remarked before, the industrial colleagues will probably change and the focus on networking will probably increase.

 

A taste of how this might work was provided in our recent one day meeting on biomarkers and diagnostics; it was very stimulating in any number of ways and I think showed how our future may differ from our past. Ultimately the function of meetings is to bring together people who would not otherwise spontaneously come together. We certainly achieved this. There are a lot of ways in which ECNP can change in the coming years and the eventual demise of funding from marketing budgets of big companies, if it does occur, will be something we will take in our stride.

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