On January 25th, 2024, the European Brain Council, in partnership with Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Brain Capital Alliance, hosted a full-day event, Brain Health for Society: Insights from Brain Capital. Guided by Frédéric Destrebecq, Executive Director of the European Brain Council, this event included invited speakers and stakeholders and hosted panel discussions to motivate conversations about brain health and a shift towards a brain economy.

This report summarizes topics discussed at the event and outlines key strategies that emerged from the discussions held at the event. View a recording of the summit below.

Full Day Replay | Part 1

Full Day Replay | Part 2

In an ever-changing environment dominated by the influences of fast fashion, fast food, and social media, and as the aging population continues to grow, placing unprecedented strain on our social systems, the prospect of transitioning to a brain-healthy or brain-positive economy emerges as a unique and pivotal opportunity. This necessary shift reflects the world’s increasing reliance on brain capital, encompassing an individual’s social, emotional, and cognitive resources.

The pressing need for this shift is underscored by a concerning 59% increase in  health-related cases over the last three decades, marking neurological conditions as the world’s leading cause of overall disease burden. The resulting brain-unhealthy or brain-negative economy, characterized by reduced productivity, economic insecurity, and challenges arising from brain health disorders, misinformation, insufficiently targeted investment in brain science, social media toxicity, and environmental disparities, necessitates the development of a comprehensive approach to ensure societal well-being. Concurrently, global declines in democracy emphasize the urgency of supporting mental health to foster community empowerment.

As a diverse group of stakeholders, including leading experts and advocates, convened at the Brain Health for Society gathering, their shared aim was to discuss future directions in addressing the complex landscape of global brain health. With existing brain plans providing a foundational approach to these challenges, the collaborative discourse aims to generate key strategies for working towards a brain-healthy society, ensuring flourishing lives in the face of evolving societal dynamics and the ever-growing cost of inaction.

Increasing life expectancy, what’s causing the upper limit?

Over the last three decades, the world has witnessed a sobering 64% increase in brain health-related cases, imposing a disproportionate burden on global disease prevalence. As populations age, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates a staggering $1 trillion in global income loss. Dr. William Heisel, IHME’s Director of Global Services, emphasizes the critical opportunity to shape the future by addressing brain health, citing how the cost of inaction continues to outweigh the cost of action every day.

Transitioning to a Brain-Healthy Economy

A society burdened by brain health disorders experiences reduced productivity, economic insecurity, and challenges stemming from misinformation, inadequate brain health investment, social media toxicity, and environmental disparities. Dr. Harris Eyre, Lead in the Brain Capital Alliance, underscores the urgency of prioritizing brain capital in political agendas. Healthy brains drive creativity, pro-sociality, productivity, and social cohesion, influencing economic structures bidirectionally.

Current European Brain Plans

As the aging population fuels a rise in brain disorders, current European Brain Plans, such as those in Norway, Switzerland, Finland, and Germany, aim to manage the high costs, alleviate suffering, and reduce stigmas associated with brain health disorders. Prof. Claudio Bassetti, Vice President of the European Brain Council and Lead of the Swiss Brain Health Plan, presents the Swiss Brain Plan as a model for comprehensive approaches, emphasizing the need for strategies that cater to both older and younger populations.

Brain Health Clinical Innovation in Children and Youth

Experts, including Dr. Mikele Epperly (Global Integrated Program Leader, Brain Health & Neurology Healthcare Ecosystems, Roche), Dr. Tim Foxx (Director, Center for School Study Councils, University of Pennsylvania), Dr. Carmen Moreno (Chair, Child and Adolescent Neuropsychopharmacology Network, ECNP; Child and Adult Psychiatrist, Hospital Gregorio Marañón, Madrid, Spain), and Prof. Kevin Rostasy (President, European Paediatric Neurology Society), shed light on the role of education in shaping narratives, disparities in women’s brain health, and the necessity of child neurology in comprehensive brain plans. The panel emphasizes the magnitude of the issue, stressing the urgency for low-cost, accessible innovations to address youth mental health, and highlights the financial importance of investing in children and youth brain health. Dr. Moreno’s words, “We as a society are unhealthy and un-wealthy if the least of ours is suffering,” capture the need for a collaborative and directed approach to building a foundation for positive mental health throughout life.

Democracy and Brain Health

Dr. Alexander Hudson, Senior Advisor for the Democracy Assessment Unit at the International IDEA, underscores the positive interaction between democracy and mental health and emphasizes the need for participation and mental health support to bolster democracy. However, declines in democracy pose challenges globally, creating a pressing need for a collective and multi-layered effort to support mental health and democratic processes.

Brain Science for Flourishing Lives

Dr. Dennis Pamlin, Executive Director of The Net-Zero Compatibility Initiative at Mission Innovation, advocates for an expanded innovation agenda to promote flourishing lives, emphasizing the role of brain health in sustainable development. He promotes a shift from fast-paced trends to prioritizing the human right to creativity and well-being. Pamlin calls for targeted approaches and user-friendly tools for investors to support this shift.

Brain Health Clinical Innovation in Mid- and Late-Life

Experts, including Dr. Paulo Fontoura (Global Head and SVP Neuroscience, Immunology, Ophthalmology, Infectious and Rare Diseases, Roche), Dr. Maria Teresa Ferretti (Affiliated researcher, Center for Alzheimer Studies, Karolinska Institut; External teacher (Privat Dozent), Medical university of Vienna; Clinical Development Lead, Syntropic Medical), Prof. Peter Falkai (Treasurer, European Brain Council; Past President, European Psychiatric Association), Dr. Quazi Haque (Chief Medical Officer, Elysium Healthcare & Global Mental Health & Brain Science CoP Lead, Ramsay Healthcare), and Prof. Craig Ritchie (CEO and Founder, Scottish Brain Sciences), discuss the invisible costs of inadequate brain health and highlight the significance of reducing the burden of chronic disease for better brain health. The group urges personalized, targeted care for brain health, resilience training, and systematic change for early intervention to elevate brain health both as a priority of its own and as a part of the wider approach to a healthy life.

The Patient Perspective

Dr. Orla Galvin, Executive Director of the European Federation of Neurological Associations, addresses the underfunding and stigmatization of neurology globally, emphasizing the vast societal and economic impact on individuals with neurological conditions. Brain skills, including resilience and creativity, unite neurology patients, promoting holistic support for the development of such skills.

Advances from Denmark: Improving health in the context of public-private partnerships

Dr. Tina Hjortlund, Head of Global Public Affairs and DE&I Officer at Lundbeck, suggests the public sector cannot address health care challenges alone. She emphasizes the shared responsibility across public and private sectors to find innovative solutions and enhance healthcare solutions that prioritize mental health. Dr. Hjortlund encourages utilizing existing models of public-private partnerships to develop new collaborative partnerships guided by evidence-based decision-making in alignment with national strategies and in support of political priorities.

Next Generation Brain Plans

This panel, moderated by  Paweł Świeboda, Founder of Neurocentury,  in discussion with Marco Mohwinckel (Mental health and health technology investor and advisor), Prof. Peter Falkai (Treasurer, European Brain Council; Past President, European Psychiatric Association),  Azad Bonni (SVP Roche pRED Global Head of Neuroscience & Rare Diseases, Roche), and Henrik Peersen (Secretary General, Hjernerådet (Norwegian Brain Council), delves into experiences and challenges of comprehensive brain health plans, highlighting insights from Norway, Germany, and an industry perspective. Calls for concrete, measurable goals, research collaboration between healthcare systems, governments, and private entities, and flexible approaches underscore the need for constant solutions to address evolving challenges in brain health. The experts in the panel discuss the potential benefits and limitations of developing a European Brain Plan adapted at a national level.

Scaling what works to add years to life and life to years

Dr. Kana Enomoto, Director of Brain Health at McKinsey Health Institute, addressed the private sector’s role in mental health, advocating for investments in effective and holistic approaches to health that encompass physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Her call to action, urging to “square the curve” by enhancing average quality and global life expectancy, is coupled with a visionary goal of 90/90/90 —screening, evidence-based treatment, and symptom management—for all individuals, with recovery as the expected outcome. This visionary approach sets the stage for transformative change in mental health.

Brain Capital and Impact Investing 

Experts, including Dr. Shiva Dustdar (Head, European Investment Bank Institute), Dr. Ekkehard Ernst (Chief, Macroeconomic Policy Unit, International Labour Organization and President, Geneva Macro Labs), Dr. Nathalie Hilmi (Head of Environmental Economics, Center for Science, Monaco), and Christian Schuetz (Director – Investments / ESG, Golding Capital Partners) explored the intersection of economic value, cognitive abilities, and brain health, emphasizing the interconnectedness of healthy cognitive development, ecological significance, and economic security with panel moderator, Dr. Rym Ayadi (Founder and President, Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association). The panel calls for collaboration and clarity in communication, stressing the importance of bridging the gap between societal challenges and financial solutions. The panel discusses the idea of impact investing for brain capital, explaining that brain capital is in a growth phase and requires three main characteristics to propel it towards success: fast product-scalability, ability to be profitable for both the manufacturer and the customer, and ability to tap into large markets. The panel concludes with a call to unify groups of experts and policymakers to create central arguments that strategically explain the financial and societal benefit of brain capital to stakeholders capable of driving change in society.

Patient Prevention

George Vrandenburg, Chairman of the Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative, discusses the patient’s role in developing solutions, emphasizing the necessity of practical and concrete plans at the primary care level to be financed by the World Bank.

Pathways Forward for Brain Capital

The final panel, including Dr. Shiva Dustdar (Head, European Investment Bank Institute), Dr. Harris Eyre, (Lead, Brain Capital Alliance) and Michael Oberreiter (Head of Global Access, Roche) focuses on the conceptualization, implementation, sequencing, and involvement of various stakeholders in the Brain Capital agenda. Highlighting the need to integrate the brain lens into the existing EU funding framework, the panelists call for better documentation and evidence to bolster the existing investment in the brain economy. Dr. Oberreiter stresses the importance of proving the economic return on investing in brain health, proposing the creation of a Brain Capital index to measure the competitiveness of nations and implementation of a similar index in workplaces. Dr. Eyre proposes a transition to a brain economy and advocates for engaging G7 and G20, forming an inter-parliamentary brain capital task force, and initiating specific brain health plans and investments. The emphasis is on creating a compelling case for brain health as an investment, aligning incentives, and involving a diverse set of actors for impactful change.

Priorities to address:

Comprehensive and Flexible Brain Health Plans: Develop clear objectives and concrete measures for comprehensive brain health plans, focusing on effectiveness and measurability. Adopt a flexible approach involving both national and European-level elements to address evolving challenges in brain health comprehensively.

Investment in Brain Capital: Prioritize brain capital in political agendas, recognizing the bidirectional relationship between healthy brains and economic prosperity. Integrate brain health into existing EU funding frameworks, documenting and evidencing significant investments in the brain economy.

Collaborative Research and Innovation: Encourage collaboration at national and international levels, engaging diverse stakeholders such as scientists, policymakers, healthcare innovators, and impact investors, for research innovation, redefinition of economic models, and access to digital data in brain health. Engage the private sector through public-private partnerships, encouraging evidence-based decision-making and patient-centric solutions.

Brain Capital Index: Develop a Brain Capital index to measure the competitiveness of nations and prove the economic return on investing in brain health. Implement a similar system into workplaces, providing financial incentive to support brain health.

The conference concluded with a compelling call to action for a collective effort in redefining global approaches to brain health, urging governments, industries, and individuals to prioritize mental well-being for a healthier, sustainable future.

About the authors

Olivia Nail-Beatty is a senior neuroscience student pursuing a five years master in Bioscience and Health Policy at Rice University

Stephanie Kramer is the Deputy Executive Director at the European Brain Council

Frédéric Destrebecq  is the Executive Director at the European Brain Council and European Brain Foundation

Kaitlin May is the Program Manager, Center for Health and Biosciences at Baker Institute