After lunch, the first afternoon session, focused on Key Areas for Action at the Global Level, began. Dr Harris Eyre, representing the Brain Capital Alliance, OECD Neuroscience-inspired Policy Institute, The Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, gave a presentation on Brain Capital: Moving Beyond the Burden, moving beyond the traditional focus on burden of disease to emphasize new and optimistic approaches to optimizing mental and neurological health arising from neuroscience, economics and policy. The world is increasingly relying on brain capital, where a premium is put on brain skills and brain health e.g., individual’s cognitive, emotional, and social brain resources. Investing in building brain capital is fundamental to meet modern societal challenges and to drive innovation. He profiled select examples across the lifespan and offered recommendations for moving this new agenda forward, while also speaking to how his own migraines have conferred great advantages to his career.
Dr Eyre’s presentation was followed by Prof. Anna Jansen, Head of the Advocacy and Collaboration Committee at the European Paediatric Neurology Society (EPNS), who provided a reflection on the importance of focusing on brain capital and our future generations, speaking with a spotlight on children living with a brain condition and/or neurodisability, a group that the WHO declared ‘was impacted the most’ during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We need to protect brain health and safeguard brain capital across the lifespan, since every event to the brain – congenital or acquired at birth in infancy, childhood or adolescence – will mark the lives of those affected, and their loved ones, for the rest of their lives”.
The session continued with a high-level Panel Discussion on Key Areas of Action to Strengthen Brain Research at the Global Level, which focused on four identified areas of priority for action: policy, funding, capacity building and data. Prof. Tracy Bale, President of the International Brain Research Organization, kicked off the discussion with a focus on capacity building: “diversity, equity and inclusion is valuable and I think we sometimes forget that point of the conversation. So talking about global brain research, that aspect of looking through the lens how another individual or another community has experienced something, I think is so important to understand that value of what it brings to the table. As scientists, what it brings to the table to be able to hear those different viewpoints, whether it’s cutting-edge science or just a really creative way of approaching a problem”. Moving to funding, Dr Tomás Ryan, Past Chair of the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence, speaks on European funding mechanisms – highlighting excellent opportunities that exist, such as high-level, blue skies research funding through the ERC, however, making sure to contrast that to the immense funding researchers receive in the United States in comparison. “The European Union, that being its programmes such as Horizon Europe, spends around 500 million euro per year – in contrast, the National Institute of Health in the US spends an estimated 5-8 billion USD per year just on neuroscience research. That means we are nearly a factor of ten off on the investment we should be at to compete with the US and I think this is a major problem”. Dr Joachim Scholpp, Global Head Translational Medicine CNS & Emerging Areas at Boehringer Ingelheim begins his intervention highlighting the immense spending governments are having to make due to brain ill-health in Europe alone and offers a bold statement: “Coming from the pharmaceutical industry, I think that there is a lack of innovation. What I mean by that is not the innovation that has been made on the scientific side, there’s no question about that, when you look back over the last 10-15 years, what we know today compared to 15 years ago is incredible. What I mean is – success for me is: I develop a treatment and this is a treatment that makes a real difference for patients; and when I have that criteria and look back at the last 20 years, not a lot has happened”. Our moderator introduces the last panelist, Dr Andy Keller, President, Chief Executive Officer, and Linda Perryman Evans Presidential Chair of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, highlighting that he joins us not from famous Bay Area or Boston ‘hubs of excellence’ in the United States but from Texas, where strides have been made in the brain space due to extensive funding. Dr Keller spoke on the work being done to foster the research ecosystem Texas-wide, ensuring all relevant stakeholders are involved, also up to the legislative level. Speaking on the policy work they do, he reminds, “be positive. If you go in there and tell the legislators that there is this ‘huge problem’ and ‘we don’t know much about the brain so we need to learn more’, you’re not going to inspire them to invest. You need to go in there and when they ask if you’re going to be helpful, you need to say yes.” The panel discussion finished with a series of questions and discussion with the audience and Andy Keller summarised the challenge for the next steps very well: “Now the question is, how do we do all that? How do we create an ecosystem where that can happen? I would argue that we can’t just have an ecosystem in Europe, in the Bay Area and Boston…we need to have an ecosystem that really is global.”