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Third international meeting on biomedical research

Publié le June 17, 2011
Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic
Paris, June 10, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to be back with you for the third international meeting on biomedical research. It signals my commitment to the development of research and particularly biomedical research. This meeting of the big international and French companies with our public and private institutions, whom I welcome here, is a very useful initiative which I wholly support.

This year you have chosen the topic of infectious diseases. An issue of huge concern to decision-makers the world over.

Indeed, 35 years ago, with the disappearance of smallpox from the world, we might have thought that we had succeeded in stamping out the major epidemics. This disregarded the existence of malaria, still endemic in many countries: a million deaths last year.

It disregarded the fact that new infectious agents are constantly emerging.

4 June 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of the first documented case of what was to become AIDS.

A French team, led by Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, identified the virus causing it in 1983.

For this discovery they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2008.
In 1982, an American team identified the prion, which was to prove responsible for CJD, Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease, at the end of the 1990s.

It won’t come as any surprise to you specialists, but I was amazed to learn that respiratory infections still cause 3 million deaths every year, infectious diarrhoea 2.5 million deaths every year, and measles – despite the existence of a vaccine – 750,000 deaths every year. We know too that at least a third of uterine and ENT cancers are linked to infectious agents.

Diseases like tuberculosis, which we thought eradicated, are re-emerging in our part of the world.

Antibiotic resistance just keeps on growing and you are constantly having to invent new methods of attack.

And as the news daily reminds us, infectious diseases are part of our everyday life.

I’m thinking of the H5N1 flu epidemic, the Chikungunya epidemic, and of course bacterial food contaminations like the one which has been hitting Europe for some days now.

With globalization and increasing travel, the issue of infectious diseases has gained even greater resonance.

We can’t afford to slacken our efforts.

France is duty-bound to deliver when it’s a matter of international solidarity. Malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are dramatically affecting the developing countries and particularly those of Sub-Saharan Africa.
And despite the tight financial situation you’re aware of, France will fulfil her duty.

At last September’s UN summit, I announced that France would not content herself with maintaining her contribution to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but would increase it by 20%. I don’t know if you are aware of the political choice involved in increasing by 20% the money we devote to it at the very time when we are reducing our budget. So France will remain the Fund’s second-largest contributor, behind the United States, with €360 million. It’s our responsibility.

The crisis is slowing down growth and reducing our tax receipts, but not the epidemics. There are no grounds for dropping our guard.
My wife and I are particularly committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS. We know that major progress is being achieved every day.

While development of a vaccine and curative treatment remain priority objectives, we must constantly step up our efforts to prevent HIV.
Recent studies have shown the preventive effectiveness of antiretrovirals, particularly in the battle against mother-to-child transmission.

AIDS – it has to be said – still kills 1.8 million people every year, including 250,000 children. With your permission, Professor Delfraissy, I will quote you because it left a deep impression on me when you said: “HIV/AIDS was the major epidemic of the 20th century and remains that of the 21st”.

In 30 years, you have achieved substantial progress in the battle against HIV. Thanks to all of you, thanks to the research community, we can hope that the 21st century will be that of victory, victory for AIDS research.

Building the future means giving researchers the wherewithal to work, advance and innovate. I have pledged to make biomedical research our top research priority. The French attach great importance to their health.

We spend nearly 12% of our national wealth on health. Health insurance is one of the pillars of our social model. Being able to provide the French with high-quality care means supporting, without any let-up, the efforts of both researchers and industry.

Last year, we made a mutual commitment to report on our respective action.

Your progress has been particularly fruitful. To date, research contracts worth €28 million have been signed on the basis of over 150 constructive and formative exchanges, initiated since our first meeting in 2009. On top of this, more than 20 contracts are at a very advanced stage of negotiation. I want to congratulate you.

The whole thrust of what I want to do and have done since 2007 is to encourage scientific excellence and reward risk-taking by courageous and entrepreneurial manufacturers. For the past four years, it has been my responsibility to see to it that France regains a competitive, job-creating, prosperous economy. An economy which can finance our social model. For this we had to give French universities the wherewithal to fulfil their ambitions. This is what Valérie Pécresse and I have done.

First of all, institutional means. Today French universities are autonomous, like all the world’s great universities. They can forge partnerships, attract the best researchers and best teachers and compete with their rivals on a level playing field. Today, this seems obvious, simple; before 2007, saying the word “autonomy” guaranteed deadlock.

Also financial resources in the context I spoke of just now. Since 2007, it’s simple, we have been increasing state funding for higher education and research – prepare yourselves for a shock – by €1 billion a year, including in 2009 when France’s tax receipts fell by 22%. The year when France’s tax receipts fell by 22% we increased resources for higher education and research by €1 billion, and we’re continuing to increase them every year.

But over the past 30 years, in our country we had got into the bad habit of sacrificing investment and prioritizing the short term.

The crisis showed that this strategy had run out of steam. Not only was France spending too much, but above all France was spending badly.
So we decided on another strategy. We have to think about tomorrow’s jobs and companies.

Right in the middle of a crisis, we launched a €35 billion Investment for the Future plan. And I still remember the argument I stirred up: “How”, I was told, “can you explain that France is in too much debt and at the same time launch a €35 million investment plan?” Because the issue isn’t the debt, it’s what we do with the debt. If we get into debt in order to invest, we create wealth. If we get into debt to pay recurring operating expenses we pave the way for poverty and crisis. General Commissioner for Investment René Ricol is tasked with implementing this plan.

€20 billion will go to higher education and research. €20 billion. You know, when we European neighbours compare each other, I see the cuts made in these budgets, particularly across the Channel. I’m not taking the liberty of judging, I’m just saying: “look at the difference in policy, and we’ll see the one which ends up getting the best results”.

I’ve made a point of ensuring that the projects are selected according to criteria of excellence – “excellence” isn’t a four-letter word. Not everyone can be entitled to the same resources – and very high-level international panels are doing the choosing. I’m very conscious that this is a revolution. But there’s no way of getting round it, and it’s inevitable.

Health and biotechnology will thus benefit from investment of €2.5 billion. €1 billion has already been allocated to 74 projects in areas at the heart of the health challenges of our era: obesity and diabetes, neuroscience and, your concern today, infectious diseases.

The battle against infectious diseases is one of the areas where Investment for the Future is the most important. Marseille’s “Polmit” project supported by the University of the Mediterranean, cher Yvon Berland, is one of the six new university hospital institutes (1) on the list we recently drew up.

Not everyone can have IHU status. A centre of excellence pulls everyone up with it and this has to be accepted. Equality isn’t egalitarianism. This is a very powerful idea. Equality means giving more to the person who deserves it, more to the person who possibly has a disability and more to the best person. To pull everyone up.

It will specialize in infectious and tropical diseases. Headed by Didier Raoult, it will receive grants of over €72 million.

The IHUs will operate hand in hand with scientific cooperation foundations and consequently have resources and the autonomy they need for their development. So France will be able to rival the world’s best biomedical research centres. Thanks to these IHUs we will combine the excellence of research, excellence of care and treatment and the best use of financial resources; here too it isn’t taboo to talk about the best use of financial resources; it isn’t unseemly. It doesn’t change the nature of research, it enables us to do more.

All in all, the IHUs will receive grants of €850 million. Sorry for all these figures, but if I were talking about reductions you’d criticize me; these are increases.

The Lyon-Pasteur Technical Research Institute (2), specializing in biomedical innovation in the study and treatment of infectious diseases, is also one of the first six institutions to be awarded IRT status.

Moreover, several laboratories engaged in the fight against infectious diseases have been awarded the Laboratory of Excellence label. If you knew the satisfaction it gives me to be able to use the word “excellence” without provoking a collapse of the whole system!

We now have the right to talk about excellence; you have no idea what a change this is. Of course there are other words you still can’t use, but do you remember “excellence”? To use the word – which is part of your everyday vocabulary – was unheard of.

These Laboratories of Excellence include the University of Paris XII’s Institute of Vaccine Research working on a vaccine against HIV and hepatitis C, and the Pasteur Institute’s laboratory researching emerging infectious diseases. Still others are working on the link between cancer and infectious diseases.

In all this research on infectious diseases, French researchers are present and active. I want to pay tribute to the outstanding results of the research teams of the now autonomous universities studying infectious diseases and their treatment. These teams make up 12% of French researchers in biology and health, but account for 20% of the best publications!

I also want to pay tribute to the work of the [National] Alliance for Life and Health Sciences and its president, André Syrota, who, at my request, is coordinating and piloting the national strategies of the institutions engaged in life science research.

Our universities’ Laboratories of Excellence must also be able to draw on dynamic companies and SMEs in the life sciences field.

We need this cooperation between universities and companies. Here too I’m very happy that it’s possible to say this without being accused of the “commodification” of universities or the arrival of capitalism in universities. What’s coming out of this alliance between universities and companies? The development of solutions to combat resistance to antibacterial agents, of new treatments for some cancers, and of antibacterial agents, especially to combat severe and difficult-to-treat infections.

To support this dynamic, the Investment for the Future programme is scheduling a capital injection of €900 million for companies formed to speed up technology transfers (3). The panel has already selected five projects. All these five projects make the life and health sciences one of their priorities.

This was the missing link in the chain when it comes to making the best use of resources in our country.

Professional teams will offer researchers a one-stop shop in the early phases where private investors are still relatively rare and rather cautious.

The state is fully playing its role by intervening in this critical industrial application stage. It’s the state’s duty to be an interface between the highly talented researchers and innovative companies in order to facilitate and take risks when the private sector needs a little bit of encouragement.

Over the past four years, we have substantially increased the resources available for health research. We have improved the coordination between the relevant players right along the innovation chain. Where there were barriers, today there’s dialogue and cooperation.

I realize that we need to make further headway. As we did for the Alzheimer Plan, we need to do more to get the whole nation involved in pursuing our common goal: to safeguard this precious treasure, our health.

I’m thinking of the great corporate foundations, patients’ organizations and industry and services sector players close to French people’s everyday lives, who are keen to act and get involved alongside you.
In the battle against obesity, which is so unjustly affecting 20% of children, often in the most socially disadvantaged groups.

In the battle against rare diseases, which indiscriminately strike so many French families. While individually rare, collectively they are extremely frequent: 3% of births, and it could happen to any one of us!!!

So I’m asking Valérie Pécresse, Xavier Bertrand and Nora Berra, as well as the Alliance headed by André Syrota, to get all people of talent and goodwill involved in their effort.

I’m asking them to put the finishing touches to the creation of a Scientific Cooperation Foundation, which could bring together the research bodies, universities and teaching hospitals (4). So that this foundation operates as effectively as possible, I dream above all of it bringing in people involved in the everyday lives of the French. I know that some major companies are already keen to participate alongside you. Over the next few months, I’m counting on you to pool all these resources for the benefit of the health of the French.

When I call for the creation of this new foundation, my aim isn’t to specify anyone in particular or control anything whatsoever!
Or usurp the role of the foundations being created in the autonomous universities. These must come into being.

Nor is it to add a layer of complexity to a framework we want; on the contrary, it’s to simplify things.

The sole aim is to bring together all those of goodwill. Simplify the landscape and replace the countless Scientific Interest Groups (SIGs) created over the years whenever there was a need to coordinate public and private action.

For a very long time, I have been convinced that the life and health sciences are major assets for our country’s growth.

As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, France is changing; she had to change and she must go on changing because the world is changing and the world won’t wait for us. I’d like the international research laboratories represented here today to realize how radically we have modified the investment climate in our country, with the R&D tax credit (5) and abolition of the local tax on operating businesses (6). To realize just how successful our research teams are and the extent to which the conclusion of contracts has now been simplified, speeded up and professionalized. And how determined we are to pursue and develop our action.

French public action isn’t waning, it will be developed. The first results speak for themselves. Your laboratories, teams and ideas are an opportunity for France. You are welcome in our country.

All the measures we’re taking are designed to give you the wherewithal to work and innovate and, were anyone to doubt it, I’m utterly, utterly determined to pursue the action set in train. And if I regret anything, it’s that I think we aren’t going fast enough, that we haven’t yet done enough. It’s also not being able to persuade people that time isn’t on our side, that we haven’t got time, that it’s a matter of urgency for the world, which is moving at a staggering speed; and no one can criticize the French President for wanting France to be well and truly in her century, the 21st, and not to stay behind in the preceding one, the 20th. We have changed centuries, we have changed worlds, it’s an opportunity and the old demarcations and old oppositions make no sense. That’s the past, a past far more distant than people imagine.

Those are arguments of another era. Today you need resources, we’re giving them to you; and reforms, we’re implementing them. And I hope you will share the same enthusiasm and the same determination and that you will achieve the same excellence and results as those you have already brought us.

Thank you for your attention./.

(1) instituts hospitalo-universitaires, IHUs
(2) institut de recherche technologique, IRT
(3) Sociétés d’Accélération du Transfert de Technologies
(4) centres hospitaliers universitaires, CHUs
(5) Crédit Impôt Recherche
(6) taxe professionnelle

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