Tackling the unmet needs of diabetes
3 February 2016, European Parliament
Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
Check Against Delivery

Honourable Member Schaldemose, Professor del Prato, esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning! First of all, I would like to thank the EU Working Group on Diabetes and the European Coalition for Diabetes for organising this event.

So many issues related to diabetes remain unclear for many people. Take Danny for example. You can read his story on the Diabetes UK website. At just 35 years old Danny is almost entirely blind. He lost his sight due to diabetic eye disease. Danny did not think he was at risk. He did not turn up for eye screenings. In his own words:

"Like many young men I felt invincible. I thought sight loss was something that happened to other people."

Things got worse and Danny's vision will never return. His life has changed and it could have been prevented. So now Danny is using his story to encourage other Diabetes patients at risk to get their eyes checked. Danny's story is not unusual. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the major causes of sight loss in Europe. Yet early detection and treatment reduces the risk significantly.

Today, the EU is faced with 3 problems: the alarming increase in diabetes in Europe and worldwide; a lack of awareness surrounding diabetes prevention, and many of its common complications, and a lack of patient-empowering treatments that reduce the burden of diabetes management. But there is good news on the horizon. New combinations of diabetes research with digital technologies are leading to innovative opportunities for treatments. I am convinced that personalised medicine will play an increasingly important role in the fight against diabetes. So I want Europe to lead the way. Here is why.

Personalised medicine puts the patient at the centre of healthcare decisions, by tailoring treatments to their individual needs. For example, personalised medicine can use a patient's genetic profile to tailor the prevention, detection and treatment of diabetes. In a recent workshop on Type 1 diabetes, organised by the Commission and the U.S. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, experts emphasised the relevance of the interplay between personalised medicine and artificial pancreas research; population-based screening to detect risk and the value of open data and data sharing policies.

To make personalised medicine for diabetes a reality, the European Commission has supported relevant research for some time now. Several FP7 projects have had success in developing personalised footwear for diabetes-related complications and now these projects are hoping to get their products to market: providing more options for patients and keeping Europe at the forefront of new solutions.

The Commission's private-public partnership with the pharmaceutical industry − the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) − is also investing a great deal in personalised medicine for diabetes. It created the IMI Diabetes Platform, a 100 million euro effort to deliver biomarkers for disease progression and patient stratification. Diabetes is also a main focus of 4 IMI2 calls launched in the last 2 years, through which around 96 million euro will be devoted to more targeted drug development for diabetes.

But personalised medicine is just one area in which digital technologies are making a difference. In the digital era, eHealth and mobile health solutions should enable European healthcare systems to provide better services for patients. For example, the EU-funded PCDIAB project has created a device that monitors blood glucose levels and administers insulin and glucagon automatically. Unlike other upcoming artificial pancreases, which only deliver insulin to lower glucose when needed, this bi-hormonal solution is able to raise and reduce glucose levels, depending on the information relayed by its sensors. Besides improving the quality of life of many patients, devices like this could create a competitive advantage for Europe in diabetes treatment. So, European researchers are already using smart solutions to develop pain-free, non-invasive diabetes management.

New treatments designed to: generate more data; give power to the patient and reduce the risk of preventable complications, but a great deal of research is still needed as diabetes continues to increase worldwide. With our international partners, the EU wants to have a greater impact on diabetes through the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD).

I recently attended their Annual Research Network meeting in Mexico, where they emphasised the importance of affordable healthcare in preventing and managing chronic diseases among vulnerable populations. For example, the Alliance's projects include a project assessing how to reduce the impact of the economic crisis on diabetes development in Greece and Spain, as well as a project comparing diabetes interventions in migrants living in Europe, with patients living outside Europe.

This research will help us better understand the link between socio-economic influences and higher risks of diabetes, so that we can develop more holistic approaches to diabetes prevention and so that personalised medicine and digital health technologies are made more effective by sound political decisions and awareness-raising campaigns.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to congratulate the EU Diabetes Working Group for its efforts in the fight against diabetes. The achievements of this group since it was founded by John Bowis in 2002 are both very impressive and increasingly important. The Commission and Horizon 2020 will, of course, continue to support diabetes research and innovation and I am pleased to say that − within its first 2 years − Horizon 2020 is already funding around 63 diabetes projects with around 140 million euro.

Finally, I’m sure that today’s presentations and discussions will motivate us in the important work that remains ahead. It is said that managing diabetes is not a science for patients. To patients it's an art. The more ways we can help patients help themselves, the better their quality of life will be.