Hungary’s longstanding tradition of pharmacology is a major point of pride for the country’s scientists and researchers who today have hopes to elevate the country’s research environment to a region-leading position once more through new models of industry-academia collaboration.
Strength in CNS
Hungary has a very strong tradition in neurosciences and is an important hub for this research field in both Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and Europe overall. While of course, countries like Switzerland and France are more advanced, “Hungary remains competitive in this field,” says Beata Sperlagh, deputy director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine (IEM), the leading multidisciplinary neuroscience research centre in CEE. “To illustrate this, the Brain Prize, formerly known as the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Prize, is a prestigious international award which was won in 2011 by Hungarian researchers Péter Somogyi, György Buzsáki, Tamás Freund by for their technical and conceptual research on memory formation,” notes Sperlagh.
Furthermore, the Hungarian Brain Research Program (HBRP), an initiative launched in 2014 and renewed in 2017, attests to the ongoing prioritization of this field. The program aims to support brain research projects which are of considerable scientific, clinical or societal importance. Through the injection of EUR 60 million of funding, the HBRP also aims to keep top Hungarian neuroscience talent working in the country and avoid the “brain drain” phenomenon whereby large numbers of these scientists seek career opportunities abroad.
The Search for Funding
Hungary’s research environment is a mature one not only for neuroscience but also in pharmacology and drug research more generally. However, as elsewhere, funding is an issue and science is not always at the top of the government’s priorities list, making public-private sector collaborations increasingly important.
There is a new tendency in the environment to adopt an open innovation approach
Zsuzsanna Helyes, HUPHAR
Dr György Bagdy, professor and former vice rector at Semmelweis University, elaborates that by fostering new industry-academia partnerships, researchers hope to drive the country’s innovative endeavours and halt brain drain. “Capital is a key issue in Hungary which involves many factors outside the university. However, there are many steps that can be taken to advance research capabilities through partnering with the pharma industry,” he insists.
While Hungary has a way to go to catch up with Western Europe in terms of its research funding environment, progress is being made. As Zsuzsanna Helyes, secretary-general of the Hungarian Society for Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology (HUPHAR) points out, “Companies increasingly use and foster academic research and there is a new tendency in the environment to adopt an open innovation approach.”
Building an Ecosystem
Hungarian companies are increasingly cognizant of the innovative ideas emanating from the country’s universities and are developing new partnership models in order to bring these concepts to the market. Universities can patent ideas but require the support of industrial partners to start the commercialization process. For smaller companies, a network of potential academic partners is useful for pharmacological research and drug discovery.
Miklós Kellermayer, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Semmelweis University explains that over recent years under new leadership, “attention has been turning from a traditionally strong basic research focus to more innovation- and development-based programming. This involves the creation of a portfolio of collaborations that incorporate not only other universities but private industry as well.”
Semmelweis has a long history of partnership with Hungary’s leading domestic company, Gedeon Richter. “For example, ten years ago, generic liposomal doxorubicin [a chemotherapy drug] was developed collaboratively between Gedeon Richter and university research groups. Besides co-development, Richter has been running prestigious grant programs within the university, including for post-doctoral graduates,” highlights Kellermayer.
Péter Ferdinandy, president of HUPHAR affirms that “investment in biomedical research and development has greatly increased in the last five years…the next step is to promote a vibrant start-up environment by building science parks.”
Recognizing this opportunity, Semmelweis has become a key stakeholder in the development of Hungary’s new Healthcare-Biotechnology Science Park along with Pázmány Péter Catholic University and the University of Public Service. “To further enhance our portfolio of collaborators with the industry, we are launching this new biotechnology science park program. The development of novel, bio-based nanotechnology is just one of the five main fields of science which the park will entail.” Kellermayer reveals.
“The new science park will be a unique opportunity for industry-academia collaboration because it will be separated from the often bulky administration of a public university, and act as an interface between the two sides.” he continues. “Through this initiative, Semmelweis offers access to patients, health data, research, knowledge, and university talent while the private industries offer novel technologies, professional administration, and the possibility of translating concepts into tangible pharmacological innovation.”