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Coffee with Martin Scholten

The Netherlands Centre for One Health (NCOH) brings together academic research institutes in the Netherlands and aspires to provide a trusted launching platform of an excellent standard for public-private partnerships in the international One Health research field. Martin Scholten, Chairman of the Supervisory Board, sets out his vision in this regard. The NCOH has reached a crucial point, says Martin Scholten. In October, it must be clear whether public and private parties are committing themselves to parts of the strategic research agenda for One Health.

A Round Table meeting took place on 16 June with representatives from industry, NCOH, Immuno Valley, two top sectors and two ministries. Together they discussed the possibilities of a joint approach to the social issue at the heart of One Health. As Scholten explains, ‘We try to create cross-sector connections between the business sector and the ministries. Consider the top sector of Life Sciences and Health (Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport and the health sector) and the top sector of Agri&Food (Ministry of Economic Affairs and the agricultural sector), for instance.’

The initiative for all this came in 2014. The three university research institutes Utrecht University, UMC Utrecht and Wageningen University & Research decided to join forces and form One Health. ‘We’ve seen a kind of snowball effect,’ says Scholten. ‘Erasmus MC and AMC joined, and they’ve been followed by Leiden University, LUMC and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).’

The year 2015 was devoted to setting up the organisation and the strategic research innovation agenda with solution sets centred around four themes. ‘Nowhere else in the world do you see scientific disciplines forming such a close-knit joint venture of world-leading academic top research institutes to set up an ambitious transdisciplinary and integrated programme. We also heard that from American R&D directors of multinational pharmaceutical companies. We take the social demand as our basis, for which we intend to develop the necessary knowledge and expertise. In turn, that expertise can then be put to use jointly by the health and agricultural sectors.’

The research agenda was launched in February 2016 within the context of the Netherlands’ Presidency of the EU. Where do we go from here? ‘Edith Schippers has just announced to invest more than 6 million euros in research into new antibiotics during the next four years. The money is intended for a new research programme for the development of antibiotics and is associated with the new National Antibiotic Development Platform (NADP). In order to really flesh out the research agenda, however, we will require extra financial resources. University research institutes have insufficient funds to carry the programme without external financial assistance. We are therefore asking the business sector and government bodies – Dutch and international – to get behind our agenda. We didn’t get the green light straight away on that evening of 16 June, but serious interest was certainly expressed. We hope that the parties are able to indicate how they can and want to link up with the joint approach in order to take larger and faster steps.’

Scholten considers it an exciting moment. ‘The efforts of the research institutes are never lost. There is a unique and high-quality plan, but the programme will only really take off when there is willingness on the part of public and private parties to invest.’ Should there be sufficient commitment in October, then the NCOH will enter the next phase: the calls for research proposals, followed by a selection of the projects from the portfolio that are most likely to be successful.