In March 1984, representatives of neuropsychopharmacological societies from across Europe sat down to dinner in Copenhagen to mark the 25th anniversary of the then Scandinavian Association of Psychopharmacology. European integration was in the air. The question was raised: might there be a case for a European structure, to give European neuropsychopharmacologists a platform to exchange and promote the region’s best research?
To follow up on this idea, a meeting was held in Copenhagen in May 1985. The rationale of a pan-European organisation was so powerful that it was decided to take it further: a European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) would be founded. A Working Group was formed to plan the association’s inaugural scientific congress.
That inaugural congress was held in Brussels in 1987. Some 500 people attended from across Europe, a remarkable turnout for a new entrant. ECNP was formally launched. The College’s constitution came two years later in Gothenburg – the same governance structure that serves ECNP today.
In 1993 the College established a permanent secretariat in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It had one room and a part-time secretary, but it was the beginnings of the ECNP Office. Permanent management meant organisational continuity, and with it financial stability. The 9th ECNP Congress in Amsterdam in 1996 was the first to be co-ordinated in-house. The College has never looked back.
Today, the ECNP Congress attracts some 5,000 participants from around the world, and has become the benchmark scientific meeting in its field. But that is not all. As well as the congress, the College now organises a wide range of meetings, educational initiatives and scientific programmes, almost all of them organised by the ECNP Office and funded by the College. Every year more than 400 early career scientists attend ECNP educational meetings, from our Workshop in Nice, France, to our clinical School in Oxford, Child and Adolescent School in Venice, Clinical Research Methods Workshop in Barcelona, and half dozen Seminars across Eastern Europe. Our research networks programme now includes 13 Networks, covering many of the major challenge areas in brain research and treatment, and connects hundreds of researchers across Europe. The Experimental Medicines Network drove the successful bid for IMI2 funding worth 16 million euros earlier this year. The Neuroscience-based Nomenclature (NbN) project to reform the naming conventions of psychotropic drugs, a unique collaboration, spearheaded by ECNP, between the world’s leading scientific societies in neuropsychopharmacology – including IUPHAR – is driving an important shift in how psychiatric medicines are understood by clinicians. Finally, the ECNP journal, European Neuropsychopharmacology (ENP), is developing as a premier publication for applied and translational neuroscience.
Together, these activities and initiatives make ECNP the largest non-institutional supporter of applied neuroscience research and education in Europe.
The characteristics that have defined ECNP for 30 years – its focus on high-quality research and education; excellent organisation; constructive, but independent engagement with industry; and close co-operation with national European and international organisations – continue to shape its strategic direction and guide its future.
But much has changed in 30 years. In 1987 the future of treatment lay in medicines, and the riddle of the biological bases of brain disorders seemed only a step or two away from being solved. Thirty years later the underlying biology remains elusive, but ground-breaking discoveries have led neuroscience into to exciting new areas of research investigating the brain basis of emotion, cognition and action. This understanding has opened up whole new treatment avenues for investigation and development, from deep brain stimulation to the talking therapies.
From its founding interest in pharmacology ECNP has expanded its remit to encompass interventions across the range of applied and clinical neuroscience. As the College enters its fourth decade it will be focused more than ever on connecting the steadily proliferating fields of brain research and bringing them to bear on the challenges of human illness.
The need to do so arguably gets constantly greater. For disorders of the brain, public research funding significantly lags behind the public health need, and private-sector funding is being comprehensively reconfigured. European researchers are increasingly thrown back on their own resources. Meanwhile, in one form or another, disorders of the brain now affect one out of three Europeans. Our work with the European Brain Council has helped raise awareness of the challenge in Brussels.
This environment makes the College’s mission vitally relevant. ECNP’s role as a hub connecting laboratory discoveries with clinical applications is served with such focus by no other organisation in Europe. Collaboration at a European level is vital to harness scare expertise, increase patient participation in research, and bring together centres of excellence in joint projects. To have a European-wide body stimulating and co-ordinating this co-operation is becoming more important than ever.
Thirty years is not a long time in which to apply any basic science advances to medical practice. ECNP looks forwards keenly to the excitement of seeing the recent decades of brain research translated into enduring patient benefit.