The Brain in the 21st century:
Brain Innovation Days 2023

The European Brain Council (EBC) hosted the 3rd edition of the Brain Innovation Days from 26-27 October 2023 at The EGG Brussels (Belgium) under the overarching theme “The Brain in the 21st Century”. With a focus on resilience, better brain health and adaptation to an evolving environment, the event highlighted the challenges faced by over 179 million Europeans living with brain conditions. Despite increasing numbers, treatments remain limited, and research is underfunded. The event aimed to foster interaction, knowledge exchange and business development in the brain space, bringing the community together through a series of plenary sessions, breakouts, inspiring Brain Talks, a Pitch Competition, and much more.

Day 1 - 26 October 2023

The 3rd in-person Brain Innovation Days officially opened with a welcome from Lisa Burke, Master of Ceremony, Suzanne Dickson, EBC President and Frédéric Destrebecq, EBC Executive Director, who introduced EBC and its role in promoting brain research and innovation at the European and global levels. 

Miguel Angel Lara Otaola from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) provided the Opening Brain Talk: The Brain in the 21st Century and set the scene by questioning the status quo of democracy, highlighting the role of the EU Democracy Action Plan and the EU Strategy on the charter of fundamental rights, as a mean to protect public health as a fundamental human right. 

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Stelios Kympouropoulos (EPP, Greece) and Sara Cerdas (S&D, Portugal) welcomed participants with video messages and provided an overview of ongoing EU health policy files they are working on as (shadow) rapporteurs within the European Parliament, such as the EU Mental Health Strategy & rare diseases, and the regulation to set up a European Health Data Space (EHDS), respectively. 

The long-term EU vision on competitiveness outlines how the EU can build on its strengths and achieve more than merely bridging the growth and innovation gap: fostering thriving businesses, competing on the global market, attractive jobs and setting global standards. A high-level policy panel on EU competitiveness followed: 

  • Magda ChlebusExecutive Director for Science Policy and Regulatory Affairs of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries (EFPIA) expressed her views on the EU Pharmaceutical Strategy with a community-based approach, looking into unmet medical needs and introducing to the public the Rare Disease Moonshot initiative -which is a coalition of partners joining forces to accelerate research in rare and pediatrics diseases and brings new therapies to patients. 
  • Marco Di Donato, Policy and Project Officer at the European Regional and Local Health Authorities called for a multistakeholder collaboration to share best practices at the EU and regional levels, so we can exchange data to accelerate policymaking, research and innovation. 
  • Stéphane Hogan, Head of Unit for Health Research at the Health & Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA) introduced the role of the agency in managing Cluster 1 ‘’Health’’ of the Horizon Europe (€4.1 billion for 2021-27), part of Next Generation EU (€1.3 billion for 2021-23), and the legacy programme Horizon 2020.  
  • Csaba Kontor, Health Attaché of the Permanent Representation of Hungary addressed the priorities of the Hungarian Presidency to the Council of the EU (July-December 2024). The presidency of the Council rotates among the EU member states every 6 months. He announced that within this future Trio, their work will focus on EU resilience to strengthen manufacturing capacity and diversify supply chains to tackle future crises in a more coordinated manner across EU Member States and avoid competition due to medicine shortages. 

During the breaks, the Innovation Hall, which was the main vein of the event venue and remained open during the 2 days featured the Rethinking Schizophrenia Exhibition, 12 posterboards, 5 innovation cases, the EBC and its 8 members booths, the ‘Messy Room’ art installation, rotating videos by MEPs and Noble Prize winners and a photo booth, which contributed largely to a vibrant and engaging atmosphere for all our guests.

Kevin Quaid, a member of the Irish Dementia Working Group, shared his journey during the Brain Talk: Living with Lewy body dementia. Diagnosed at 53 after battling with Parkinson’s disease, he noticed the lack of information on his specific form of dementia. This led him to write the book “Lewy Body Dementia, Survival and Me,” becoming among the first globally to shed light on this condition from a patient and family perspective. He also authored “I am KEVIN not Lewy,” showcasing his resilient spirit, inspired by the perseverance of the Limerick hurling team in 2018.

Following up on Kevin’s moving Brain Talk, we had a sneak peek and discussed the Walking the Talk for Dementia. For the first edition in 2023, the programme brought together representatives from more than 20 countries on a 40 km journey on the world’s most famous pilgrimage, Santiago de Compostela, followed by a scientific symposium led by people living with dementia.

The next session chaired by Sameer Zuberi, Past President of the European Paediatric Neurology Society (EPNS), was a discussion with Francesco Muntoni from the Dubowitz Neuromuscular Centre and Gabriele Lignani from the Queen Square Institute of Neurology on Innovative Gene Related Therapies. Our speakers introduced their innovative work developing gene-related therapies for severe neuromuscular diseases and epilepsies. These treatments, now advancing to clinical stages, are impacting early diagnosis of pediatric neurology care, influencing diagnosis speed, outcome prediction and design of clinical services. 

Our moderator, Lisa Burke, closed the morning session and announced the Poster and Showcase Spotlight, where we welcomed showcasers to pitch their work on stage to entice people to their stands/posters and opened the voting for Best Poster and Innovation Showcase 2023 for our audience.

As we entered the afternoon, migraine took centre stage. Despite the condition contributing to significant disability— 45.1 million total life years lived with disability and the second highest cause of disability worldwide —it is overlooked in the European Commission’s Mental Health Strategy and Health at a Glance report. In partnership with AbbVie, our Platinum Session: Migraine – Bridging the Gap in European Health Policy convened stakeholders to highlight the absence of migraine in European health policies, discuss its socio-economic impact, and aim to mobilize decision-makers for change. You can read the full report here.

Migraine is found to be the second most frequently identified cause of short-term absence for employees and among the five leading causes of emergency department visits. In partnership with Pfizer, our Platinum Session: Rethinking Migraine in the Workplace provided valuable insight on how we can rethink migraine in the workplace and incentivise and support employers to encourage “migraine-friendly” workplaces. You can read the full report here.

Although there is great interest in developing advanced therapies for rare and ultrarare diseases, a series of obstacles have resulted in limited success. We addressed the challenges to the development of advanced therapies for rare and ultrarare neurological diseases together with Juan Carlos López from the RTW Charitable Foundation and Christian Suojanen from the Broadreach Global.

Our final panel discussion of day focused on Museums for Mental Health, which explored how novel additions to traditional therapy, such as museum visit prescriptions from healthcare professionals, are changing the way clinicians treat their patients. Since September 2022, psychiatrists in one of Brussels’ largest hospitals have offered free visits to cultural spots as therapy for those with depression, stress, or anxiety.

  • Rémi Foulon from Brussels City covered museum prescriptions, tracing its history in Canada, exploring diverse beneficial aspects (like quiet time, sensory experiences, exposure, and stigma reduction), and discussing its impact on museum staff.
  • Peter Keri, President of GAMIAN-Europe, emphasized evidence-based non-biomedical treatments, addressing their role in combating stigma, reducing isolation and reconnecting individuals with their interests.
  • Geert Dom, President of the European Psychiatric Association (EPA), discussed how museum visits could benefit various mental health issues, ranging from mild to severe, like stress-related disorders, anxiety, and depression.

The day concluded with a celebratory walking dinner cocktail reception and a live music band, Ava Street.

Day 2 - 27 October 2023

Day 2 of the Brain Innovation Days begins with a welcome recap of Day 1 and jumped into an exciting second full day of sessions.

Joanna Drake, the Deputy Director General of Research and Innovation at the European Commission welcomed participants with a video message presenting the EU’s strategic initiatives to promote brain research and innovation. As quoted: “Research and innovation is identified as one of the key drivers, fostering European competitiveness with a clear need for most investments in research and innovation in Europe, as well as private investments’’.

We also discovered the European Charter for Responsible Development of Neurotechnologies at the Brain Innovation Days. This visionary charter presented by Françoise Roure from the French Ministry of Economy and Finances, ensures ethical considerations in neurotech development, promoting trust and protecting individuals’ rights.

Ricardo Chavarriaga, Head, Swiss office of the Confederation of Laboratories for AI Research in Europe took the floor for the Brain Talk: Geopolitics of Neurotechnologies looked into the development of government mechanisms for the use of technology (such as artificial intelligence and big data) to safeguard neurorights on mental privacy – which protects individuals from the use of data obtained during the measurement of their brain activity without their consent and expressly prohibits any commercial transaction involving this data , with a call to action to create a comprehensive international framework on neurorights.

The programme continued with two parallel sessions:

In partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim, our Platinum Session: Making Patient Engagement Truly Meaningful in Chronic and Complex Mental Health Conditions explored how to ensure our work aligns with those significantly affected by chronic and intricate conditions such as schizophrenia and prioritize co-creation. You can read the full report here.

In partnership with Merck, our Platinum Session: Young people living with MS – Making decisions for the future to raise awareness about the impact of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) on young individuals and explore policy ideas at both the national and European levels to better support patients in living their lives on their own terms.  You can read the full report here.

The third Brain Innovation Days Pitch Competition kicked off with 5 finalists from European brain-focused startups presenting their ideas or products in 180 seconds to a jury of high level investors and funding agency representatives for the chance to win the Jury Award and Audience Award of Best Pitch  On stage were: Pieter Van den Steen pitching Axinesis, Nina Kiwit pitching MindAhead, Fiona Nielsen pitching Neurolentech, Nathaniel Rose pitching Lymbic AI and Erich Reiter pitching SAY IT Labs– with SAY IT Labs eventually hailed Best Pitch by the Jury and MindAhead awarded Best Pitch by the Audience vote.

We thank our Jury — Marius Declerck (E-Health Venture), Orla Galvin (European Federation of Neurological Associations), Daniel Koppelkamm (Convergence Partners), Diana Saraceni (Panakès Partners), Maarten Van Gorp (imec.istart) and Sameer Zuberi (Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow, European Paediatric Neurology Society and European Brain Council) — for their time and dedication on the day. All details on the Top 5 and the Jury Members can be found here.

As part of the liaison activities of the BRAINTEASER project, the Brain Innovation Days hosted a roundtable to promote collaboration among related EU projects and foster the translation of research breakthroughs into innovation and policy changes. 

The session Scaling up of innovative technologies explored the benefits of neurotechnology for personalized therapy, utilizing precise targeting to adapt to patient symptoms and tissue responsiveness. The discussion between Serge Picaud from the Institut de la Visionz, Pieter Roelfsema from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Mavi Sanchez-Vives from the Institute for Biomedical Research August Pi i Sunyer and Paweł Świeboda from the International Centre for Future Generations centred on expediting applications in clinical settings, connecting research labs with tech partners to create a broader neurotechnology medicine platform catering to diverse patient needs.

In continuation, the conversation Start-up Vs. Investor with Frederic Sottilini, CEO of Cathera and Diana Saraceni, Founder of Panakès Partners, showcased the history of scientific discovery of Cathera with concrete examples of collaboration between the scientific community, pharma industry and diagnostic companies.

Vinciane Quoidbach, EBC Public Health, Policy and Research Manager moderated a discussion Towards a Rare Brain Disease Ecosystem: A Collaborative Path Forward exploring how we can address research and economic gaps through innovation. 

  • Helene Le Borgne, Policy Officer at DG Research & Innovation of the European Commission, highlighted the EU’s 25+ years of robust support for rare disease policy and research. This focus includes supporting Member States’ policies, fostering EU cooperation, regulating, and enhancing the recognition and visibility of rare diseases.  
  • Antoni Montserrat Moliner, Vice President of ALAN Maladies Rares explored optimizing patient care pathways to aid clinicians and engage individuals with rare brain diseases in decision-making. He shared best practices from the cancer care community.
  • Anna Kole from UCB raised concerns about centering healthcare transformation around patients and questioned if regulators are aligned with strategies ensuring medicine access and availability.

To conclude, key opinion leaders participated in the Closing Panel: Towards the 22nd Century to reflect on the last days and to look towards the future; offering bold predictions and recommendations to address challenges, invest in innovation, and pave the way for healthier brains in the years to come.

  • Marlies Dorlöchter, Coordinator of the ERA-Net NEURON emphasized the importance of collaboration with a common vision to tackle the high burden of disease and economic cost.
  • Martien Kas, President of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP), stressed the necessity of reevaluating existing diagnostic frameworks, acknowledging the uniqueness of the condition, the clinical heterogeneity and the transdiagnostic overlap.
  • José Luis Lanciego from the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) Pan-European Committee and EBC Board member thanked EBC for its coordination activities to bring stakeholders together and develop a common agenda on brain health.
  • Elisabetta Vaudano, Principal Scientific Manager and Responsible Strategic Area Neuroscience of the Innovative Health Initiative stressed the need to involve patients throughout the research and drug development spectrum to respond to their needs.


The Brain Innovation Days 2023 closed with a farewell drink, with a call to action from EBC to continue working together, in anticipation of the next edition of the Brain Innovation Days in 2024! Don’t forget: the Brain Innovation Days is not just an event. Follow us on social media for all the latest content, including upcoming Brain Talks podcast episodes and more. 

Join us on YouTube to relive key moments of the 2023 event and meet key opinion leaders in attendance.

The Brain Innovation Days were supported by the BRAINTEASER project, which received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the grant agreement No GA101017598.