History of the European Council for Cardiovascular Research (ECCR)
Written by Thomas Unger
In 1979 “The European Blood Pressure Group” (EBPG) was founded by a group of ‘young turk’ Hypertension researchers from the UK (Peter Sever, Graham McGregor, John Reid) Sweden (Göran Berglund, Marianne Frisk-Holmberg), Italy (Guiseppe Bianchi), Switzerland (Fritz Bühler) France (Pierre Corvol, Albert Minram), The Netherlands (Marten Schalekamp) and some other European countries. The idea was, among others, to establish a counterpart to the so-called “Italian Mafia” of our, yet admired, Italian friend Alberto Zanchetti and his circle who dominated the European Hypertension scene at the time, with the biennial Milano Hypertension meetings since the early seventies and other activities such as the founding of the European Society of Hypertension (ESH).
Personally, I joined the EBPG from the very beginning, and I never regretted this decision. I was about ten years younger than the EBPG initiators, didn’t understand much of science politics but was full of idealism towards a better hypertension world. I must confess that from 1989-97, I was also a member of the ESH Council, tried my best to defend scientific quality there, and somehow this coincidencia oppositorum worked. After all, there was never a clear personal distinction between ESH and EBPG/ECCR and during the years, crossover from one to the other was not unusual.
The EBPG was quite successful with annual meetings in differ European places and attracted a number of excellent basic and clinical researchers from several European countries, older and younger ones. Of course, the “Italian Mafia” was always a bit suspicious and some of them regarded EBPG as an unwanted intruder in their domain (which was certainly not against the philosophy of the EBPG founders). From the very beginning, EBPG had to compete with ESH and others for funding their meetings but this was in those days not too difficult; there were always some big pharma companies ready to sponsor all sides if only their new drug developments were on the agenda, and there was no paucity of money and themes in these days. Indeed, these were the high days of antihypertensive drug development, notably the RAS inhibitors. Captopril, the first ACE inhibitor, was introduced in 1981, and everybody wanted to have a share of the huge amounts of money which went into drug promotion of the first and following ACE inhibitors and later the angiotensin receptor antagonists.
The aim of EBPG was never to go beyond holding scientific meetings of high quality and by this creating a network of European hypertension researchers, thus, there were no educational aspects involved, or the organization of clinical studies.
With time, the original impetus faded a little, the meetings were not held in yearly but rather in 18 month intervals, and they degenerated somewhat to winterly ski events in suitable places in the Alps. This caused some dismay with several members. In addition, the clinicians complained about too little clinical research discussed, and the basic researchers about too little basic research. The translational aspect, the vivid and productive exchange between basics and clinics, in the beginning a highlight or USP of EBPG, appeared to be neglected.
Towards the end of the eighties, a new start was made, the EBPG was renamed as “European Research Conference on Blood Pressure and Cardiocascular Disease”, then “European Council for Blood Pressure Research” reminiscent of the “Hypertension Council” of the American Heart Association (AHA), and in 2004 “European Council for Cardiovascular Research” (ECCR). The new society was fortified with a constitution and a body of governance with a President to be elected in a two-year rhythm and an Executive Council. The first presidents were Pierre Corvol, Peter Sever, and Thomas Unger, followed by Harry Struijker-Boudier, (Maastricht), Alun Hughes (London), Martin Paul (Berlin), Mike Mulvany (Aarhus), Gian Paolo Rossi (Padua), Muscha Steckelings (Odense). A great help with this new formation came from Hampton Medical, a newly founded, London-based, administrative agency led by Gerry Mc Carthy, who had personally assisted the group from the beginning.
Yearly meetings were again organized in places like Nordwijkerhout, The Netherlands, Seeheim, Germany, La Cole sur Loup, Nice, France (15 times), Poiano, Lake Garda, Italy, and were well accepted. Attempts to more closely associate with the American “Hypertension Council” were not very successful, instead ECCR became a member of the “Council for Basic Cardiovascular Science” of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).
With time, the international hypertension scenery had changed from an exuberantly rich to a relatively poor world. The main reason for this development was the fact that the pharmaceutical industry, after years of overwhelming success with the RAS inhibitors, gradually ceased to develop new antihypertensive drugs for various reasons, which also meant that sponsoring of societies devoted to hypertension faded away. Thus, it became more and more difficult for ECCR Presidents and their Executive Councils to organize the yearly meetings on Hypertension in a more and more competitive field with respect to fundraising. In addition, with the disappearance of external funding and the paucity of academic careers in clinical and experimental hypertension research, the interest of younger (and older) researchers in hypertension also became less, and so did the number of participants of the ECCR meetings. Ideas to make the meetings more “hands-on” with workshops for young investigators, or to associate more closely with other cardiovascular societies or groups, were only partly crowned with success: ECCR had to fight against a global trend, i.e. of the dwindling interest in hypertension research – in contrast to organ-related disciplines such as cardiology.
After a pause in 2018, ECCR is now attaining momentum again under the presidency of Rhian Touyz, Glasgow. One way to regain a certain USP would be, in my mind, to organize the 2019 and following meetings around the MINDSHIFT idea (a European PhD project between Glasgow, Maastricht, Madrid, Paris) on the way to a “European Hypertension School” for young investigators. Several of the current ECCR Executive Council members are participating in this ambitious EU-project, and the yearly ECCR meetings could become a viable pillar of it’s development.