We’d like to draw attention to an initiative whose objectives are close to our own: the German Party for Health Research (GPHR, Partei für Gesundheitsforschung in German). Founded in January 2015 by three biochemists and one actor, the GPHR is rather unique in that it is a single-issue party: its only concern is the creation of effective therapies to treat and prevent the pathologies of old age.
Since its creation, the party has participated in five elections; one of its biggest successes was the Berlin state elections in September 2016, where it received 0.5% of the secondary votes despite being still a rather unknown party. Slowly but steadily, the party has enjoyed an increase in voter support over the years, doing even better than the well-known Pirate Party in one election district during the 2017 federal elections. Currently, the party counts over 250 members, a very heterogeneous group of young and old people with different backgrounds.
The GPHR was founded because the founding members, including biochemist Felix Werth, wanted to give people a new way to support research against age-related diseases; not everyone is willing or capable to help the cause in traditional ways, such as by donating money or time to research or advocacy organizations, while a political party offers simpler yet effective ways to help, such as voting for the party, signing for its participation in elections, or even joining for free as a member.
Indeed, should the party make its way to the German Parliament, it would then be able to incorporate its own program into that of the political coalition to which it will belong. The GPHR’s program can be summarized very quickly, as its only demand is the allocation of an additional 1% of the federal and state budget (that is, about 3 billion euros per year) to research against aging; this would be accomplished through establishing more state research institutes, growing the relevant departments, and fostering the education of more scientists in relevant academic fields. On all other matters, the party would follow its own coalition or remain neutral should it end up with the opposition.
The GPHR has ambitions that extend beyond Germany, and, indeed, seventeen of its representatives—such as Werth himself and Dr. Nadine Saul—are candidates for the forthcoming European Parliament elections. The party’s program for these elections is similar to its original one yet a touch more ambitious: the allocation of an additional 30 billion euros per year of the European budget to aging research for initiatives such as building a European Institute for Aging Research along with subsidiary institutions in member countries while growing the relevant departments. This figure isn’t small, as it would constitute 20% of the whole European budget, though it is less than what the US currently allocates to the NIH, which is around 35 billion Euros ($39.2 billion).
Realistically, the GPHR doesn’t expect all of its candidates to make it to the European Parliament, but vote percentages that are similar to its previous ones could already allow it to secure some seats—0.6% of the votes would be enough to grant one already, which would be a wonderful result and would make carrying out the party’s mission a great deal easier.
Just like during previous elections, GPHR activists are trying to get their voices heard by a wider audience through TV and radio ads as well as good, old-fashioned face-to-face advertisement—which, of course, is also a way to advocate for the cause itself, and it’s encouraging to learn that most people to whom the GPHR speaks are greatly in favor of more research to prevent and treat age-related diseases.
The reason why the GPHR focuses on a single issue and simply doesn’t join another, larger party that supports its agenda is simple, as GPHR members don’t want to spread themselves too thin—which covering multiple issues wouldn’t help with—and they want to make sure that nobody loses sight of the fundamental cause that brought the party members together. Part of the GPHR strategy is to make its own agenda popular with other parties as well; if GPHR grows in popularity, the reasoning goes, other political parties will take the hint that the topic of aging research has begun attracting more people and will probably make it a part of their own programs—hopefully triggering a virtuous circle that will finally bring this important issue to everybody’s attention.
The GPHR rightfully recognizes one of the main reasons why not many people are advocating for truly effective therapies against age-related diseases or are even interested in the topic: only fairly recent developments are making scientists hopeful for a foreseeable revolution in the treatment of age-related diseases. Until as little as a decade ago, not too many people were optimistic in this regard or saw it coming. However, now that the tide has changed, the GPHR aims to inform the public that the ill health of old age might not be an inescapable fate anymore; armed with this knowledge, more and more people may join advocacy efforts and make this much-needed revolution happen even sooner.
If you’d like to learn more, the GPHR was already featured in Elena Milova’s 2017 article and many German media outlets; its activities can also be followed on its Facebook page. We wish the GPHR best of luck in its mission, and we hope that it can help bring forward this important cause.