In 1993, while Portugal – headed by the President of the Portuguese Republic Mário Soares and the Prime Minister Cavaco Silva – witnessed the first steps of the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty) and laid the foundations for Expo 98, Luís Portela, chairman of BIAL, leader of the Portuguese pharmaceutical industry, began to “sculpt” the BIAL Foundation. It was a way of sharing the gains achieved by the company with the society. The aim would have to be supporting research in Health, BIAL’s area of activity, where innovation was one of the strategic lines of development.
With this purpose in mind, Luís Portela challenged the Council of Rectors of Portuguese Universities, together with BIAL, to set up and manage an independent non-profit institution aimed to promote scientific development.
Prof. Nuno Grande and Doctor Luís Portela
The BIAL Foundation was established in 1994, at a time when scientific research was beginning to take the first steps towards greater development in Portugal, and when the number of medical schools was significantly lower than it is today. The BIAL Foundation was the first Portuguese patronage institution, resulting from private initiative, which focused on the medical sciences.
It was also at this time that two important names emerged that would become crucial in the development of the institution and, alongside Luís Portela, they were part of the Foundation’s first administration. Prof. Nuno Grande, a medical doctor and representative of the Council of Rectors of Portuguese Universities, was in charge of organising the technical-scientific dimensions, and Prof. Manuel Baganha, a reputable cost accounting economist and friend of Luís Portela, already closely linked to BIAL, became involved in the organisation of the administrative and financial areas.
Nuno Grande then proposed Medical Sciences, Psychophysiology and Parapsychology as fields of activity for the Foundation. The grants that the Foundation begins to sponsor lie specifically in the latter two. Psychophysiology, which was intrinsically linked to Luís Portela, who had taught this subject at University level, and Parapsychology, because according to Nuno Grande, everyone knew that it was an area of interest of the chairman of BIAL Laboratories.
The establishment ceremony of the Foundation took place at the Círculo Universitário do Porto, and was attended by the President of the Republic, Mário Soares, and the Minister of Health of the 12th Constitutional Government, Paulo Mendo.
The BIAL Foundation then took over the management of the Prémio BIAL de Medicina Clínica, created in 1984, and established a Grants Program for Scientific Research. From 1996 onwards, it began to organise the “Behind and Beyond the Brain” Symposia, an event that brings together the international scientific elite in the fields of Neuroscience and Parapsychology every two years.
The Foundation’s first Board of Directors, for the period 1994-1997, consisted of:
The Scientific Board (now composed of 54 professors from 14 countries) consisted of:
Present Management bodies:
Board of Directors:
Luís Portela - President, Daniel Bessa, Nuno Sousa, Miguel Portela, Pedro Teixeira.
Júlio Pedrosa de Jesus - President, Nuno Amado, Ernst & Young Audit &
Associados - SROC, S.A., represented by João Carlos Miguel Alves.
António Damásio - President, Osborne Almeida, Carlos Alvarado, Mario Beauregard, Daryl Bem, Fabrizio Benedetti, Dick Bierman, Niels Birbaumer, Olaf Blanke, Jason Braithwaite, Richard Broughton, Etzel Cardeña, Maria do Carmo Fonseca, James Carpenter, Miguel Castelo‑Branco, Alexandre Castro-Caldas, Axel Cleeremans, António Coimbra, Rui Costa, Hugo Critchley, John Cryan, Rodrigo Cunha, Hanna Damásio, Ronald de Kloet, Peter Fenwick, Rainer Goebel, Bruce Greyson, Morten Kringelbach, Stephen LaBerge, Steven Laureys, Antoine Lutz, Julia Mossbridge, Rui Mota Cardoso, Craig Murray, Catarina Resende Oliveira, Morten Overgaard, Joana Palha, Dean Radin, Amir Raz, João Relvas, Sidarta Ribeiro, Christopher A. Roe, Stefan Schmidt, Gary Schwartz, Alcino Silva, Mário Simões, Peter St. George-Hyslop, Robert Stickgold, Jessica Utts, Eus Van Someren, Rufin VanRullen, Caroline Watt, Menno Witter, Robin Wooffitt.
However, not everything was easy on the Foundation’s path. In 2003, largely because of the economic climate, the Ministry of Health applied restrictive measures regarding medicines, which had serious impact on some pharmaceutical companies. BIAL, which has always invested in research and development, spending more than 20% of its turnover, was also affected. Despite this setback, BIAL maintained its support for the institution. Luís Portela emphasises that “it is up to us to professionally face the difficulties that were created for us, maintaining our social obligations”.
In order to disseminate the work that the BIAL Foundation has been developing with the scientific community over the years, on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, the Foundation set up a Documentation Centre and an online Database.
The Documentation Centre includes the references and, in some cases, the Foundation’s own books on the various editions of the BIAL Award, the “Behind and Beyond the Brain” Symposia and the Grants Program for Scientific Research.
The Database is an important resource for the scientific community and the general public, including all publications resulting from projects in the fields of Psychophysiology and Parapsychology, supported by the Foundation from 1994 up to the present day.