HORIZON BLOG: Research and innovation in the new seven-year budget

29 Jul 2021 | Live Blog

In June, the European Commission has published the official work programme, detailing budgets and deadlines for calls over the first two years of Horizon Europe. This blog will keep you apprised on the rollout of the EU's €95.5 billion R&D programme.

Tips are welcome at [email protected]. You can read the full archive of this blog here.

 

Ireland’s new €5.5 million research programme, DOROTHY, aimed at creating solutions to public health crises will fund 25 three-year postdoctoral fellowships with top-up financing from the EU’s research programme Horizon Europe.

Supported by the Horizon Europe researcher training initiative, the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions, the postdoc programme will aim to break down barriers between different academic disciplines focusing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in areas ranging from immunology to arts. It will allow the researchers to work both in Irish and overseas research institutions.

“The DOROTHY programme will support the next generation of researchers in Ireland who can help inform public health policy on a national and international stage,” said the country’s research and education minister Simon Harris. “At the heart of the programme is the opportunity for researchers to break down barriers between different disciplines and collaborate with peers, and ultimately deliver results that will benefit every facet of Irish society.”

 

Two EU research and innovation funding agencies, the European Innovation Council and the European Research Council, hosted their first joint workshop this week focused on gene and cell therapy.

The workshop brought together the grantees of the basic research funder, the ERC, and the representatives of the innovation funder, the EIC, in the field of gene and cell therapy to explore potential technologies that could emerge from EU-funded research.

The newly established collaboration between the two EU bodies aims to transfer scientific breakthroughs to the market. “We know that the gap between frontier research and innovation is often huge, and that's why the EIC and ERC, which have different but complementary missions, join efforts to bridge this gap,” said ERC presidency Jean Pierre Bourguignon.

Cell and gene therapy is a promising research field that has the potential to transform medicine and was selected to be the first topic discussed in a series of joint workshops. The ERC has invested over €300 million in more than 150 basic research projects on the topic since 2014. Meanwhile, the EIC launched its first targeted call for novel concept-based technologies in cell and gene therapy last month.

The topic of the next joint workshop will be energy storage technologies and will take place this autumn.

 

Four members of the European Parliament are questioning the usefulness of asking Horizon Europe applicants to detail how they will respect the ‘do no significant harm’ principle in their research proposals.

The oath to protect biodiversity and ecosystems from significant damage was recently introduced to parts of the EU research programme. It requires applicants to include information on their compliance with the principle but does not impact the proposal’s overall score. The MEPs are questioning why this extra information should be included if it has no impact on the final outcome of the competition. 

“If this is the case, taking into account that it increases the workload […] why does the Commission believe the proposal is the right stage of the project cycle to obtain this information while it will not have an impact at this stage?” inquired the group of MEPs, which includes both of the Parliament’s Horizon Europe rapporteurs Christian Ehler and Dan Nica as well as shadow rapporteurs Evžen Tošenovský and Martina Dlabajova.

The MEPs also pointed to an inconsistency in the Commission’s approach as it limited the number of pages for proposals under Horizon Europe while asking applicants to include more information than before.

 

Starting this week, two new online platforms will provide resources to policymakers and other stakeholders interested in EU cooperation in research and innovation with Africa and the Mediterranean countries.

The two one-stop-shops are part of the Commission’s new global research strategy and the comprehensive strategy with Africa, together with two other projects aimed at deepening the partnership with African countries: the ENRICH project for boosting innovation and ARISE grants for early-career researchers. 

“EU-African Union cooperation in the field of research and innovation has clearly gained momentum,” said Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union commissioner.

 

The EU research programme will provide €4.1 billion to 11 research infrastructures in fields like neuroscience, offshore renewable energy, religious studies, big data and demographics.

The selection of the 11 science facilities is the culmination of a two-year evaluation process by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI.

This is the EU's highest investments in research infrastructures since 2006, with an average €380 million per project. The last ESFRI roadmap with projects selected in 2018 had a budget of €674 million for financing leading EU science infrastructures.

This year’s group of projects also boasts the highest value project ever on the ESFRI roadmap, the Einstein Telescope, the first and most advanced third-generation gravitational-wave observatory, which will be funded with €1.9 billion.

 

The EU must urgently spring into action to develop a flexible and efficient climate-neutral energy system in time to have a net-zero economy by 2050, according to the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors.

“Achieving the full decarbonization of the EU energy system by mid-century is possible, but it requires urgent and decisive action to integrate emissions-free energy sources and uses in a flexible way,” said Nebojsa Nakicenovic, lead adviser for the group’s opinion on the energy transition.

The group recommends using a mix of renewable sources, electrification, and hydrogen to reach the goal, as well as investing in the integration of infrastructures, and supporting research and innovation.

The transition should take place in an inclusive and participatory environment, involving citizens in the process, and avoiding putting sole focus on technology, the scientists stressed.

 

Personal data can now flow freely from the EU to the UK, where it benefits from an equivalent level of protection to that guaranteed by EU general data protection law, the GDPR.

The UK's data protection system continues to be based on the same rules that were applicable when the UK was a member states, the European Commission has decided.

The decision allows for personal data to circulate freely to the UK. This is crucial for cooperation in many fields, including research and higher education.

University representatives welcome the decision. Universities will be able to share data as beforethe UK’s decision to leave the EU. “This is one of the final pieces of the puzzle of post Brexit research and higher education cooperation,” said Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association (EUA).

 

The European Innovation Council (EIC) has announced a €12 million investment in a potential COVID-19 treatment developed by French biotechnology company Xenothera.

The anti-COVID19 treatment, XAV-19, is based on a patented antibody production technology.

“Xenothera is a great example of how the European Union is helping top innovators unfold solutions to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mariya Gabriel, EU commissioner for research and innovation.

“The EIC Fund's ambitious commitment, alongside other investors, is an important step to boost Xenothera in their development of an antibody treatment for COVID-19 infection,” said Gabriel.

This investment is part of €500 million packaged of equity investments announced by the EIC this month.

Since its launch in 2020, the EIC Fund has now approved 111 investments in highly innovative start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

 

The legal framework of the new EU Cybersecurity Competence Centre and its corresponding network of national centres was approved today, allowing the new centre aimed at boosting EU cybersecurity research and capacity to come to live.

The new centre is currently being established in Bucharest with the help of the European Commission. Once fully up and running, it will coordinate the work of national cybersecurity agencies, pool resources from EU, member state and industry funds, and define a roadmap for the development and deployment of cybersecurity innovations.

 

Germany and Canada are set to start ten joint hydrogen research projects, furthering their collaboration in the field.

“The selected funding projects are intended in particular to strengthen the cooperation between universities and research institutions in our two countries and form the basis for larger joint projects with partners from industry and especially medium-sized companies in Germany and Canada,” said German research minister Anja Karliczek.

The projects will cover topics such as energy materials, the improvement of manufacturing processes for fuel cells, Power-2-X technologies and the system integration of green hydrogen.

The new endeavour builds on 50 years of science and technology collaboration between the two countries, focused on Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence in production technology, development of new materials, and fuel cells.

 

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