09 Apr 2021

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

On 2 February, the European Commission announced the official launch of Horizon Europe, the EU’s next R&D programme.

But, before any of the €95.5 billion budget can start flowing, there remain many administrative and legal steps still to complete by April, when the Commission aims to launch the first formal call for grant applications.

This blog will keep you apprised of all the details as they unfold.

Tips are welcome at [email protected].

You can read the full archive of this blog here.

 

Ireland yesterday published a five-year roadmap for its national research funding agency, Science Foundation Ireland, which aims to develop top talent and support the country’s economy while taking advantage of new and emerging fields.

The two-fold strategy set outs to deliver real-time economic benefits and research addressing today's societal challenges, while anticipating what comes next and taking a lead in new areas of discovery.

To achieve the goals of the ambitious plan, Ireland hopes to increase its investment in research by 15% each year until 2025 to reach the 3% of GDP research spending target set out by the EU.

The previous strategy “focused on increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the Irish RD&I system,” the country’s chief scientist Mark Ferguson said. “But there are limits to efficiency gains and the system now needs, and is prepared for, increased investment.”

 

The university association, the Coimbra Group, is calling on the EU Council to deliver ‘concrete support’ to the 41 European Universities to help them meet expectations.

The group is urging policymakers to provide adequate financial support and regulatory flexibility rather than ‘just a catalogue of good intentions’ to the novel EU-supported university networks in Council conclusions setting out EU member states’ joint position due to be adopted in May.

Without the necessary support, the association fears the flagship initiative will put a strain on existing international university cooperation and fail to meet expectations in delivering the European Education Area (EEA).

Currently, the Commission is providing up to €7 million in funding to each of the 41 selected European Universities, transnational university alliances working on developing long-term structural and strategic cooperation to pave the way towards the EEA.

 

The EU has made little progress in improving adult citizens’ digital skills since 2010, with 75 million Europeans still lacking basic competences, EU auditors found.

While education and vocational training are in the remit of member states, the European Commission has actively supported and issued guidance on digital literacy. Yet, EU funding for adult digital upskilling was relatively low. Between 2014 and 2020, only 2% of EU structural funds were spent on digital skills despite it being a priority area.

With over 90% of jobs requiring at least basic digital skills, in the next seven-year EU budget, the Commission has set out to increase the proportion of digitally literate citizens from 56% in 2019 to 70% in 2025. But the report notes that reaching the objective may be challenging due to the amount of funding allocated to the cause in EU programmes, the definition of sub-objectives and milestones, and difficulty of assessing skills in a rapidly changing digital environment.

 

To prepare for the next pandemic, emerging disease R&I and coordination must be flexible, ambitious and have a long-term view, says Olivier Charmeil, executive vice president for general medicines at the French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi.

The new the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) will be key to contributing to the long-term vision, he added.

 

Public-private partnerships will be the major instrument of the new EU pandemic preparedness agency, the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), according to Isabelle Bekeredjian-Ding, head of microbiology at the Paul Ehrlich Institute.

Bekeredjian-Ding noted the public-private partnerships in HERA, the EU equivalent for BARDA in the US,  will be very different to the Innovative Medicines Initiative, the EU’s long-running industry partnership for pharmaceuticals, as pandemic preparedness is a less competitive area.

In the end, the new agency for which the Commission will put forward a proposal by the end of the year will “have to be an institution that actually serves the member states,” said Bekeredjian-Ding.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for solidarity and coordination, and “this is characteristic of how the EU has moved in the past year,” says EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

Next, Europe must increase its preparedness for future outbreaks. “I believe that what we need to do is really to focus not only on exiting the pandemic but preparing for the next one,” Kyriakides said. To do so, the European Commission plans to put forward a proposal for establishing the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) by the end of the year.

 

The success of the record time development of a COVID-19 vaccine owes to decades of investment in basic research, Nobel Prize winner Edvard Moser tells Science|Business conference.

In Europe, the European Research Council was a gamechanger for bottom-up basic research, he later added, it is “that type of basic knowledge that allows us to solve problems in the world.”

 

Europe should establish a biomedical research lab to boost infectious disease research post-pandemic, emulating the UK’s Francis Crick Institute, Nobel prize winner Michael Houghton said in an interview which aired during this week’s Science|Business conference.

Modernising Europe’s approach to biomedical science, the EU version of the Francis Crick Institute could carry out and translate infectious disease research.

Houghton believes European institutions like Berlin’s Humboldt Institute, the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory are “very strong” but says that research translation is “not as good in Europe as in the US or the UK.”

 

The current education and training system teaches innovators to improve existing technology rather than produce breakthrough innovations, says Ilkka Niemelä, the president of Aalto University.

“We still often in engineering and education train people towards the incremental improvement, but we should be thinking about the real big breakthroughs as well,” he said.

Innovation projects improving existing products also have a competitive advantage in the market as they often readily fit health and environment regulations, Niemelä added.

 

It is the responsibility of policymakers to prevent brain drain and ensure young innovators can find opportunities in all European regions, MEP Iskra Mihaylova told the Science|Business conference.

Policymakers must ensure synergies between different regional, national, and EU instruments to give regions an opportunity to use a variety of them, argued Mihaylova. “I know that the opportunities in each one of the regions in Europe are huge,” she added.

 

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