Here’s how the EU and industry will spend €120M on health research this spring

08 Feb 2024 | News

The Innovative Health Initiative is looking to fund interdisciplinary projects tackling shortcomings in heart disease management, data (under)use, biomarkers, healthcare workforce and long-term management of illnesses

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The European Health Initiative (IHI) has a new set of calls for interdisciplinary projects open this spring, looking to inject €120 million, to be matched by industry, in health research and innovation. 

There are five topics across two calls this year, with deadlines in April and May. IHI is looking for projects dealing with heart disease management, data (under)use, biomarkers, healthcare workforce and long-term management of illnesses.

IHI‘s goal is to fill gaps in health research and innovation that cannot be tackled by a single company or organisation. Some challenges are simply too big – and it‘s exactly those challenges that the IHI tackles by bringing together public EU and private industry resources.

“There are challenges that we face as a society in the healthcare sector, where we have to work together, because we don't have the capacity to address them as a single entity, or a single university, or even a single government,“  says the IHI‘s new executive director Niklas Blomberg.

In other words, these are big, collaborative, pre-competitive projects where finding the right mix of partners is key. To be successful, Blomberg says researchers should start preparing their proposals early. To help with this, IHI publishes the topics of the calls at the drafting stage rather than waiting for the approval of the final version (the newly opened calls were first published as drafts in October). This gives researchers the chance to start forming consortia early, which is key to a successful applications.

“These are collaborative projects, so you have to be competitive, you have to come in with a strong, collaborative network in the proposal with a lot of different skills and actor. That takes time,“ says Blomberg.

He‘s got three pieces of advice: make use of all the support provided by IHI to make sure your proposal ticks of all the boxes (these includes various webinars and brokerage events); take advantage of IHI‘s commitment to early publication of the call topics; and don‘t underestimate how much time it takes to build a network.

What does IHI do?

IHI is the biggest public-private health partnership in the world. Rooted in the EU’s framework programme, it pools together €1 billion from industry, €1.2 billion from Horizon Europe and €200 million from other contributing life science industries or associations.

It’s based on a strategic research and innovation agenda, developed by the European Commission and industry partners. The goal is to do something novel that cannot be done without joining forces. It’s also about linking research to EU policy. After all, there’s public money going into the partnership and the European Commission’s various directorates, including health, research and digital, are involved.

A key aspect is looking to the future and nurturing a portfolio of projects tackling specific challenges.

Hugh Laverty, head of scientific operations at IHI, says the partnership was conceived as a future-focused instrument.

There are two layers to the challenges IHI hopes to address. There are structural challenges that healthcare is facing, including rising costs, patient adherence and an overworked workforce, and disease-specific ones, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegeneration.

This is why the IHI fund projects, for example, on how to use technology to take some of the pressure off the workforce. “Everybody thinks that means you're going to replace nurses with robots. No, actually,  what you're going to do is link the patient journey better through healthcare, so that you don't have to fill out forms, you don't need three nurses doing administrative work,” says Laverty. “And these are rarely practical things that we have them the means to address.”

Another new call looks for projects that could help chronically ill patients to stick with their treatment plan. That's yet another problem that requires both technical and social expertise. “It is really looking at some significant problems in the health space and then bringing together large collaborative consortia to have a go at those problems,” says Blomberg.img1

What calls are open?

Currently, IHI calls 6 and 7 are open, with a total budget of nearly €120 million across five topics. IHI’s industry partners and (where relevant) contributing partners are expected to contribute an equivalent amount.

Helping patients stick with their medication. There are no quick solutions when it comes to chronic disease but getting patients to stick to long-term treatment plans is a challenge. Studies show, according to IHI, that around half of those living with chronic disease do not take their prescribed medication for more than a year. The IHI is looking for projects that can give a better understanding and provide models to improve the trend. The focus here falls on cardiometabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

Practical guidance on the use of real-world data and evidence. There are plenty of high-level recommendations on how to use real-world data and evidence but little practical guidance. IHI hopes to fund projects developing practical recommendations to support drug development, regulation, health technology assessment and payer decision-making. The guidance should apply to drugs and medical devices as well as drug-device combinations.

Better management of heart disease. IHI hopes to see an integrated approach to heart disease, from early diagnosis to treatment. There’s currently no comprehensive approach to tackling heart disease, which kills thousands of Europeans each year. IHI will fund projects that develop personalised, patient-centric solutions and digital tools to improve the efficiency of care and improve patient outcomes. Earlier and better detection, diagnosis, monitoring and treatment are key here.

Assisting healthcare workers. There are massive staff shortages in healthcare, which means professionals must deal with extreme workloads and are susceptible to burn out. IHI is looking for projects that can provide technical and data-driven solutions to support the workforce. As Laverty says, it’s not about replacing nurses with robots but rather finding ways to lift some of the burden off those working in healthcare.

Clinical validation of biomarkers. Biomarkers can offer clues at what a disease a patient has, how it is progressing and how well treatments are working. But very few are validated for clinical use. For some, the technology needed to deploy them isn’t even there. IHI wants to invest to make progress here.

How much support can you get and how?

There are two tracks here. Call 6 which includes topics on helping patients keep up with treatment and use of real-world data is a two-stage call. That means applicants must submit a short proposal by 16 April, and a full one by 10 October 2024.

The total budget for Call 6 is €49.2 million, which includes equal contributions from partnership and industry.

Call 7, including topics on heart diseases, healthcare workforce and biomarkers, is a single-stage call. The deadline for full applications is 22 May.

The maximum budget for the calls is €95 million but applicant consortia must ensure at least 45% of project needs are covered by the participants themselves.

All applications are handled by the Horizon funding and tender opportunities platform, meaning Horizon rules apply.

As per Horizon terms, any organisation established in the EU or a country associated to Horizon Europe can receive IHI funding. In practice, this means universities, research organisations, patient organisations, SMEs and mid-sized companies.

For some, there’s also an option to become a contributing partner and contribute ‘in-kind’ (for example, researchers’ time, laboratories, data, compounds) or make cash contributions to the projects.

The track record

In 2022, IHI funded a total of 16 projects involving 314 unique participants. The total budget was €366 million, half of which was provided by IHI and half of which was provided by the IHI industry partners and contributing partners.

Top industry participants were Philips Medical Systems in the Netherlands (6 projects), Novo Nordisk in Denmark (6) and Hoffman La Roche in Switzerland (5).

Top research organisations were Maastricht University and Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, both taking part in four projects.

Country and money-wise, the biggest winners were the Netherlands and Germany, both securing over at least a fifth of the project contributions.

Outside of the EU, the US and the UK were high up on the list, respectively, with 29 and 25 organisations participating. This places them at number 5 and 6 in terms of how many projects they are involved in.

Find out more

This article is part of a preview series ahead of the launch of a newsletter tailored for those seeking funding and grants for research and innovation across Europe and beyond. Access in-depth analyses of grant programmes, and their policy background, deep dive into call design through expert interviews, and gain insights from Europe’s most prolific grant winners. Stay tuned for more updates and exclusive content.

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