Industry/Gov't R&D Support: So Far So Good

Feb 01, 2012

Developing new medicines is hard enough. Accessing schemes to promote the development of new medicines can prove even harder.

European funding schemes for research have often been too cumbersome and unapproachable for researchers to cope with. When the European Union ran a check in preparation for its $100 billion research support program due to start in 2014, it was assailed with complaints about complex application procedures and overbureaucratic financing rules.

Those same concerns have been echoed in schemes aimed specifically at medicines. In early 2012, Europe's pioneering public/private partnership in drug research revised its own procedures in an attempt to allow researchers more time in the lab, by releasing them from excessive form-filling. The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is improving the financial conditions for scientific teams bidding for funding, and simplifying management requirements. It claims that the new rules ensure more flexible and efficient use of funding.

The details of the changes can be found on the IMI website (, but they are—as might be expected from a program with a heavy industry involvement—intensely pragmatic. For instance, actual indirect overhead costs can now be reimbursed, whereas previously the limit was a 20 percent flat rate. Funding personnel costs is being simplified, for instance by allowing the use of average personnel costs. Reporting and accounting procedures have been changed to cut the administrative burden and associated costs. And additional simplifications in scientific reporting procedures are in the pipeline, too.

The pragmatism also comes from hands-on experience and direct feedback. In its first two years of operation, IMI has backed 23 projects. This $2 billion program, with its unique blend of significant public finance from the EU and expertise from the European pharmaceutical industry, has already shown it can deliver. The latest evaluation, by a panel of independent experts, was very positive. "Europe has succeeded in establishing a new business model between public and private sectors which unites research strengths across European pharmaceutical industry, academia, and small to medium enterprises," it said. "To have formed and embedded this new, applied research environment is a significant achievement for Europe."

The compliments went even further. IMI's development "has been meaningfully enhanced by its engagement with the regulatory authorities and patient organizations," and "to have succeeded here is rare, and taken together with the scale of interest of research organizations is a tremendous illustration of Europe's strengths in creating consensus and collaboration."