Pharma Bids for European Funding in New Research Program - Pharmaceutical Executive


Pharma Bids for European Funding in New Research Program

Pharmaceutical Executive

The European Parliament also fought to maintain the integrity of the program against member state penny-pinching, and to champion the role of smaller researchers too. As the agreement was initialled, Christian Ehler, the center-right German politician who piloted many of the Parliament's debates on the plans, praised the deal, and congratulated himself on winning "a new bottom-up mechanism that will allow for small innovative projects to be funded at any time." His Portuguese colleague, Maria da Graça Carvalho, also closely involved in the Parliament's debates, claimed responsibility for "measures aimed at increasing participation by small research groups and smaller firms." But Swedish liberal Kent Johansson greeted the opportunities for innovative smaller firms as a victory for his political group. And so did the chair of the Parliament's research committee, Italian Amalia Sartori. Even then, not all the Parliament's aspirations were satisfied. Belgian Green politician Philippe Lamberts described it as "a timid agreement" that "lacks ambition."

In the program's final form, the funding will be split across three strands. More than a third will go to a segment termed "Excellent Science," which will finance pure research, vital infrastructures, and future and emerging technologies. A second component—"Societal challenges"—will receive a similar amount, and focus on what are billed as "areas of most concern to citizens and business." This segment also offers possibilities for funding research into health— particularly in healthy living and active aging— alongside support for research in climate, food, security, transport, and energy. A third strand—"Industrial Leadership," with about a quarter of the total funding—will back selected industrial technologies, notably nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, and ICT, and will offer particular support to smaller firms.

The research-based drug industry is particularly optimistic about the prospects of Horizon 2020. It believes it can use the program as a vehicle not only for advancing medicines research, but also for gaining broader recognition for the industrial imperatives that lie behind its research activities. IMI-2 will have a focus that goes wider than merely therapy-related categories, or related areas such as biomarker research, innovative clinical trial design, or patient-tailored adherence programs; one of its major ambitions is to bring academia and regulators more closely into the picture, too. EFPIA director general Richard Bergström underlines the attention that Horizon 2020 will devote to the interplay between markets and regulation. This could help ease "the real long-term threat" that innovative medicines face because of the "huge problem of member states and uptake," marked by "increasing reluctance to embrace new products," he says. The drug industry is rejoicing in the elements of the new program that are designed to take account of the need for engagement of authorities responsible for pricing and reimbursement.

The predecessor of Horizon 2020 won praise in many countries and many sectors. The IMI program, which received €1 billion over the seven years of the EU research program now on the verge of completion, is widely regarded as a big success for pharma and for health. And some countries have done well from the European Union's 2007-2013 program: the United Kingdom will have received around €7.5 billion in funding from it by the end of this year—around 15 percent of the total program allocation. Cambridge University estimates that 20 percent of the work undertaken by its researchers is funded by EU grants. Grants of up to €2 million in life sciences have funded promising projects ranging from high-tech radiotherapy for head-and-neck cancer to supramolecular chemistry.

But there have been frequent criticisms of undue complexity and bureaucracy in previous EU research programs, so this time the mechanisms for seeking support are simplified and the criteria eased, in order to widen access to a greater number of organizations and promote diversity in research. Even so, the final legislative text, covering the detail of the program's operation, will run to more than 1,000 pages. And who gets what will now depend on how effectively the candidates for funding present their proposals in each of the distinct categories of the program.

The program is scheduled to come into operation in January 2014, with the first calls for proposals due to emerge shortly afterwards. But—the Europe Union being the European Union —even a done deal is not a done deal until everyone has signed off on it. The €70 billion budget is still subject to final agreement on the European Union's overall spending plans for 2014-2020—and that process will not be completed until September, at the earliest.

Reflector is Pharm Exec's anonymous columnist, a commentator so close to the action in Europe his identity must be kept secret.


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