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Joining national funds for basic research to boost life sciences in Europe


The European Commission today announces the creation of an annual funders’ forum to join European forces in the funding of life sciences. Life sciences comprise research which deals with all forms of organisms, like plants, animals and human beings. With about €30 billion invested annually in Europe, industry and public funding bodies like the national research councils or international research organisations put major funds into research and technological development in the areas of biotechnology, genomics, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and food processing. But, a coordination of these activities is still lacking at a European level to ensure the creation of a European Research Area for the life sciences. Today in Brussels for the first time, policy makers, directors of national and international research councils, scientists of leading European academic institutes, representatives of the European Parliament and industry and enterprise organisations are gathered at a meeting organised by the Directorate-General for Research of the European Commission to explore opportunities for European synergies to contribute to the creation of a European Research Area in the life sciences.

Europe’s total investment in life sciences research amounts to about €30 billion per year, which is roughly on equal terms with the United States. But, with 25 national research policies and a joint EU one, research funding in the EU is spent in a much more fragmented manner than in the US. Also, EU budgeted research funds account for only 5 % of the total expenditure on research and technological development in Europe. Most of the research funding is provided by the Member States, industry and international research, and it is therefore important to bring all these funding organisations together to have a coordinated life sciences funding approach.

Basic research in life sciences

The conference will address the main challenges for basic research in Europe. It will discuss the existing European funding mechanisms, the present and future EU Framework programmes, the role of international funding organisations and the role of national funding agencies and foundations in Europe. The funding mechanisms to support collaborative research in the life sciences are presently dispersed over many different bodies. These are mostly national organisations in the Member States (e.g. research councils), charities, private organisations, international organisations as well as the EU through its Research Framework Programmes. Based on the conference presentations and debates, a discussion paper for Europe’s life sciences funding community will be prepared and outline the recommendations for strategies to create greater synergy between funding organisations in Europe.

Creation of an annual Forum

The European Commission, together with other international organisations, intends to establish an annual funders’ forum to act as a vehicle to implement strategies to strengthen Europe’s competitive position in basic life sciences research. The forum would contribute directly to the objectives of the European Research Area (ERA) and the Lisbon Strategy - to make Europe the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010.

Life sciences in Research Framework Programme

Within the ongoing Sixth Framework Programme (FP6, 2002-2006) ), the budget for life sciences research amounts to approximately €3 billion, mostly directed to the two .thematic priorities “life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health” and “food quality and safety” within the specific programme to focus and integrate Community Research.

Examples of life sciences research cooperations

The European Union earlier this year announced the support of a four-year ERA-NET aimed at coordinating the national research programmes in the area of plant genomics of ten EU Member States and Norway. The project “European Research Area Plant Genomics (ERA-PG)” focuses on sharing best practices, developing common programme management procedures and joint activities, such as the pooling of resources and joint calls for proposals of the involved funding organisations (see press release IP/04/131).

The importance of increased research efforts in the life sciences and biotechnology was also stressed in the European Unions’ progress report on the EU strategy “Life Sciences and Biotechnology”, while noting that more active coordination and cooperation between Member States was still needed (see press release IP/04/531).

Wappelhorst Michael H. | alfa
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