The first step towards the new European research framework programme Horizon Europe (FP9 2021-2027) has been undertaken by the European Commission with the publication of its proposal, that will continue the approach of the current Horizon 2020. The proposal is part of the wider one for next EU long-term budget, the multiannual financial framework (MFF), for a total value of € 100 billion to be spent for research and innovation (R&I). Horizon 2020 will be active for some two more years, while discussions will continue at the European institutions to reach the final agreement on the new budget of the Union, including Horizon Europe. The wish is to reach the final decisions by 2019, so to have enough time to prepare new actions in time before the switch off of Horizon 2020.
According to the Commission’s proposal, Horizon Europe shall also see the simplification of rules governing the access to European funds, so to lower administrative barriers that participants have to face for the management of research projects and improve their legal certainty. Special tools are also expected to be available to support member States still lagging behind in their development.
The new FP9 programme has been built by the European Commission on the basis of the interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 and the indications expressed by the high level group lead by Pascal Lamy. This working group, in particular, expressed the need to make the value of investments in R&I more easily understandable to all European citizens. The challenge has been accepted by the Commission, that worked to improve the definition of clear targets for Horizon Europe and their expected impact on global challenges.
An open approach to sustain competitiveness
The roadmap for European innovation has been already marked in 2013 with the adoption of Horizon 2020. The new FP9 will continue along this road in order to consolidate current results. The new programme shall be based on three pillars, with the central goal of strengthening the European research area through the sharing of excellence and the enhancing of the R&I system.
The first, fundamental pillar to reach these ambitious objectives is Open Science: according to the Commission, sharing of knowledge and free access to publications, data and management plans for research data should help to maximise the return on investment made under the new FP9 2021-2027 and improve the corresponding potential of innovation.
The European Research Council (ERC) should become, according to the Commission, the only referent for the development of high potential (and high risk) innovative ideas, from the lab to the market. Startups and SMEs shall find the support of two new tools specifically designed, respectively, to sustain early development and product commercialisation. Partnerships and collaborations within other European programmes shall be also available to boost interactions and collaborations among all stakeholders, from academia to industry, from civil society to investment partners.
The total budget for the Open Science pillar of FP9 should be approx. € 25.8 billion, the great majority of which (€16.6 billion) should be allocated to the ERC, that would become the tool available to researchers to directly define and manage the most innovative research. Some other € 6.8 billion shall support fellowships and movements of researchers under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. Infrastructural investments are also planned within the first pillar.
Global challenges and Open Innovation
The second pillar of Horizon Europe is “Global Challenges and Industrial Competiveness”, including all actions needed to support the current evolution of society and competitiveness of the European industry. The anticipated total budget (€ 52.7 billion) shall be used to support actions on the five different clusters identified by the new programme, i.e. health, inclusive and secure society, digital and industry, climate, energy and mobility, food and natural resources. A minor part of the funds (€ 2.2 billion) will support activities of the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European institution providing technical support and expertise to the European Commission.
Open Innovation is the third pillar of Horizon Europe, under which € 13.5 billion shall be available to boost the creation of a true European innovation system. To reach this ambitious target, two other tools are planned to be available: the European Innovation Council (EIC, € 10 billion) and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT, € 3 billion). According to the Commission, member States should also see the doubling of available resources to support national initiatives within the more general context of “sharing excellence”.
A mission-oriented approach will be the key for success
Horizon Europe shall be based on the so-called “mission oriented” approach, under which R&I missions will focus on the actual needs directly coming from the civil society. According to the Commission, citizens should have an active role in their definition; this approach should also allow respecting planned timelines to reach the research targets established by the funded projects.
The preliminary missions identified by the Commission have been subject to a public consultation in early 2018; those final results are not yet available. The Commission published on its website a preliminary summary of the almost 1.200 answers received to the consultation, according to which all criteria proposed to identify the missions are important, with a particular attention to ambitious, but realistic, R&I actions (88% of respondents).
Other important criteria are a robust and social relevance of the missions (83%), the definition of clear lines of action, that can be defined and measured in time (78%), the possibility to develop multiple, bottom-up actions (78%) and cross-disciplinary and cross-sectorial actions involving all stakeholders (71%).
Horizon Europe’s R&I missions are also expected to be flexible (88%) and based on a pro-active management focused on the improvement of in-house competences. The measurement of the impact of the missions should be based on clear objectives and milestones (80%), and see the involvement also of national and regional stakeholder (75%). The majority of respondents (68%) agreed on the consultation of European citizens on the targets established for the missions.
The reactions of the pharmaceutical community
The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) expressed from its website a positive opinion on the proposal of the new research framework programme.
Research and development is an essential part not only of the European economic growth, but also of the competitiveness of the pharmaceutical sector, said EFPIA. Integrated and more personalised healthcare solutions and a vibrant and connected pan-European health and research ecosystem are the targets the pharmaceutical community is currently pursuing, and that may find new strength from the missions that will be activated under Horizon Europe, specifically within the Health cluster in the Global Challenges pillar.
“More than ever, the overall structure and ambition of Horizon Europe is centred on relevance and on impact for patients and society and places as much emphasis on fundamental as on translational research and close to market activities. This will require stepping up collaboration models between all stakeholders and all sectors (industries, technologies, public and private); the proposal for European Partnerships is therefore particularly welcome”, writes EFPIA in its statement.
The Federation would also support the call for an additional increase of the budget of the programme requested by the High Level Group on maximising impact of EU Research and Innovation Programmes. EFPIA recalled the positive results obtained by the Innovative Medicines Initiative Public Private Partnership under the Horizon 2020 framework, and the importance to facilitate translation of science and innovation into new health solutions.