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#Coronavirus - Commission boosts urgently needed research and innovation with additional €122 million

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Commission has mobilized another €122 million from its research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, for urgently needed research into the coronavirus. The new call for expressions of interest contributes to the Commission's €1.4 billion pledge to the Coronavirus Global Response initiative, launched by President Ursula von der Leyen on 4 May 2020.

The new call is the latest addition to a range of EU-funded research and innovation actions to fight the coronavirus. It complements earlier actions to develop diagnostics, treatments and vaccines by strengthening capacity to manufacture and deploying readily available solutions in order to rapidly address the pressing needs. It will also improve understanding of the behavioural and socio-economic impacts of the epidemic.

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya said: "We are mobilising all means at our disposal to fight this pandemic with testing, treatments and prevention. But to succeed against the coronavirus, we must also understand how it impacts our society and how to best deploy these interventions rapidly. We must explore technological solutions to manufacture medical equipment and supplies faster, to monitor and prevent the spread of the disease, and to better care for patients.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added: "We are supporting the health authorities, healthcare professionals and the general public in all member states in tackling the coronavirus crisis. To this end, we are deploying innovative technologies and tools that can quickly be used to prevent, optimally treat, and recover from this pandemic and prepare for its aftermath. These include digital solutions and technologies such as telemedicine, data, AI, robotics, and photonics.”

The projects funded under this call should repurpose manufacturing for rapid production of vital medical supplies and equipment needed for testing, treatment and prevention, as well as develop medical technologies and digital tools to improve detection, surveillance and patients care. New research will learn from large groups of patients (cohorts) across Europe and better understanding of the behavioural and socio-economic impacts of the coronavirus epidemic could help improve treatment and prevention strategies.

The deadline for submission is 11 June 2020, while the call will focus on delivering results quickly. Europe, and the world at large, urgently need innovative solutions to contain and mitigate the outbreak, and to better care for patients, survivors, vulnerable groups, frontline health care staff and their communities. This is why the Commission aims to enable research work to start as quickly as possible through shorter timelines for the preparation of expressions of interest and for their evaluation.

The new solutions need to be available and affordable for all, in line with the principles of the Coronavirus Global Response. For this purpose, the Commission will include rapid data-sharing clauses in grant agreements, resulting from this new call, to ensure that findings and outcomes can be put to use immediately.

Background

This new special call under Horizon 2020 complements earlier actions to support 18 projects with €48.2m to develop diagnostics, treatments, vaccines and preparedness for epidemics, as well as the €117m invested in 8 projects on diagnostics and treatments through the Innovative Medicines Initiative, and measures to support innovative ideas through the European Innovation Council. It implements Action 3 of the ERAvsCorona Action Plan, a working document resulting from dialogues between the Commission services and national institutions.

The new call will cover five areas with the following indicative budgets:

  1.     Repurposing of manufacturing for vital medical supplies and equipment (€23 million)
  2.     Medical technologies, Digital tools and Artificial Intelligence analytics to improve surveillance and care at high Technology Readiness Levels (€56 million)
  3.     Behavioural, social and economic impacts of the outbreak responses (€20 million)
  4.     Pan-European COVID-19 cohorts (€20 million)
  5.     Collaboration of existing EU and international cohorts of relevance to COVID-19 (€3 million)

Cohort studies typically observe large groups of individuals, recording their exposure to certain risk factors to find clues as to the possible causes of disease. They can be prospective studies and gather data going forward, or retrospective cohort studies, which look at data already collected.

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Germany wants to use Regeneron's COVID-19 antibody therapy more broadly

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Germany would like to use Regeneron’s COVID-19 monoclonal antibody cocktail as a treatment for this disease more broadly but needs to finalize some details on reimbursement, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday (15 April), writes Caroline Copley.

“The drug is available in Germany, we need it much more and we want it much more and we are working on rolling it out across the nation,” he told a weekly news conference.

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President von der Leyen on developments in the Vaccines Strategy

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In a press statement on 14 April, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced an agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer to accelerate the delivery of 50 million vaccine doses to the second quarter of this year, starting this month: “We are in a race against time. The faster we reach our target of having 70% of adults in the European Union vaccinated, the better chances we have of containing the virus. And the good news is: Vaccination is picking up speed across Europe! Member states have received over 126 million doses of vaccines as of yesterday (13 April). And I am happy to say that today we have reached 100 million vaccinations in the EU. This is a milestone that we can be proud of. Of these 100 million vaccinations, more than a quarter are second doses – which means that we have now more than 27 million people fully vaccinated I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer to, once again, speed up the delivery of vaccines. 50 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines will be delivered in quarter 2 of this year, starting in April. This will bring the total doses delivered by BioNTech-Pfizer to 250 million doses in the second quarter. These doses will be distributed pro-rata to the population, among all the member states. This will substantially help consolidate the roll-out of our vaccination campaigns.” As part of preparations for the medium term, the Commission is also entering into a negotiation with BioNTech-Pfizer for a third contract, to foresee the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccine over the period of 2021 to 2023. This contract will entail that not only the production of the vaccines, but also all essential components, will be based in the EU. The President's full statement is available online in English, and French and shortly in German. You can watch it here.

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Coronavirus response: Commission proposes to exempt vital goods and services distributed by the EU from VAT in times of crisis

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The European Commission has proposed to exempt from Value Added Tax (VAT) goods and services made available by the European Commission, EU bodies and agencies to Member States and citizens during times of crisis. This responds to the experience gained  during the course of the Coronavirus pandemic. Among other things, it has shown that the VAT charged on some transactions ends up being a cost factor in procurement operations that strains limited budgets. Therefore, today'sinitiative will maximise the efficiency of EU funds used in the public interest to respond to crises, such as natural disasters and public health emergencies. It will also strengthen EU-level disaster and crisis management bodies, such as those falling under the EU's Health Union and the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Once in place, the new measures will allow the Commission and other EU agencies and bodies to import and purchase goods and services VAT-free when those purchases are being distributed during an emergency response in the EU. The recipients might be Member States or third parties, such as national authorities or institutions (for example, a hospital, a national health or disaster response authority). Goods and services covered under the proposed exemption include, for instance:

  • Diagnostic tests and testing materials, and laboratory equipment;
  • personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, respirators, masks, gowns, disinfection products and equipment;
  • tents, camp beds, clothing and food;
  • search and rescue equipment, sandbags, life jackets and inflatable boats;
  • antimicrobials and antibiotics, chemical threat antidotes, treatments for radiation injury, antitoxins, iodine tablets;
  • blood products or antibodies;
  • radiation measuring devices, and;
  • development, production and procurement of necessary products, research and innovation activities, strategic stockpiling of products; pharmaceutical licences, quarantine facilities, clinical trials, disinfection of premises, etc.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that these kinds of crises are multifaceted  and have a wide-ranging impact on our societies. A rapid and efficient response is essential, and we need to provide the best response now in order to prepare for the future. Today's proposal supports the EU's goal to react to crises and emergencies in the EU. It will also ensure that the financial impact of EU-level relief efforts to fight the pandemic and support the recovery is maximized.”

Next steps

The legislative proposal, which will amend the VAT directive, will now be submitted to the European Parliament for its opinion, and to the Council for adoption.

Member States shall adopt and publish, by 30 April 2021 the laws regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive. They shall apply those measures from 1 January 2021.

Background

The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown into sharp light the importance of coherent, decisive and centralised EU-level preparation and response in times of crisis. In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, the von der Leyen Commission has already outlined plans to strengthen EU preparedness and management for cross-border health threats, and presented the building blocks of a stronger European Health Union. At the same time, the Commission has proposed to strengthen cooperation between EU Member States through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism with the aim of improving responses to future natural or man-made disasters. For instance, in the context of the new European Health Union, the Commission announced the creation of the Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA) to deploy rapidly the most advanced medical and other measures in the event of a health emergency, by covering the whole value chain from conception to distribution and use.

The EU has already taken action in the field of taxation and customs to support the fight against and the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. In April 2020, the EU agreed to waive customs and VAT charges for imports of masks and other protective equipment needed to fight the pandemic. This waiver remains in place and plans are underway for its extension. In December 2020, EU member states agreed on new measures proposed by the Commission to allow a temporary VAT exemption for vaccines and testing kits being sold to hospitals, doctors and individuals, as well as closely related services. Under the amended Directive, member states can apply either reduced or zero rates to both vaccines and testing kits if they so choose. 

More information

Commission proposes to exempt vital goods and services distributed by the EU in times of crisis

Council directive amending Council Directive 2006/112/EC as regards exemptions on importations and on certain supplies, in respect of Union measures in the public interest

COVID-19 response in the field of taxation and customs

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