#EAPM: How Horizon 2020 is acting to advance personalised medicine

| January 18, 2018 | 0 Comments
What is Horizon 2020 and how does it (and could it) affect health care in the modern era, asks European Alliance for Personalised Medicine Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Well, for a start, the EU’s Horizon 2020 (or H2020) is the world’s largest research programme and came into being within the framework of the Europe 2020 goals. It is ambitious, has been largely successful and Europe is still looking at ways to improve it further (it is very complex), making it truly efficient and sustainable.

It has had/will have almost €80 billion available over the seven years that began in 2014 and end at the end of 2020, and this is in addition to private investments that the programme manages to attract.

At the end of October last year, the European Commission presented its final Work Programme for H2020, covering the budgetary years from 2018-2020 inclusive, which accounts for an investment of around €30bn.

At the time, Research, Science and Innovation Commissioner Carlos Moedas said: “Artificial Intelligence, genetics, blockchain: science is at the core of today’s most promising breakthrough innovations.

“Europe is a world leader in science and technology and will play a major role in driving innovation. The Commission is making a concerted effort…to give Europe’s many innovators a springboard to become world-leading companies.”

At the time Moedas was speaking, H2020 had given more than 15,000 grants (total €26.65 billion) with €3.79bn going to SMEs. It has also provided companies with access to risk finance worth more than €17 million.

Most of the H2020 funding is allocated on a competitive-calls basis. These calls are open to researchers, businesses and other interested organisations located in any EU Member State or, indeed, countries associated with H2020.

For example, the Commission says that international co-operation is necessary to ensure the EU’s scientific leadership and industrial competitiveness. It believes that by collaborating on an international scale, the EU can better deliver on global commitments in line with its external policies.

The current Work Programme features in the region of 30 initiatives on topics “dedicated to international cooperation in areas of mutual benefit”, costing more than  €1bn, and include collaborating with Canada in the personalised medicine arena.

The EU Executive has argued that Europe excels in science but must do more in terms of market-creating innovation. It has been working to improve conditions including creating better access to venture capital.

Meanwhile, ‘Open Science’, which is the Commission’s key strategy aimed at improving knowledge circulation, is promoted via and throughout the Work Programme, “in particular the open research data approach, and the creation of a European Open Science Cloud that will offer Europe’s 1.7 million researchers and 70 million science and technology professionals a virtual environment to store, share and re-use their data across disciplines and borders.”

In general, the Commission says that H2020 “promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.”

In the rapidly expanding world of personalised medicine, such investment is vital to continue the great leaps in, for example, genetics, imaging and more.

In essence, H2020 acts as the financial instrument needed to put into place the Innovation Union, which is aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness.

It has the political backing of Europe’s member state leaders and MEPs, with all agreeing that innovative research and development is an investment in Europe’s long-term future. All parties believe it will lead to “smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and jobs”.

In its sights are excellent science, industrial leadership and the tackling of society’s challenges – including keeping its citizens healthy.

The Commission states that H2020 aims to ensure that Europe produces “world-class science”, and “removes barriers to innovation”. This, it says, will make it easier for “public and private sectors to work together in delivering innovation”.

So, it is clear that, as part of the aforementioned Europe 2020 goals, H2020 focuses on innovation, greater competitiveness, more SME involvement, and general excellence. It has its origins in the economic crisis as well as the modern-day de-industrialisation that has changed the face of the EU.

H2020 has a three-pillar structure aiming to act as a new paradigm – one which needs answers from a societal perspective within the frame of the EU’s much-cherished values and principles.

The flagship programme aims to tackle the vital need to position the European Union as a society full of innovation, investment and collaboration between Member States (and also regions). This is particularly important in health care, with so many individual systems across the EU bloc struggling to achieve current targets and long-term sustainability.

Let’s take a look at some figures: In 2015, the EU invested 2.03% of GDP in research and development, with investment from individual member states fluctuating widely from 0.48% to just over 3%.

The Europe 2020 target for the EU happens to be 3%. But only Finland, Denmark and Austria achieved that figure or more (the highest were the first two countries named, with 3.2% in each case).

Germany managed 2.9%, and every EU nation was well behind South Korea (with 4.3%), Israel (with 4.1%) and Japan (at 3.6%).

Efforts are under way to reduce the differences in investment among the member states as well as trying to match the competition globally, as illustrated by the South Korea figure. The hope is that the EU will be able to aim for 4% in the not-too-distant future.

EAPM, alongside the Commission, believes that financing for innovation must be available at every stage, and “make greater headway in the internal innovation market through a proper regulatory framework”. This will run alongside public policies allowing businesses to become more competitive.

Disruptive innovation will come to the fore. Scientific excellence and basic research has to continue to be a key priority in order to tackle the challenges ahead. Education is also necessary – ongoing in the case of young medical practitioners trying to get to grips with new advances in medicine.

Meanwhile, understanding and fighting cancer is key to the programme strategy, a central tenet that EAPM and its stakeholders strongly supports. H2020 is delivering – and let’s hope it continues to do so as it runs its course.


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Category: A Frontpage, EU, European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, Health, Personalised medicine

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