EU Innovation Response to COVID-19

Core to the European Union’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic is investment in the areas of research and innovation. Through this investment, the EU hopes to better understand COVID-19 and how it spreads, develop more efficient diagnosis, treatment and preparedness and ultimately develop vaccines. 

Early in March 2020, the EU awarded €48.5 million to 18 shortlisted research projects, in answer to the call ‘Advancing knowledge for the clinical and public health response to the [COVID-19] epidemic’ published on 30 January. The projects involve 140 research teams from across the EU and beyond. Using the standing budget line for emergency research funds as part of the Horizon 2020 annual work programmes for health research, funding for these projects was accessed quickly. Each of the 18 projects has a different focus. They are working on understanding the behaviour of the Coronavirus pandemic through epidemiology and data modelling, developing rapid diagnostics, as well as treatments and vaccines, and to ultimately control the spread of the virus.

The European Commission (EC) put forth an urgent call for start-ups and SMEs with technologies and innovations that could help in treating, testing, monitoring or other aspects of the Coronavirus outbreak to apply for funding European Innovation Council (EIC), prior to the last call deadline 20 March 2020. The EC received approximately 4,000 applications for the 20 March deadline, more than double the usual amount. Over 1000 start-ups and SMEs with innovations relating to preventing the impact and spread of the coronavirus applied. The results of this EIC funding round will be announced in May. The call budget is €164 million.

On 3 March 2020 the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) announced a special fast track call for proposals to support projects that develop treatments and diagnostics to better tackle the COVID-19 outbreak and to increase preparedness for future possible outbreaks. IMI is funded through Horizon 2020, which will contribute up to €45 million to this call – a commitment which is expected to be matched by the pharmaceutical industry, so that total investment could reach up to €90 million. The call closed on 31 March 2020, receiving a total of 144 proposal submissions. The results of the call are expected in May 2020.

The EC has extended the deadline of all Horizon 2020 SC1-2020 calls for proposals to 4 June 2020. These calls focus on Health, demographic change and wellbeing. Call topics include ‘Public procurement of innovative solutions (PPI) for diagnostics for infectious diseases’, ‘Addressing low vaccine uptake’ and ‘Creation of a European wide sustainable network for harmonised large-scale clinical research studies for infectious diseases.’ Ongoing H2020 projects that wish to reorient themselves towards tacking the Coronavirus crisis will be assessed on a case-by-case basis by the funding body.

An extremely useful link for the latest update on all #EUfunding efforts for COVID19 calls and related research, go to the specific page on the European Commission’s funding portal here.

Looking to the future, the EC wants to expand Research and Innovation further. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth recently stated, “We have proposed an ambitious €100 billion budget the Horizon Europe. The reason is very simple – investment in R&I is investment in our future.” Research in infectious diseases is already supported under the proposed Horizon Europe, including understanding, prevention, and research response to outbreaks. However, it remains to be seen if and how the current COVID-19 pandemic will alter funding and plans for Horizon Europe, which is due to commence on 1 January 2021.