Science Europe Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

The EU Parliament voted its position on the Unitary SPC


by Giuliana Miglierini The intersecting pathways of revision of the pharmaceutical and intellectual property legislations recently marked the adoption of the EU Parliament’s position on the new unitary Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) system, parallel to the recast of the current Read more

Reform of pharma legislation: the debate on regulatory data protection


by Giuliana Miglierini As the definition of the final contents of many new pieces of the overall revision of the pharmaceutical legislation is approaching, many voices commented the possible impact the new scheme for regulatory data protection (RDP) may have Read more

Environmental sustainability: the EIPG perspective


Piero Iamartino Although the impact of medicines on the environment has been highlighted since the 70s of the last century with the emergence of the first reports of pollution in surface waters, it is only since the beginning of the Read more

Lessons learnt to transition from Horizon 2020 to the new FP10

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The European Commission published the ex post evaluation of Horizon 2020 (H2020), the FP8 framework programme for research and innovation (R&I) run in years 2014-2020.

The report identifies several areas of possible improvement, which may be taken into account in the definition of the new FP10 (2028-2034) that will follow the current programme Horizon Europe (FP9). Among these are a broader participation, further simplification and reduction of the administrative burden, reinforcement of the dissemination, exploitation and deployment of results, support for the participation of women and enhancement of synergies with other initiatives at EU, national and regional level.

With a overall budget of € 75.6 billion, the main goal of H2020 was to support EU’s economic growth and excellence in science, industrial leadership and societal challenges. We summarise the main features of the report.

Key numbers of Horizon 2020
Calls under H2020 collected more than a million individual applications from 177 countries. Funded projects were more than 35,000, involving more than 40,000 organisations. The true impact of the programme cannot yet be fully appreciated, as 41% of projects were still active at the time of the final evaluation and are expected to yield further results.

Many new technologies in various domains of science were developed thanks to H2020 funding, i.e. mRNA vaccines, photonics and micro- and nanoelectronics, and novel hydrogen-fuelled transports. Sustainable development benefited from investments equal to 64.4% of H2020’s budget.

Activities run under FP8 led to almost 4,000 applications for protection of intellectual property (¾ patents and 12% trademarks). Peer-reviewed publications were over 276,000. Horizon 2020 had a significant effect in boosting employment (+20%) and increasing the turnover and total assets for participating companies (+30%). The mobility of approx. 50,000 researchers across countries and sectors was also supported. The programme allowed to improve the access to newly created or upgraded research infrastructures for more than 24,000 researchers and organisations.

According to the final report, some additional € 159 billion would have been needed to fund all the high-quality proposals submitted. Despite this, the long term impact of the programme is estimated to contribute an average annual increase of €15.9 billion to EU GDP (€429 billion for the period 2014-2040), and a net gain in employment levels of around 220,000 employees at its peak.

Co-investment led to a wide development of public-private partnerships and joint undertakings, with private partners contributing resources (in cash or in kind) two-three times the volume of EU funding. The development of the venture capital ecosystems and networks was also improved.

Key scientific and societal achievements
Medical sciences, quantum mechanics, chemical engineering and composite materials were among the main scientific domains targeted by actions run under Horizon 2020, together with climate change, health and food security and other societal challenges.

The relevance of scientific publications is acknowledged by the citation frequency, that according to the report is twice the global average. A significant number of papers (4%) are among the most cited worldwide, while more than 25% covered emerging and rapidly evolving R&I sectors. The great majority of publications (82%) were published as open access papers, thus greatly supporting the circulation of knowledge.

Emerging health crises were among the main research priorities related to improvement of public health, together with rare diseases and personalised medicine. Ebola and Zika epidemics were the first targeted emergencies, but the real test case was the Covid-19 pandemic: the final report indicates H2020 and the previous FP7 are recognised as the third most frequently acknowledged funding sources for Covid-19 related research in the world.

As for climate change, this field of research received 32% of H2020 funding to support, among others, the development of alternative and low-emission fuels. Other relevant lines of R&I included the development of a smart European electricity grid, automation, energy storage integration and the adoption of renewable energy sources.

As for the ongoing digital transformation, H2020 supported for example the development of safe and user-friendly robotics. Over 20% of the overall budget was dedicated to research in social sciences and humanities disciplines.

Elements to be improved
Horizon 2020 allowed to greatly expand the European network of research infrastructures. According to the final evaluation, access to these facilities may be further improved by enabling greater synergies between EU, national and regional programmes for research infrastructure. Despite H2020 saw improvements in the presence of women in evaluation panels (42%), the fixed target of 50% share of women in scientific advisory panels and as researchers in projects was not yet achieved (43% and 23% respectively).

As for financial aspects, the interim evaluation identified a notable gap in venture and growth capital in the EU to scale up innovations. The issue was addressed through the launch, in the last three years of H2020, of a pilot to run the European Innovation Council (EIC), which according to the report showed positive preliminary results both on the turnover and staffing levels of its beneficiaries, and in tackling the critical funding gap in high-risk areas where limited alternatives are available at national and regional levels.

Preparing for the next FP10
With Horizon Europe framework programme coming to an end in 2027, the final report on results achieved by H2020 represents a first basis to reason on new research targets and financial support to be part of the new FP10 2028-2034 (you can find comments here and here).

While some members of the European Parliament already called for a FP10 budget of at least € 200 billion (see here more), several academic and scientific organisations published their proposals to be considered in the drafting of the new programme.

The European University Association (EUA), Science Europe and the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO) sent a joint open letter to EU Commissioner Iliana Ivanova, asking for a doubling of the FP10 budget to €200 billion. A higher budget stability and protection of funding from being shifted to non-R&I purposes are among other requests, together with rebalancing support across various stages of R&I (i.e. bottom-up basic research, applied research, development, and innovation). Sufficient national investments in R&I are also deemed important.

The European universities of science and technology represented by Cesaer also published a note to advance their suggestions, in line with the EU Commission’s goals of a more elaborate EU industrial policy, and the move towards EU-30+. Key elements should include the leadership in deep tech, clean-tech and biotech based on the full knowledge value chain, the use of open and competitive calls to select researchers and innovators and award funding across all parts of FP10, a stable financial environment with at least €200 billion investments and enacting the 3% GDP target to R&I agreed by the EU Council in 2002. An annual review mechanism of current performance and a ring-fence to protect the budget allocated to R&I are among the suggested actions.

Guiding principles proposed by EU-LIFE (the Alliance of research institutes advocating for excellent research in Europe) also address investments in the European Research Council, the bridging role of the European Innovation Council, the need to avoid additional pillars and fragmentation, and the development of a coherent impact approach by reducing the size of consortia and monitoring the impact of initiatives in Pillar 2.


The debate on the “Do No Significant Harm” principle in R&D

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by Giulianna Miglierini

The “Do No Significant Harm” (DNSH) principle is a widely diffused approach aimed to guarantee the respect of ethical limits while dealing with many kinds of activities. It is the case, for example, of the use of big data to conduct behavioural studies, or of health research aimed to be of help to society without hurting anyone. Available frameworks regulating the ethical approach to research usually focus on the protection of participants against unwanted, potentially harmful effects resulting from the study. Examples of such frameworks are the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and the 1979 Belmont Re-port, which do not mention the protection of other people and of the environment.

The DNSH and the European Green Deal

The introduction of the Do Not Significant Harm principle within the Taxonomy regulation (EU 2020/825) represents the first example of its extensive application aimed to prevent unintended damages to the environment. According to the regulation, beneficiaries of financial support from EU institutions are expected to assess the possible negative climate and environmental impacts of their projects, and to avoid any activity that may negatively impact the sustainability objectives of the European Green Deal.

These include six main areas of attention, i.e. mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources, control and prevention of pollution, the transition to a circular economy, and the protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems.

The inclusion of the DNSH principle in the Taxonomy regulations means that the above-mentioned objectives would apply to any EU funded activity, including framework research programmes such as Horizon Europe.

Many critics arose from this move of the Commission, as it may greatly affect the effective capacity of researchers to plan and realise their activities. As a part of the debate, MEP member Christian Ehler presented in July 2021 a written question to the Commission aimed to clarify how the DNSH aspects of a project would be evaluated and scored during the assessment of the proposals, and the impact they may have on the final outcome of such assessment.

The written answer provided by EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel stated that “the application of the ‘Do No Significant Harm’ principle in Horizon Europe is voluntary at project level”, and that its inclusion in the project description will have no impact on the assessment of the proposal. According to the Commission, no declaration of projects compliance with the principle is re-quested, and no undue increase of the administrative burden for applicants is present. Instead, the reference made to the DNSH principle would only aim to raise awareness about the environmental risks linked to research activities and encourage the identification and mitigation of potential measures.

A second written question presented in August 2022 asked the Commission to provide further details, i.e. how many applications under Horizon Europe included the DNSH principle in the project description, the percentage of 2021/2022 budget covered by DNSH and the number of evaluations in which the DNSH principle was used in the assessment of the application.

The written answer by Commissioner Gabriel indicated references to the DNSH principle in proposals vary according to its relevance to the specific thematic area and technology readiness levels. Only 2.6% of proposals referred to parts of the programme that make no explicit reference to DNSH considered the principle; this percentage reached 29.6% for applications referred to parts of the programme making explicit reference to it (data 12 August 2022). Commissioner Gabriel also said almost half of the budget of the work programme for 2021-2022 made explicit reference to the DNSH principle, and that all EU actions and policies have to be consistent with the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Green Deal oath ‘do no harm’.

The ongoing debate

No matter to say, the position of the European Commission to extend the implementation of the DNSH principle across all research activities activated a reach debate within the R&I community. The initial objections by MEPs were based, according to Mr. Ehler, on the possible absence of “democratically legitimised criteria” (read more on Science|Business).

According to a viewpoint article published in Science|Business, the DNSH approach chosen by the Commission would be not the right way to address the issue of environmental sustainability. “Rather, research and innovation policy should be reconfigured to allow researchers to ‘stay with’ the harms they (might) do”, wrote the authors. The alternative to DNSH sees greater attention towards a better understanding of what really constitutes a “harm”. According to the authors, a definition of “significant harm” should be agreed upon between humans, non-humans, and ecosystems experiencing harm, thus avoiding any technocratically and unilaterally handed down definition. They also discuss the appropriateness of the concept of ‘situatedness’ in order to reach a suitable definition of significant harm.

Key to this vision should be the “understanding that there is no universal, objective viewpoint from which one might determine which research is beneficial or harmful, for whom, and to what degree”. To this instance, elements to be considered in the assessment include the time needed for the harm to manifest, its geographical location or the involvement of marginalised actors. Furthermore, the approach adopted by the EU Commission would not be suited to solve the ambiguities. A possible solution would be represented by the “creation of spaces where ambiguous harms can be appropriately engaged”.

The associations representing the academic and scientific world also took a position against the extension of the DNSH principle to all projects under European R&I framework programmes.

The European University Association (EUA), CESAER (representing universities of Science and Technology) and Science Europe (on behalf of major public organisations funding or performing research in the EU) jointly published a statement to ask support to the Parliament as for the approval of amendment 165, focused on feasibility, appropriateness and proportionality of all programmes and activities, in accordance with the relevant sector-specific rules. The associations also underline that the implementation of the DNSH principle should not be counterproductive and weaken the contribution of the R&I community to sustainability and green objectives.

According to EUA, clear guidelines are missing on how the principle should be implemented in practical terms. Furthermore, the broad application of the DNSH principle might especially undermine the possibility to undertake fundamental research activities. As for now, the principle applies only to European Innovation Council projects, and missions and clusters of Pillar II of particular relevance for their environmental outcomes and impacts.

In a position paper of October 2022, CAESAR asked, among others, for an “ethics by design” approach, based on a ethical checklist to be included in the design phase of projects. Briefings with the proposal evaluator and project reviewer should also be improved in order to clarify when the DNSH principle has to be taken into account.

According to Science Europe, the implementation of the principle should not add an additional administrative burden to researchers and increase the complexity of project proposals and evaluations. The association also asks for the broader application of the DNSH principle to be preceded by a thorough assessment of its current implementation in Horizon Europe.