COVID-19 has shown that Europe is not equipped to ensure the safety of its citizens during a health crisis, according to a position paper signed by fourteen leading biomedical research institutes. The centres, part of the EU-LIFE alliance, warn that scientific miracles do not exist and the only way forward from the current crisis is a long-term, unprecedented boost in investment for research and innovation.
The research alliance, which represents almost 8000 biomedical research staff in 14 different European countries, has published a manifesto today calling for the European Union to invest 150 billion euros in its next research programme, 50% more than the European Commission's current proposal of 100 billion euros.
The alliance calls for the EU to ringfence at least 35% of all research and innovation funding for discovery-driven research, which is mostly through grants given by the European Research Council. Most of these research projects are too high risk to be funded through the private sector alone, relying on public funding.
The manifesto highlights the study of retroviruses as an example of the long-term importance of basic science research, as it was subsequently crucial to combatting AIDS when the disease first appeared. The centres cite a recent study that show every €1 invested in blue-skies research generates €4.20 for society at large.
The position paper outlines the importance of seeing EU as complementary - and not replacing - individual national responsibilities in investing in science and innovation. The centres call for each EU nation to invest 3% of their national GDP in research and innovation. The EU average is currently 2.06%.
"These unprecedented times call for unprecedented action. The pandemic's death toll and economic devastation shows us that Europe and its constituent nations need to wake up and see investment in science, health and keeping local industry as a life or death necessity, not as something that is simply nice to have. Our continent's future success depends on it," says Luis Serrano, Director of the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG).
The alliance also calls for Europe to create a more supportive environment for developers and manufacturers in the pharmaceutical industry so that it can increase the capacity of regional supply chains and have more rapid access to new vaccines, diagnostic tests, therapeutics and medical devices. Having discovery-driven research without the means of production to make the most of their results would not suffice.
René Medema, Chair of EU-LIFE and Director of NKI, The Netherlands Cancer Institute, says: "To embrace the future with success, Europe needs to raise up investment in high-risk discovery-oriented research, combined with a more supportive environment for pharmaceutical industry - only combining these two aspect we can address efficiently the medical needs of the citizens".
Marta Agostinho, EU-LIFE Coordinator says: "Whenever a new global crisis arises, we all look at science to find solutions, because we all know that that existing solutions for past crisis such as AIDS resulted from discovery-driven research. That is why we urge the European Council to support a strong Horizon Europe budget and ensure that discovery-driven research has the necessary means in Europe".