The European Commission may be planning to hike spending for its flagship research programme, but health and scientific research, particularly into new vaccines, was not one of the winners from the proposal announced on Thursday (7 June).
The EU executive will make a €100 billion envelope available to European scientists under its proposed Horizon Europe programme for 2021-2027, compared with €78 billion under the existing Horizon 2020 initiative, Research and Innovation Commissioner Carlos Moedas announced on Thursday.
The Commission is proposing to allocate €7.7 billion to health research, a €300 million increase on the funding in Horizon 2020.
That was dismissed as ‘paltry’ by Cecile Vernant, head of EU Office for development NGO Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung.
“It smacks of a lack of ambition or willingness in the Commission to tackle head-on the global health challenges facing us, on issues such as the fight against HIV & AIDS, malaria, and TB,” she said.
The Commission also appears to have downgraded the importance of research programmes aiming to develop vaccines for these diseases.
The proposal refers to the need to tackle “infectious diseases”, but includes no commitments to developing treatments and vaccines for poverty-related neglected diseases.
“It’s good that the proposal includes a specific reference to the challenge of infectious diseases in low- and middle-income countries, but it is far from the recognition made in Horizon 2020 of the need for a comprehensive approach to address diseases of poverty,” said Vernant.
EU support for research funding under the Horizon 2020 programme dropped by almost 40% to $77m in 2016, according to the latest G-Finder report, leaving it below the UK and US in global health research targeted at HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other neglected tropical diseases.
The G-finder report attributed the reduction to uneven disbursements by the European Commission to the EU’s main funding instrument in this area, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP).
Civil society groups fear that scientific and health research priorities will be diluted by being lumped together with industry-led projects as part of a new budget line on ‘Global challenges and industrial competitiveness’.
“It is by no means a given that competitiveness will always be compatible with sustainable development,” said Jill McArdle, European advocacy officer at Global Health Advocates.
For its part, the pan-EU lobby group BusinessEurope warned that the Commission proposal was “not ambitious enough” in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk on May 30.