Research and Innovation in Europe: Pushing science forward after COVID-19

research and innovation in Europe
Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

Megan Warrender, Assistant Editor at Open Access Government, discusses research and innovation in Europe, and why in a post COVID-19 world, science is more important than ever

Today, we need science more than ever, and the COVID-19 crisis has put research and innovation (R&I) back at the top of Europe’s agenda, showing a necessity for stronger international cooperation in these areas. About two-thirds of Europe’s economic growth over the last few decades has been driven by innovation. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, stated: “The EU is leading the way out of the coronavirus crisis by intensifying its support to research efforts and bringing together diverse players of the innovation ecosystems, from both the public and private sector, that can transform new ideas into reality and improve the lives of citizens. Post-COVID EU will be stronger and more united than ever before leveraging its creativity and innovation performance, as this year’s Scoreboard highlights.”

European Innovation Scoreboard for 2020

This scoreboard Gabriel refers to is the European Innovation Scoreboard for 2020, which was released in June. It has shown that Europe’s innovation performance is improving across the EU, surpassing the U.S. for the second year. Research and innovation have proven to be an essential part of the coordinated EU response to the COVID-19 crisis and they will be vital to support Europe’s sustainable and inclusive recovery. Measuring innovation performance is a key element in achieving this goal.

In response to the ongoing pandemic, the European Commission recently announced in August that it is supporting 23 new research projects with €128 million. The funding, under Horizon 2020, is part of the Commission’s €1.4 billion pledge to the Coronavirus Global Response Initiative, in May 2020, and is the second wave of support complimenting the Commission’s earlier actions to support 18 projects to develop diagnostics, treatments, vaccines and preparedness for epidemics, as well as the €117 million invested in 8 projects on diagnostics and treatments through the Innovative Medicines Initiative, and measures to support innovative ideas through the European Innovation Council.

Excalate4cov (E4C) project

One of these original 18 is the Excalate4cov (E4C) project, which uses the two most powerful supercomputers in Europe to accelerate the search for drugs against COVID-19. The aim of E4C is firstly to identify molecules capable of targeting the coronavirus, and secondly to develop an effective tool for countering future pandemics to be consolidated over time. This is one of many examples of how the EU’s research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 is bringing together the best of European researchers, pharmaceutical companies, technologies, and research infrastructures to contribute to defeating the virus.

Speaking on this funding, Commissioner Gabriel stated: “Emergency funding from Horizon 2020 will enable researchers to rapidly develop solutions with and for patients, care workers, hospitals, local communities and companies. The results will help them to better cope with and survive COVID-19 infections. It’s encouraging to see the research community mobilise so rapidly and strongly.” One of Gabriel’s missions appointed by President of the European Commission Dr Ursula von der Leyen, was to “ensure that research, policy and economic priorities go hand in hand,” and that is something that is being kept in mind through this funding.

The most recent projects will cover:

  • Repurposing manufacturing for rapid production of vital medical supplies and equipment needed for testing, treatment, and prevention.
  • Developing medical technologies and digital tools to improve detection, surveillance, and patients’ care.
  • Analysing behavioural and socio-economic impacts of the responses of government and public health systems, for instance on mental health, including gender-specific aspects in risk factors and the socioeconomic burden, to develop inclusive guidance for policymakers and health authorities and enhance preparedness for future similar events.
  • Learning from large groups of patients.
  • Enhancing collaboration of existing EU and international cohorts.

Furthermore, there is a significant focus on Digital Education, as online learning, and the use of digital technologies, has been thrust to the forefront of our everyday life. Digital transformation was already one of Europe’s priorities as demonstrated through its strategy: A Europe fit for the digital age. On top of this, September 2020 marks a new Digital Education Action Plan which acts as a key instrument in the COVID-19 recovery process, taking into consideration the lessons learnt from the crisis and reflecting the long-term vision for European digital education. As stated in a speech made by Gabriel in July, “we are looking into a world that is much more connected and connected in more complex ways.” Through this focus on science, education, research and innovation, Europe will continue to strengthen its recovery into the future.

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