Charity launches European grants programmes after Brexit vote

British Heart Foundation aims to follow up German partnership with other continental collaborations

February 21, 2018
Heart around the euro
Source: Getty

The British Heart Foundation has created a joint research funding scheme with a German agency, in the latest example of attempts to preserve continental collaboration after Brexit.

The €12 million (£10.7 million) scheme is the first time the charity has supported such a project and it has plans to launch more with other European partners in the years ahead.

It comes after a survey of more than 250 BHF-funded scientists raised concerns about the fate of partnerships with their European peers after Brexit.

BHF spends £100 million a year on cardiovascular research, making it one of the largest independent funders in Europe. The new scheme is a partnership with the German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) and aims to tackle “new and important” research questions in heart and circulatory diseases.

Funded projects will receive up to €4 million a year for up to four years, with half spent in the UK and the other half in Germany.

Jeremy Pearson, BHF’s associate medical director, told Times Higher Education that the charity has been thinking about launching an international collaboration funding scheme for some time irrespective of the European Union referendum.

“The whole thing has been sharpened by Brexit,” he added.

Discussions with the DZHK began about two years ago and talks are under way with bodies in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands to establish similar schemes, although it is not yet clear how successful these will be.

The survey of 255 of BHF-funded researchers issued last summer found that they had significant concerns about the future of collaborations with contacts in Europe, Professor Pearson said.

“So any little thing we can do to try and build bridges to help that is a good thing,” he added.

Some other medical charities in the UK have begun to fund international work in recent years. Cancer Research UK, which spent £432 million on science in 2016-17, launched a £100 million grand challenges scheme in 2015 that is open to researchers all over the world. The same year, it launched a programme for its research centres to help stimulate collaborative networks, the latest round of which was in partnership with the major cancer research charities in Spain and Italy.

David Scott, director of discovery research at Cancer Research UK, said that research charities play a “vital role” in promoting international collaboration. “As the research funding landscape changes, the research community must continue to foster these relationships and endeavour to build new ones,” he said.

The Alzheimer’s Society has had a partnership with its counterpart in the Netherlands since 2016 that awards knowledge exchange fellowships for researchers to share information and skills between the two countries.

Shaun Griffin, head of policy and public engagement at the Association of Medical Research Charities, said that the BHF scheme was an “innovative approach”.  

“It shows just how much the sector wants to have maximum impact for patients through research when transitioning out of the European Union,” he added.

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