Brussels, 29 Oct 2004
EU funded research projects aimed at the control of infectious diseases for human health under the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) displayed clear European added value, but more must be done to promote interaction between patients and other stakeholders, according to an impact assessment carried out by the Fraunhofer Institute.
On behalf of the Commission's Research DG, the Fraunhofer Institute for systems and innovation research in Karlsruhe evaluated the impact of some 145 projects funded under the 'Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources' priority of FP5, on the basis of their periodic and final reports, mid-term reviews by external experts and telephone interviews.
In terms of both the planning and exploitation of projects, a deficit was identified in the levels of interaction with patients and other stakeholders. For example, dissemination of project results to the scientific community was satisfactorily achieved through a generally high number of publications. 'However, there are only few conferences that were organised by the projects themselves directed to their specific target groups, including policy making as well as the general public,' the report notes.
Other problems that the assessors identified in the planning of projects included a failure by some project managers to accurately estimate the difficulty of achieving certain goals, such as database development or patient recruitment, and protracted contract negotiations with the Commission. The report states: '[N]egotiations were sometimes lengthy and problematic in part because of time-consuming processes within the Commission linked to the necessary procedures in place.'
During the implementation phase, the Fraunhofer team concluded that interaction and coordination of the projects with other EU funded projects, as well as national and international research programmes, could still be improved. Furthermore, in projects aiming at the development of drugs or vaccines, more leeway should be introduced into their structure to allow researchers to redirect their work if unfavourable results are encountered. Some participants also said they felt overwhelmed by administrative tasks that they perceived as being unnecessarily rigid, but in many cases appreciation was expressed for the feedback and control provided by the Commission.
In terms of the quantitative impact of the projects, the assessment found that in those initiatives aimed at the development of a new drug or vaccine, 14 were in clinical phase I, four in phase II and 10 in phase III, while a total of nine epidemiological studies were also carried out. A total of 33 patents were planned, 30 had been filed, and eight had already been granted. The report also noted that as many of the projects focused on diseases that are especially prevalent in developing countries, the overall research effort was highly relevant to the international context.
As well as measuring the projects against the thematic goals of the Quality of Life priority, the assessment also looked at their performance in relation to non-thematic targets. For example, while collaboration with industry worked well in projects where there were clear commercial opportunities, the overall number of 122 industry partners involved in the thematic priority was still considered too low. There were also relatively few partners and coordinators from new and smaller Member States, according to the report.
The assessors conclude by attempting to draw lessons for the future from their evaluation. They believe that more emphasis should be placed on the involvement of industry and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in projects as a means of bringing products quickly to market. The report also identified a danger that the knowledge accumulated during the course of a project was in danger of being lost after its completion due to limited budgets. It therefore recommends that the Commission preserve contacts with successful contractors and coordinators.
Finally, in recognition of the risks inherent in trying to develop new drugs and vaccines, the assessment team urges the Commission to consider introducing more flexible funding schemes to ensure that teams are able to overcome the setbacks that they are likely to encounter.
The report is available at the following web address: