Brussels, 18 Oct 2005
An EU agenda that aims to create a knowledge based economy will give priority to life sciences, according to a new report.
The report issued by Frost & Sullivan, a global growth consulting company, acknowledges the importance of a more favourable climate for high-enabling technologies such comparative genomics and proteomics 'as they represent the strategic motor for furthering economic development in Europe'. In addition, 'budgetary increments along with supportive research policies will be a major driver in propelling life sciences research forward and help create a knowledge-based economy by 2010', says Frost & Sullivan healthcare analyst, Charanya Ramachandran.
The research study for the report focuses on three countries: the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Both the European Commission and the main public and private life sciences research institutes of these three countries have provided data for the analysis.
The total public life sciences funding in these countries for 2005 has been estimated at around 5.794 billion euro. The distribution of funding illustrates some differences between the three countries: while genomics, proteomics, and systems biology initiatives are the main priorities in the UK's current life sciences budget, the major volume of genomic funding in Germany is devoted to disease genomics. In France, most of the research is carried out by public research bodies in collaboration with universities and other institutes.
The document underlines a major trend in funding: the existence of cross-council programmes that serve as interfaces and, by fostering contributions from various public and private sources, add a new dimension to proteomics and post-genomics research. 'Major funding bodies, including the EC, have allotted adequate portions towards research intensive areas and governments are constantly working to enhance technical innovation and bring in more university-business collaborations,' notes Ms Ramachandran.
The report analyses the evolution of the average spending on life sciences (including fundamental research and application of genomics to combat diseases) and finds that, under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), it has increased from 7.61 billion euro in 2003, accounting for 67.4 per cent of the total European life sciences funding, to a figure accounting for about 73.1 per cent of total funding in 2005.
The analysis highlights the particular attention paid by the EU to initiatives aimed at increasing funding for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as a means to foster knowledge transfer partnerships. According to the authors, this strategy could prove instrumental in the near future to boosting European global competitiveness in life sciences.
The report praises some specific aspects of FP6, such as the new instruments, pointing out that both the Integrated Projects and the Networks of Excellence can be used to implement many differentiated research areas. Integrated Projects aim at generating the knowledge required to address major needs in society, spanning the whole research spectrum from basic to applied research, and are set to increase EU skills in the global life sciences arena, according to the report.
This strategy is complemented by the Networks of Excellence, designed to strengthen scientific and technological excellence on a particular research topic through the durable integration of the research capacities of the participants.
In addressing the fragmentation in European life sciences research funding, the authors of the report see 'a clear strategy being devised towards incorporating a European Research Council (ERC)'. Some regional governments might resent this pan-European approach, warns the report, as it 'may bring in the need to adopt several complementary approaches and also result in projects being accorded a non-essential priority at the national level'.
The general perception of the ERC is positive however, and the participants in the study believe that it should be able to increase the efficiency of funding going into new fast-developing research areas, providing a new component of project funding exclusively based on non territorial pan-European competition.