Since my last message, the covid pandemic has worsened throughout Europe. Lockdowns are seen everywhere and have put many things to a halt. But here is some good news: since my last message, the first people have been vaccinated; almost 140,000 UK citizens were given their first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab between 8 and 15 December.
The amazing speed with which such vaccines have been developed by pharma/biotech/academia and approved by the regulatory bodies is not only striking. It also leaves you with the sense that, if the need is perceived as large and urgent enough, resources and skills are there to speed up development of novel drugs and their approval. If only the same sense of urgency could be turned to action for the benefit of the millions of people that suffer from brain disorders. A few things are happening, though. The newly announced Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe aims to create a future-proof regulatory framework and support industry in promoting research and technologies that actually reach patients and fulfil their therapeutic needs while addressing market failures. It will also take into account the weaknesses exposed by the coronavirus pandemic and factor in appropriate actions to strengthen the system.
As I write this message, it is still unclear if the UK will leave EU without a deal. This has left the British population (and the rest of us) bewildered and the same goes for the UK job market, its trade, its industry and so on. In a Policy paper describing the UK Research and Development Roadmap, published July 2020, it is stated that UK investment in R&D should be increased to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and that public funding for R&D should be increased to € 24 billion per year by 2024 to 2025, and this investment is intended to raise domestic and international business investment into UK R&D. Hopefully, these promises will come true.
For researchers, the top issue is UK participation in Europe’s research program, Horizon Europe, running from 2021 to 2027. With a budget about € 90 billion, it is likely to be the biggest programme ever. UK researchers now receive about € 1.6 billion per year from the current seven-year programme, Horizon 2020. To join Horizon Europe, however, the United Kingdom will have to pay to access in the same way as other non-EU countries, including Switzerland, Norway, and Israel. Even if that should happen, British scientists will no longer be able to assume a role as principal investigator. Many EU projects were in the past led by UK scientists. I am confident, however, that we all will continue to invite our UK colleagues on board, because they are indispensable in many research initiatives.
2020 became a different year, and so much more different than any of us could have imagined just a year ago. Let’s together hope for better times!
I wish you all some joyful holidays and a relaxing time with family and (a few) friends.
Happy holidays to all of you!
Gitte Moos Knudsen