COVID-19: Commission steps up research funding and selects 17 projects in vaccine development, treatment and diagnostics

COVID-19

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: A digital illustration of the coronavirus shows the crown-like appearance of the virus. Source: UN News

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


Following the publication of a €10 million call in January, the Commission has secured an additional €37.5 million for urgently needed research on COVID-19 vaccine development, treatment and diagnostics. This action is part of the coordinated EU response to the public health threat of COVID-19.

With the additional amount from the Horizon 2020 programme, the Commission is scaling up the emergency call launched in January to fight the COVID-19 outbreak to €47.5 million. This allowed to select 17 projects involving 136 research teams from across the EU and beyond, which will start working on developing vaccines, new treatments, diagnostic tests and medical systems aimed at preventing the spread of the Coronavirus.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “The emergency funding from Horizon 2020 enables researchers to work immediately to tackle the outbreak of the Coronavirus on several fronts. Seeing the research community getting in action so rapidly gives us new hope that we will soon be one step closer to our goal of stopping the spread of the virus.”

The Commission is currently negotiating grant agreements with the selected beneficiaries. The 17 projects will work on:

  • Development of new vaccines. The research will focus on developing a prophylactic vaccine and a therapeutic vaccine, which will be used for prevention and treatment respectively.
  • Rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests. Increased efforts will concentrate on enabling front-line health workers to make the diagnosis more quickly and more accurately, which will in turn reduce the risk of further spread of the virus.
  • New treatments, in which a dual approach will be adopted. Firstly, accelerating the development of new treatments currently in the pipeline (including therapeutic peptides, monoclonal antibodies and broad-spectrum antivirals), and secondly, screening and identifying molecules that could work against the virus, using advanced modelling and computing techniques.
  • Improving epidemiology and public health, including our preparedness and response to outbreaks. These projects will help develop better monitoring systems in order to effectively prevent and control the spread of the virus, as well as contribute to the assessment of social dynamics.

 

Background

On 30 January 2020, the Commission launched a special call for expressions of interest to support research on COVID-19 with an initial budget of €10 million mobilised from the special fund for emergency research of the Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation. The Commission received 91 proposals within the very short two-week deadline. Independent experts completed the evaluation of the proposals in record time. In parallel, thanks to the excellent quality of proposals received, the Commission mobilised additional funds in order to support a higher number of projects. Applicants were notified on 4 March. 

Furthermore, up to €45 million in Horizon 2020 funding will support additional research through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a public-private partnership between the Commission and the pharmaceutical industry. A commitment of a similar scale is expected from the pharmaceutical industry so that the total investment in the fast-track call launched on 3 March could reach up to €90 million. This means that the total amount in funding for coronavirus research, mobilised from Horizon 2020 and the industry through IMI, could reach almost €140 million.

Several EU-funded projects are already contributing to preparedness and response to the COVID-19 outbreak, such as the European Virus Archive – GLOBAL (EVAg), the PREPARE project and the Commission involvement in the Global research collaboration for infectious disease preparedness (GloPID-R) network.

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