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Daily News Update

 

Highlights

 

Government announces £86m for innovative medicines

James O'Shaughnessy, a junior health minister, announced the funding and promised to protect the life sciences during Brexit.

O'Shaughnessy said that the government will to support and promote UK life sciences in Brexit negotiations with the European Union in a speech delivered on 14 July.

He said that the UK is a “scientific, regulatory and industrial centre of excellence”, and outlined three principles that he said should underpin any future relationship with the EU: patients must never be disadvantaged; the UK will continue to play a leading role promoting and ensuring public health, both in Europe and around the world; and industry must be able to get products into the UK market as quickly and simply as possible, with the UK and Europe at the forefront of medical innovation.

O'Shaughnessy used the occasion to announce details of funding intended to enable small and medium-sized enterprises to develop and test medical technologies in the NHS. It forms part of the £197 million funding announced by business secretary Greg Clark in April.

The funding is designed to get NHS patients “world-leading, life-changing treatments as fast as possible”, he said.

The funding has been split into four tranches. About £39m will be made available to academic health science networks, to assess the medical needs of local patients. A further £35m will be spent on a digital health technology catalyst for innovators. Up to £6m over the next three years will be used to support small and medium-sized enterprises by building on existing infrastructure such as the Early Access to Medicines scheme. And £6m will be assigned to a pathway transformation fund to help NHS organisations incorporate new technologies into everyday practices.

The funding comes in response to the October 2016 recommendations of the independently chaired accelerated access review.

Ben Moody, head of health and social care at techUK, which represents high-technology companies based in the UK, said he had been involved in the review from its early days and was pleased to see “key recommendations being put in place”. He said he was particularly excited about the digital health technology catalyst, which would be “a great boost for innovators”.

Steve Bates, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association, said: “It’s great to see that the minister has taken the opportunity to offer a clear message to the UK life sciences industry, as we look towards the next round of EU negotiations taking place next week. The strong commitment ‘to secure ongoing close collaboration between the UK and the EU, with the needs and rights of patients always our paramount concern’ is good news for patients, industry and investors in the UK and EU.

 

Europe > Horizon 2020

 

Council looks to slash Horizon 2020 budget

The European Council is seeking enormous cuts to the 2018 EU budget proposed by the European Commission, including taking almost half a billion euros from Horizon 2020.

The Council’s proposal, published on 12 July, lops €750 million off the Commission’s proposed 2018 budget for competitiveness, economic growth and jobs. This would include €491m from Horizon 2020, the Council plans reveal.

If national governments get their way, Horizon 2020 will have a budget of €10.6bn in commitments in 2018, as opposed to the €11.1bn proposed by the Commission. The programme’s 2017 budget is €10.3bn.

Other R&D-related cuts sought by the Council relative to the Commission’s proposal include €46m from the Galileo and Egnos satellite navigation programmes, €33m from the Iter nuclear fusion project and €20m from the Copernicus Earth-observation programme.

Overall, the Council wants to chop €1.7bn off the Commission’s plan for 2018. Instead of the €160.6bn in commitments proposed by the Commission, the Council wants €158.9bn. The student mobility programme Erasmus+ would escape the Council’s cuts, as would the European Fund for Strategic Investments.

The European People’s Party group, the largest group in the European Parliament, said it would not accept the cuts. It said the Council was “cutting its own credibility” in proposing reduced funding for areas that member states have themselves said are important.

“Member states are proposing indiscriminate, mechanical cuts to the very priorities that they put forward at the beginning of the year,” said Sigfried Mureşan, a Romanian MEP and the EPP’s general rapporteur for the 2018 budget. “Investments in economic growth, research and infrastructure are reduced by €750 million. These are the main tools that bring real added value to our economies and create jobs.”

The Parliament has not yet adopted its own position on the budget. Usually, the Council proposes a smaller budget than the Commission and the Parliament a larger one, and the two eventually reach a compromise close to the original proposal.

 

As part of the Society's programme of strategic initiatives aimed at sustaining research into higher education, the Society is offering a series of annual research awards. The scheme is funded entirely by the Society, and is intended to support new research into higher education. Awards range in between £5,000 to £10,000. Deadline: 1st September 2017.

 

Academies call for more freedom in FP9

Framework 9 should give researchers greater say over which challenges they want to address and how they will go about this, a group of scientific academies has said.

The Societal Challenges pillar of Horizon 2020 is not fit for purpose, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities said in its Framework 9 position paper, published on 12 July. Calls in this pillar are “often too narrow and almost always overly prescriptive”, and this needs to change in Framework 9, ALLEA said.

“Calls have been drafted as solely focused on applied research to such an extreme degree that it is difficult at times to tell whether this is a research and innovation programme or a consultancy programme," the federation stated. "The whole process of establishing the work programmes for the societal challenges needs a fundamental rethink.”

The societal challenges part of Framework 9 must be more flexible and responsive, the academies said. It should not tell applicants what to do, but instead briefly outline the topic of concern and invite “thought-provoking and imaginative bottom-up applications focused on engaging with these topics”.

Suggestions put to the European Commission by an expert group led by former World Trade Organization director-general Pascal Lamy are too restrictive in this respect, the position paper said. The ‘missions’ the group suggested focus “on a Europe of things, rather than on the nature of the community which Europe will be”, it said.

The academies make their own suggestions for broader missions, such as understanding the societal impact of innovation and valuing the economic and cultural contributions of the southern hemisphere.

On the fundamental science part of the Framework programme, the position paper called for the European Research Council to be given full independence from the Commission. At present the success of the ERC is hampered by administrative and legal obstacles presented by its semi-independence, the paper said.

ALLEA also criticised the Commission’s framing of innovation in Horizon 2020, which it said was too focused on industry. The Commission’s use of the extent of business participation in projects as a proxy for Horizon 2020’s support for innovation was “troubling”, and a broader conception of innovation should be used in Framework 9, the academies said

The Commission is due to publish a proposal on the shape of Framework 9 in summer 2018.

 

Europe > Regulation

 

Drug companies urge close regulatory ties after Brexit

Cooperation between EU and British medical authorities must continue when the UK leaves the EU to maximise patient safety, life sciences companies have said.

Eight European and British life science industry associations wrote an open letter to Michel Barnier and David Davis, the EU and UK chief Brexit negotiators, on 13 July. They said that ongoing cooperation on medicines would be needed to ensure that Brexit has no adverse impacts on public health.

Changes to the trading relationship between the EU and the UK should not be allowed to have negative effects on medical R&D or medicines supply across Europe, the letter said. It warned that a breakdown in customs arrangements “would lead to potential supply disruptions of life-saving medicines”.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency should continue to contribute to the European medicines regulatory network after Brexit, according to the associations. The alternative, they said, would lead to a loss of capacity and expertise, and to duplication of work.

There is a “significant time pressure” to reaching agreement on such cooperation, said the letter, which was published on the website of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations. “It is important that there is as much certainty as possible, as early as possible, to enable the pharmaceutical and life science industry to transition smoothly into the new framework, ensuring there is no disruption to patient access to medicines,” it said.

 

Europe > Universities

 

JRC opens its labs to external researchers

The Joint Research Centre—the European Commission’s in-house science service—is going to let researchers from academia and industry make use of its facilities in the future.

Three facilities at the JRC’s site in Ispra, Italy, will be opened up in a pilot phase from December 2017, the JRC announced on 13 July. These are a reaction wall used to test the structural stability of buildings; the world’s largest Hopkinson bar for testing materials under high strain and a nanobiotechnology lab.

Researchers based in EU member states, countries associated to the Framework programme and EU candidate countries will be able to take part. The JRC said it will not make a profit from the initiative.

Access to other JRC facilities in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands will be opened up after the pilot phase, the JRC said. Calls for applying to use the first three facilities are already open.

The aim of the initiative is to help spread scientific knowledge, increase European competitiveness and bring together research and industry, the JRC said. Tibor Navracsics, the commissioner responsible for the JRC, said in a statement that external researchers have expressed a desire to use the facilities.

“The JRC hosts several high-value research facilities, some of which are unique in Europe and in the world. We know from past collaborations that many external researchers are keen to use these facilities to advance their work on some of the big challenges facing our societies and economies,” he said.

A new facility at the JRC’s Ispra site was inaugurated on 10 July. The atmospheric observatory tower will provide observations on air pollutants and greenhouse gas levels.

 

UK > Politics

 

MPs form cross-party group to press for soft Brexit

Conservative MP Anna Soubry and Labour's Chuka Umunna have formed a cross-party group to campaign for the UK to negotiate a soft exit from the European Union.

After David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the European Union, published the repeal bill, crucial legislation in the Brexit process, on 13 July, Umunna said: “It’s really important that parliament asserts itself in this process.

“We can’t allow ourselves to be treated as bystanders by the executive. This is about MPs putting aside their differences and putting the national interest first,” the Financial Times reported.

The Scottish and Welsh leaders will also stand against a hard Brexit. In a joint statement on 13 July, Nicola Sturgeon, first minister in the Scottish parliament, and Carwyn Jones, leader of the National Assembly for Wales, said their governments would not give the bill legislative consent unless changes are made.

They said: “Our two governments—and the UK government—agree we need a functioning set of laws across the UK after withdrawal from the EU.

"We also recognise that common frameworks to replace EU laws across the UK may be needed in some areas. But the way to achieve these aims is through negotiation and agreement, not imposition.

"It must be done in a way which respects the hard-won devolution settlements."

Sturgeon and Jones also criticised the bill for not returning powers from the EU to devolved administrations. Instead, they argue, such powers are returned to the UK and to parliament.

 

Trade union criticises lack of clarity over Euratom retreat

The UK government has confirmed that it intends to leave Euratom, but trade unionists are unconvinced by assurances of a “smooth and orderly exit”.

On 12 July the government said it would transition to a new system of nuclear controls and would work with members of the European Atomic Energy Community to implement the change. However, the decision has met widespread criticism, with particular concern about the supply of radioactive materials to hospitals for medical treatments.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the trade union Prospect, said on 13 July that the government’s proposals for leaving Euratom contain “little reassurance” about the “scale of the challenge facing the UK”.

The risks to the NHS, the British nuclear industry and high-skilled jobs “are too great to get this wrong”, he said. “We need much more clarity over the government’s legal advice and the transitional arrangements necessary to protect UK research and jobs.”

Prospect has urged the government to set up a working group on the future of Euratom. 

In a 10 July blog post, Kenneth Armstrong, professor of EU law at the University of Cambridge, wrote that the decision “dramatises wider debates” about the need for transitional arrangements when Brexit negotiations are completed.

 

UK > Research Councils

 

STFC warns of 'unsustainable' funding pressure

The Science and Technology Facilities Council has said that the financial pressures it faces “will become unsustainable in the coming years”.

Brian Bowsher, chief executive of the STFC, painted a gloomy picture for the organisation's future finances in its annual report and accounts for 2016-17, published on 13 July.

In a foreword, Bowsher writes that the “pressures of more than seven years of flat cash funding” had become evident in the past year, but had been “manageable” despite reduced operating capital and higher operational costs as a result of the falling value of sterling.

In future, however, the council has identified that “these financial pressures will become unsustainable in the coming years”. Bowsher noted an additional concern about “economic and staff uncertainty arising from the Brexit vote”. The council was “working hard to provide as much information and support as possible to the hundreds of our staff from European Union and European Economic Area nations”. The report identified staff retention as one of the key challenges facing the council.

Reflecting on the council's future in the wake of the spring 2018 creation of UK Research and Innovation, Bowsher said he was “confident” the change would lead to an “even stronger and more collaborative environment within the UK for research and innovation”.

Total net expenditure for the STFC for 2016-17 was £566.9m, down from £604.5m in 2015-16.

 

EU data law 'fails to protect researchers'

The British Academy and the Economic and Social Research Council have called for specific protections for researchers to be inserted into European Union data protection regulation.

The regulation, due to come into force in May 2018, offers insufficient safeguards for social scientists wishing to use personal data for research purposes, the two organisation have said.

Responding in a joint statement to the UK government’s call for views on the implementation of the EU regulation, they expressed concern that phrases protecting the use of data for humanities and social science researchers had been excluded from the latest iteration of the regulation, despite sustained advocacy from UK parties.

“Ultimately, the future health and vitality of the humanities and social sciences in Britain depends on the implementation of clear and robust shielding for these activities,” the organisations said.

 

UK > Charities & Societies

 

Macandrew to become ARMA chief operating officer

Hamish Macandrew has been chosen as the chief operating officer of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators.

Macandrew, who led the University of Edinburgh’s research office for more than 10 years, takes up the post on 18 July.

The role will be based in the association's headquarters in Edinburgh. 

Macandrew said that the association had gone through “a real period of renaissance over the past 12 months” and would continue to incorporate feedback from its membership survey into its plans. He encouraged anyone who would like to become more involved in the association to get in touch.

 

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