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Research ministers support EU plan for tackling Covid-19

Image: European Union

Ten-point plan includes potential extra research funding and international expert group

European research ministers have given their provisional backing to European Commission proposals for collective research and innovation actions to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

A Commission plan setting out 10 initial short-term ideas to improve coordination among EU member states and other European countries was discussed by EU, Norwegian and Swiss ministers by videoconference on 7 April.

The plan, presented by EU R&D commissioner Mariya Gabriel (pictured on screens), includes coordinating research and innovation funding, extending clinical trials of potential treatments, and setting up a task force with national experts.

It also seeks to make better use of resources, such as by repurposing research infrastructures to work on Covid-19 and potentially launching new funding for medical, social and economic aspects of the pandemic under the bloc’s Horizon 2020 R&D programme.

Croatia’s science minister, Blaženka Divjak, who chaired the videocall, said that “reaching out” to researchers and innovators “has never been more crucial in our lifetime” and that the pandemic was “the most important role of science in this decade”.

In a nod to political tensions and talks over the EU’s 2021-27 budget, Divjak said investing in research, innovation and education was not just important for fighting Covid-19 and protecting citizens, but also “the basis for the future development, the future cooperation in [the] EU”.

She said ministers had given their provisional support to extra investments for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an international public-private partnership for vaccine development.

Divjak told ministers to come up with ideas for how to better coordinate their national policies, Spain’s research ministry said, adding that the country was backing an “open patent bank” for technologies and therapies developed against Covid-19.

Gabriel said a call for Covid-19 projects by the Innovative Medicines Initiative, an EU public-private partnership, had received 129 proposals and that the Commission was now looking at how ideas could be combined to avoid duplication of effort by pharmaceutical companies.

She said the Commission’s plan for clinical trial coordination could support a study into the use of blood plasma, taken from Covid-19 survivors, as a potential treatment for patients severely affected by the disease.

Divjak also spoke about the importance of open science in tackling the crisis, as the European Open Science Cloud data-sharing and analysis initiative announced a fast-track funding call for Covid-19 projects.

Another EU open science coordination body, OpenAire, has announced it is working on a gateway to gather academic publications, protocols and software relating to the pandemic, which is due to open by the end of April.