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Brussels, December 21, 1999

Quality of life: centre stage of European research
307 new research projects funded


Keywords: research programme, projects, funding, evaluation

The European Commission has just approved the selection of a new set of projects under the Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources programme. These 307 projects will receive EU funding worth €494 million. Issues to be addressed by the project teams will include the relation between food, nutrition and health, the control of infectious diseases, the development of new therapies and environmentally-friendly industrial products and processes, the impact of environment on health, sustainable agriculture, as well as the ageing population.

Commenting on the outcome of the selection, research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: "The selected projects once more underline the important role of research in relation to European policy making. The area of food safety, where the publication of a white paper by the European Commission is imminent, is one of many possible examples of necessary complementarity between the EU’s research programmes and its other policies. I am also pleased to see that European research programmes are very successful in helping traditional barriers to be overcome, for example between academia and industry and, more generally, between the private and the public sector. I am convinced that at the end of the day European citizens will all benefit from the ‘added value’ created though our joint efforts."

The Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources programme is one of the four thematic programmes of the EU's Fifth Framework Programme, which runs until 2002. It has an overall budget of €2 413 million over 4 years. The first call for proposals was published earlier this year 1. Successive deadlines cover different areas, in order to reduce over-subscription and to make best use of the budget available each year.

Response to the first call

1 792 proposals, involving almost 14 000 participants were submitted for the various action lines of the programme (see table 1). Proposals were evaluated by independent experts, under the supervision of the Commission’s Research DG. The experts’ shortlist was the basis of the present funding decision.

Participation was particularly high in the action lines on the Cell Factory (line 3 - see table), Environment and Health (4) and the Ageing Population (6), as well as throughout the Generic Activities (GA), which cover research activities of a more fundamental nature. Not surprisingly, these are domains where European efforts have never before been so deliberately focused, for instance on exploring the impact of the environment on health or tackling the problems of an ageing population. The high response rate for research activities of a generic nature testifies to the need to maintain a strong research base.

Table 1: Number of proposals received for each action line

Number of proposals received for each action line

Eligibility, evaluation and selection

On receipt, proposals were first checked with regard to their eligibility. Almost one hundred proposals failed this preliminary hurdle for formal reasons including late arrival, incomplete files or lack of original signatures.

The evaluation of proposals took place in June and July 1999 in Brussels. Evaluation was performed by 992 independent experts, from across Europe, working in panels under the supervision of the Commission’s scientific officers. The evaluation is in two stages: first the evaluators assess and rank proposals within each topic according to their scientific and technical excellence, as well as proposed project management. Those projects reaching the predetermined thresholds go forward to a second stage involving a different set of independent experts to evaluate the "relevance" of the proposal, that is the likely contribution of the proposed work to both the programme’s objectives and the EU’s social and economic objectives. It was noted that many proposals that were excellent in the former failed in the latter. These selection criteria as well as the guidelines for expert evaluators have been published on the Web. To verify conformity and fairness, independent observers monitored the whole process and reported their findings to the Programme Committee made up of Member State representatives. In addition, some proposals were earmarked by the evaluators for ethical review, which took place after the evaluation.

Outcome of selection

In total, 307 projects were selected, involving 2 749 participants – including 379 from industry – and a total EU contribution of €494 million. Table 2 presents statistics per action line on the number of projects selected, the selection (or success) rate, the total budgetary allocation and the average EU contribution per project.

Table 2: Selection rates and funding levels

Action line

Proposals received

Eligible proposals

Final Selection

Selection rate (%)*

Final EU contribution

Average funding per project (€)

KA 1

190

181

39

21.5%

65 699 916

1 684 613

KA 2

110

102

34

33.3%

67 115 106

1 973 974

KA 3

399

393

41

10.4%

79 778 601

1 945 820

KA 4

162

159

25

15.7%

35 946 771

1 437 871

KA 5

301

263

71

27.0%

94 545 210

1 331 623

KA 6

222

211

29

13.7%

40 229 195

1 387 214

GA

388

370

63

17.0%

106 117 435

1 684 404

INFR2

20

15

5

33.3%

4 568 072

913 614

Total

1792

1694

307

18.1%

494 000 306

1 609 122

* based on the number of eligible proposals

Larger projects

An analysis of the data reveals that, in the life sciences, the Fifth Framework Programme has triggered more multidisciplinary projects than in the past. In addition, the average project now has 8.9 partners and EU funding of €1.6 million, a significant increase compared with the average life-science project under the Fourth Framework Programme. This reflects the orientation of the new EU research programmes, which target socio-economic objectives in addition to scientific questions and therefore require the research to be carried out with a more multidisciplinary approach, and involving a greater variety of partners such as academic scientists, researchers from industrial laboratories and users. One negative consequence, however, is that the funding of bigger projects will inevitably result in lower selection rates. The selection (or success) rate across the programme for this first call is just over 18%, although this rate varies widely between action lines. Below average were the Cell Factory key action which could only support 10.4% of proposals received, the Ageing Population key action where the success rate was 13.7%, and Environment and Health, 15.7% (see table 2).

Industrial participation is quite high with 379 of the 2 749 participants from industry (13.8%). Industrial penetration, that is the proportion of projects including at least one industrial partner, exceeds 50%. Industrial participation is particularly high in the Cell Factory key action where 38 out of 41 projects include at least one industrial partner in the consortium.

Clusters

Twenty-six proposals of substantial size were submitted as clusters, which are highly integrated combinations of sub-projects. Clustering is a novel approach in the Fifth Framework Programme designed to tackle multifaceted problems whose complexities are best addressed by multiple, coordinated concurrent approaches. These proposals were of particularly high quality. Consequently, 9 were selected for funding, including 5 in the area of Infectious Diseases, with a total EU contribution of €36.6 million – over €4 million per project.

Second call for proposals

On 15 December 1999, the second call for proposals was published in the Official Journal 3 announcing the dates for deadlines for submission and the precise areas open at each date throughout the year 2000. For these calls for proposals, a new version of the Guide for Proposers has been prepared. All these documents are available from the CORDIS web site.

For further information, please contact:

Stéphane Hogan
Quality of Life programme, Research DG
Fax : +32.2.299.1860
E-mail : Research Contact

Michel Claessens
Communication Unit, Research DG
Fax: +32-2-295.82.20
E-mail: michel.claessens@ec.europa.eu

1 The first call was published in the Official Journal on 6 March 1999 with the first deadlines for submission in June The second submission deadline was on 15 November 1999. Those proposals are currently being evaluated and the selections should be finalised before next summer. Top
2 Support for research infrastructure Top2
3 OJ 1999/C 361/06 Top3

Main observations for each action line

Key action 1: Food, nutrition & health

The first call for proposals prompted many high quality proposals. Following evaluation, 39 were selected for funding, for a total EU contribution of €65.7 million. In line with the problem-solving approach of FP5, they provide a substantial contribution to ensuring the safety and integrity of the food supply "from farm to table" and improving understanding of the role of nutrition in health and well being.

Within the area of food safety, proposals correspond to the need for new preventive approaches and rapid detection tests for mycotoxin contamination of foodstuffs, to address burning issues related to genetically modified foods and antibiotic resistance, and to develop new risk assessment approaches and promote their harmonisation.

Proposals in the area of food and nutrition responded to major knowledge gaps related to functional foods, databases, and relations between diet and diseases. The first call has generated two proposals that will provide new concepts for effective consumer communications in the area of genetically modified foods and predictive models of healthy food choice for elderly consumers. Consequently, in active collaboration with the Expert Advisory Group and the Programme Committee, the work programme for Key Action 1 has been amended in order to further encourage proposals related to consumer research needs, such as reinforcing consumer confidence in food safety and assessing consumer trust.

Key action 2: Control of infectious diseases

This key action aims at improving the prevention and treatment of diseases, the identification of new anti-infective interventions and diagnostics and the development of the research base for epidemiological monitoring and rational public health practices.

For the June deadline, only the "Development of vaccines" area was open for proposals. A total of 110 proposals were received and, following the evaluation, 34 projects were selected for funding, for an EU contribution of €67 million.

Generally the response to the call was high in terms of quality and relevance. The problem-solving approach has clearly been understood by the majority of applicants. The research priorities, as defined by the work programme, were largely met and most critical vaccine research issues will be addressed by substantial research projects. Of particular interest was the acceptance of 5 cluster projects on major health issues: AIDS, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, malaria and mucosal immunity. The cluster on AIDS is assessing several HIV vaccine candidates in animal models and in humans and is expected to build the ground for late-stage clinical evaluation. The hepatitis C cluster is a comprehensive approach from the development of novel delivery strategies to the validation of animal models. The cluster on tuberculosis is encompassing many European TB vaccine research groups, taking stock of European competitive advantage in mycobacterial genomics.

Industrial participation is good with an industrial penetration (presence of at least one industrial participant in a project) of 77 %.

Although this call showed a very satisfactory response in terms of the development of new candidate vaccine, their validation in early phase clinical trials needs to be further addressed. This will be encouraged in the next call through demonstration projects that could test the most promising vaccine candidates in a defined clinical setting.

Key action 3: The cell factory

The main objective of this key action is the integration of scientific excellence with the exploitation of results obtained through biotechnology research projects in the area of health, environment or agro-industry and fine chemicals. This exploitation can be seen in the economic sense of creating wealth and jobs and also in the wider societal context of research for the benefit of the public at large.

The response rate was very high with almost 400 projects received. In fact, the combined budget request exceeded available funds 10-fold. Consequently many high-quality proposals could not be funded. Following evaluation, 41 projects were selected for funding, for a total EU contribution of almost €80 million.

In the health area, 26 projects are retained, ranging from neural regeneration to improved production processes. In the environment area, 7 projects are to be funded, dealing with issues such as cleaner industrial processes and remediation of polluted sites. In the agro-industry and fine chemicals area, the 8 selected projects include upgrading of plant-produced compounds and molecular engineering of polysaccharides, and several involve the use of genetically modified micro-organisms and plants.

The strengthening of industrial competitiveness in this rapidly growing field is a central issue for the cell factory. This is demonstrated by the very high industrial participation in the funded projects: 38 of the 41 projects funded include at least one industrial participant, three quarters of which are small biotechnology firms.

The co-ordinators of the selected projects met in Brussels on 3 December to initiate further networking between the projects and to discuss the wider context of their research, including exploitation and dissemination of results.

Key action 4: Environment and health

This key action received a total of 162 proposals. Following evaluation, 25 projects were selected for funding, for a total EU contribution of almost €36 million. The main topics covered were allergy, toxicology, occupational health, epidemiology, bioassays, electro-magnetic fields and UV radiation.

The funded projects will examine the impact of electromagnetic fields on human health, such as that related to use of cellular phones; and the human health risks related to exposure to chemicals, such as arsenic, styrene, pesticides, dioxins and organic flame retardants (PBDE), that can affect health by causing skin diseases, neurotoxicity, reproductive disorders and Parkinson’s disease. Other projects deal with the major (and growing) public health problem of allergies, particularly in children (to better understand the role of environmental factors and the importance of genetic background), in order to improve allergy prevention in the future. Other projects will examine the impact of air pollution on health (cancer, allergies, asthma, etc.), identify genes of susceptibility to melanoma in relation to UV, seek new biomarkers for skin damage, so as to improve prevention, and aim for better prevention of the health effects of noise pollution.

The projects will provide insight into the molecular and genetic mechanisms of environmental damage, develop predictive exposure models and lead to significant improvements in monitoring harmful environmental agents. They will also provide input for risk analysis and assessment (especially for cancer) and for improving occupational health and safety. New scientific knowledge to support regulatory initiatives should also be generated.

The potential industrial implications are significant in terms of, for instance, asbestos substitutes, flame retardants, airborne particulates, in vitro testing and electromagnetic radiation. In addition, several projects could make significant contributions to the regulatory arena. Several projects will also benefit occupational health and safety.

Key action 5: Sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry, and integrated development of rural areas including mountain areas

This key action received a total of 301 proposals. Following evaluation, 71 projects were selected for funding, for a total EU contribution of €94.5 million. The portfolio of selected projects indicates a strong orientation towards sustainable food production in agriculture and fisheries and management of our natural resources.

A strong impact is expected from this research on the sustainability of the agriculture, forestry, agro-industrial, and fisheries sectors, which currently employ over 12 million people with a total output of over €600 billion. Furthermore 80 % of EU land is rural, with 50% being agricultural and 30% wooded. At the same time, annual EU fish production amounts to over 8 million tonnes, making it the world's third largest fishing power.

Examples of selected long-term, multidisciplinary projects include risk assessment for soil erosion; protecting the biodiversity of plant species and beneficial insects; reducing the use of agro-chemicals through biocontrol; protection against quarantine organisms; the introduction of a bond scheme for income relief to farmers; improved handling, transport and welfare of livestock; renewable resources to replace phthalates in PVC plastics; new-generation liquid biofuels; more rational utilisation of forest resources, including genetics, emission control, recycling of wastes and improved water usage in the forest industries; and improved management of the fishery business and selected fish species.

Key action 6: The ageing population and disabilities

This key action adopts a problem-solving approach that aims to meet the challenges posed by both the ageing of individuals and the ageing of society. Research activities should help promote the healthy ageing and well-being of older people as well as enabling them to cope better with disabilities, improve the management of age-related illnesses, and strengthen the knowledge base for the policy and planning of efficient and user-friendly health care services.

A total of 222 proposals were received of which 211, requesting an EU contribution of €363 million, were evaluated. Following evaluation 29 projects were selected, with an estimated EU contribution of almost €40 million. Applications on the "biology side" of the key action were plentiful but policy-relevant proposals and those addressing the social, technological and care aspects were markedly under-represented. Six projects target the aetiology of and novel therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, others include projects on improved organisation and care delivery, enhanced outdoor mobility, and patient involvement instruments to improve general practice care for older people.

In 2000, research on age-related illnesses and health problems will support co-ordination of research projects and the networking of research teams, except for diseases and disorders of the urogenital system where RTD projects will also be supported. Furthermore, research on the determinants of healthy ageing and of well-being in old age, on the expected demographic changes and related social policy aspects and on functional limitations in old age will be supported, as well as research on the health and social care services, in order to strengthen the evidence base for future public-health strategies.

In general, the main objectives of the research supported are to create European added value, strengthen national and international research efforts, and in particular, properly take into account the needs of the ultimate beneficiaries: older people.

Research and technological development activities of a generic nature

RTD activities of a generic nature aim to build up the knowledge base in chosen areas of underlying strategic importance to the Quality of Life programme and to explore related ethical and socio-economic issues. Research priorities are addressed in 7 specific areas.

In all 388 proposals were received and following evaluation of 370 of these, 63 projects were selected for funding, for a total EU contribution of €106 million. The bulk of the funding goes to areas 7, 8 and 9 with 22, 17 and 8 projects respectively.

7. Chronic and degenerative diseases, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and rare disease

The main diseases tackled are cancer, cardiovascular research, diabetes, inflammatory immune disorders and rare disorders such as myopathies, Friedreich’s ataxia and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome. Some of these projects will assess fundamental mechanisms of immunity and autoimmunity relevant to several disorders.

8. Research into genomes and diseases of genetic origin

For genome research, the 17 projects selected cover plant functional genomics (arabidopsis); microbial genomics; human/medical genomics and methodology developments. Medical topics addressed include pancreas development and diabetes, autism, reproductive development, cancer and immunity, and hereditary deafness.

9. Neurosciences

The projects selected tackle the development, application and commercial exploitation plans of new technologies that will contribute novel and valuable tools to the neuroscience community, strive to understand signalling for death and survival in neurons, and aim at constructing a neural network model of movement.

10. Public health and health services research (incl. drug abuse)

Only the drug abuse area was opened in June, hence all three projects selected aim at developing therapies in drug addiction (cocaine, heroine opioids in general), one at the receptor level and two in health economics and prevention.

11. Research relating to persons with disabilities

One project dealing with the disability burden of mental disorders in Europe.

12. Biomedical ethics and bioethics

The four projects retained will strive to develop methodologies in bioethics and to address public policy issues rather than specific technological developments. This will help to build the base on which future bioethical work should be conducted and also to integrate bioethics into the critical areas of science, medicine, research and public policy.

13. Socio-economic aspects of life sciences and technologies

The sole project selected builds on the Eurobarometer public opinion fieldwork to provide comparative social scientific research, critical examination of issues in the life sciences, their applications in medicine and food, and how these relate to media coverage and regulatory activities.

Support for research infrastructures

The main objective is to encourage and stimulate infrastructure operators (and users) to work together to make the most effective use of Europe’s major research facilities and resources. The following classes of infrastructures are identified in the work programme as priorities to enhance the research activities to better serve the Quality of Life research community: biological collections, biological information resources, clinical research facilities, pre-clinical research facilities, facilities for aquaculture and fishery research.

A total of 20 proposals were received and, following evaluation, 5 projects were selected for funding, for a total EU contribution of €4.6 million.

An examination of the proposals which were not selected suggests that not all parts of the scientific community have fully understood the principles that apply to the funding of proposals in the area Support of Research Infrastructures. Several rejected proposals ignored the fact that support will not be provided for the construction or the operation of research infrastructures.

The selected projects will provide important resources to the bioscience research community at large in the following areas: steroids in health and disease, development of network of cancer family syndrome registries in Eastern Europe, a yeast genome database, a European transgenic and experimental pathology database and teaching facility, and a European comparative genetic resource.

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PRESS RELEASES | PRESS RELEASES OF 1999 | 20.01.2000