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Volume 1 Graphical element

[ Introduction ]
 
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Linking the ability to discover to the ability to exploit
Calls for proposals
An outline of the response
Strong interest from industry
International dimension
The External Advisory Group (EAG) on Cell Factory
 
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LINKING THE ABILITY TO DISCOVER TO THE ABILITY TO EXPLOIT
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The Cell Factory is one of the six Key Actions of the Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources Programme (1). This programme is a part of the Fifth Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration Activities of the European Community (1998-2002) (2). This book contains the summaries of the 126 RTD projects that have been selected in the call for proposals launched in 1999 and 2000. The Community financial support to these projects amounts 226 millions €.

With a budget of 400 millions €, the objective of the Cell Factory is to support research activities that aim at the integration of innovative research and technologies with their exploitation by industry and/or other socio-economic entities in the fields of health, environment, agro-industry, agri-food and high value added chemicals. Particular attention is to be given to strengthening European industrial competitiveness by improving the potential for creation of small research-based biotechnology firms and entrepreneurial initiatives. These knowledge-based new industries are a reservoir of industrial competitiveness, scientific and technological innovation, opportunities for investors, and jobs creation, which are under-exploited in Europe.

The Cell Factory promotes an environment in which scientific results can be rapidly exploited and transformed into products and processes of interest to society. This approach is facilitated through integrating the whole innovation process, from advanced fundamental research, through technological development to practical demonstration. Such an integrated innovation approach is considered a pre-requisite for projects in the Cell Factory key action. The exploitation phase may take place in the industrial sector, but in certain cases may also be a non-industrial one, depending on the particular socio-economic environment associated with a given scientific and technological area, e.g. biosafety research to be used by public-interest organisations, in vitro alternative testing to replace animal experimentation, research results to be used by clinicians and in hospitals, etc. The Cell Factory has made a particular effort to reach this goal by mobilising the necessary operators (e.g. scientists, industrialists, start-up incubators, consumer and patient's associations, public-interest groups) to address the research objectives in a co-ordinated and convergent way, linking the ability to discover and the ability to exploit. The following two aspects should be reflected in any successful project: The use of innovative science and technologies and the exploitation of the results.

Innovative technologies. New knowledge will be generated on the functioning of cells, including GMOs, as biological factories, by advanced research such as functional and structural genomics, proteomics, patterns of metabolites, combinatorial biochemistry, high-throughput screening, nanobiotechnology, structural biology, molecular evolution, bioinformatics, genetic and biochemical engineering. These multidisciplinary technologies applicable to many fields of the cell factories will provide new processes and molecules, for implementing the priorities given in the work programme. In the context of the overall Quality of Life Programme activities, the key action will link these innovative technologies, e.g. functional and structural genomics, with exploitation strategies focussing on the research fields addressed in the three different areas: health, environmental biotechnology and bioproducts and bioprocesses.

Exploitation of results. Scientific and technological excellence is necessary but not sufficient. It must be closely linked to a firm commitment to knowledge transfer and to a convincing exploitation strategy by industry and/or public interest organisations. Efficient risk capital markets, creation and development of high-tech small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and promoting the dialogue of technology producers with technology users are crucial for linking research to socio-economic needs, leading to future wealth and job creation. The challenge is therefore to set up a nurturing environment both for the development of established bio-industries and for a new generation of European entrepreneurs to start up and flourish.

These general objectives are addressed in the following three priority areas of Cell Factory:

  • Improving the diagnostic and therapeutic arsenal for health care
  • Improving environmental sustainability
  • New biological and biotechnological products and processes for agro-industry,
    agri-food and high value added chemicals.

(1) Council Decision of 25 January 1999 adopting a specific programme for research, technological development and demonstration on quality of life and management of living resources (1998-2002). Official Journal of the European Communities. C64, 6 March 1999.
(2) Decision n° 182/1999/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 December 1998 concerning the Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002). Official Journal of the European Communities. L26, 1 February 1999.

 
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CALLS FOR PROPOSALS
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Researchers and other stakeholders of the Cell Factory were invited to submit proposals for shared cost projects to four deadlines in the years 1999 and 2000. The successful projects have started operations in 2000 and 2001 and will run for three years and some up to four years, i.e. the latest projects from these deadlines will finish in the year 2005.

In the first two years of the Quality of Life programme, the Cell Factory received a total of 906 eligible proposals for RTD projects. Proposals were peer-reviewed in two stages by independent external experts who assessed the proposals towards five blocks of criteria.

Stage one, minimum threshold of 4 in both criteria in a scale from 0 to 5 to pass to stage two

1. Scientific excellence and innovation
2. Quality of the partnership, the management and appropriateness of resources.

Stage two, not threshold required, but a minimum of 3.5 as overall final mark is required to be considered for funding

3. Community added value and contribution to EU policies
4. Contribution to Community social objectives
5. Economic developments and S&T prospects.

Additional information on the detailed mechanisms of the peer-review evaluation, composition of the panels and weightings of the different selection criteria can be obtained from the Commission services or on the web: http://cordis.europa.eu/life/

Out of the 906 proposals received, 126 were selected by the European Commission as being of the highest merit and best addressing the programme objectives. This selection, which was entirely based on the recommendations of the independent external evaluators, taking into account the available budget, received a positive opinion from the Quality of Life Programme Committee, which is composed of representatives of all the Member States of the EU and Countries associated to the programme.

 
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AN OUTLINE OF THE RESPONSE
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The response from the scientific and industrial communities greatly exceeded the budgetary possibilities. In the first two years of Cell Factory, 906 eligible proposals have been received, which led, following evaluation by independent experts and contract negotiations, to 69 projects from the call launched in 1999 and 57 from the call launched in 2000. The EC contribution amounts to 119 millions € for the 1999 projects and 103 millions € for the 2000 projects. The total research investment in all the projects is thus in excess of 400 million € as the EC only finances about 50% of the costs of each project (maximum 50% of the total costs of industrial and other "full cost" partners and only the marginal costs for "additional cost" partners, e.g. universities). The overall average EC contribution per project is 1.72million € in 1999 and 1.80 million in 2000.

One interesting feature is the increase of the budgetary dimension of the projects. Thus, in 1999, 16% of the projects had an EC contribution of less than 1 million e. The percentage of projects of less than 1million € in 2000 was only 3%. Similar pattern is found for the projects ranging between 1-1.5millione, 32% in 1999, and only 23% in 2000. However, when comparing the group of projects between 1.5-2 million €, the figures for 1999 is 22% and the one for 2000 has increased up to 47%. There is not a significant change for projects over 2 millions €. This linked to the fact that the average number of partners per project went down from 8.6 in 1999 to 7.7 in 2000, confirms the tendency towards larger projects, in terms of financial dimension, where each partner has a more ambitious research plan.

The Cell Factory is organised in three areas and the number of projects selected in each of the areas for the period 1999-2000 is the following: Health: 56; Environment: 29 and Bioprocesses: 41. Over 90% of the projects belong to the category of research projects, and only a small proportion belong to the other categories: thematic networks, concerted actions, demonstration or combined (research and demonstration) projects.

 
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STRONG INTEREST FROM INDUSTRY
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Cell Factory has elicited a very strong interest from industry. Of the 1999 projects, 18% of the partners are industrial ones. This figure increased up to 22% in 2000. However, industry is not so present in the coordination of projects. Thus, the percentage of projects coordinated by industry were 13% in 1999 and 8% in 2000. In the pre-competitive type of projects supported by the EC, two concepts related to the direct industrial participation are particularly relevant: Industrial Penetration and Exploitability, both are aimed at providing semi-quantitative indicators of the industrial relevance of the projects and their adherence to the Community objectives, namely: to strengthen the scientific and technological basis of European industry and make it more competitive at international level.

Industrial penetration is defined as the percentage of projects having at least one industrial partner in the consortium. The figures for 1999 is 72% and for 2000, 93%. This indicates that industry not only participates very actively in the projects, but also that industry is present in most of the projects independently of the sector. Other indicator aimed at measuring the interest of the private sector in Cell Factory is the so-called "Exploitability factor". It is defined as the percentage of private and commercial partners. Those organisations do need to find a good value for money in participating in the Cell Factory Key Action, where according to Community rules they must contribute with at least 50% of the total cost of the project. The Exploitability factor for 1999 and 200 has reached the figure of 34%.

 
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INTERNATIONAL DIMENSION
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The Cell Factory Key Action, fully in line with the overall policy of openess and collaboration with laboratories other than the ones in the Member States, has actively promoted and encouraged the participation of laboratories from Eastern Europe, the so-called Newly Associated Countries (NAS), but also the participation of other Associates Countries, and Third Countries.

The participation of Associated Countries and Third Countries in Cell Factory represents 11% of the total number of partners for both 1999 and 2000. The specific figures for the participation of partners from NAS represent 5% of the total in 1999 and 2% in 2000. The countries with the higher number of participants are: Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary followed by Slovakia, Slovenia and the Baltic Republics. However, in spite of the still suboptimal presence of laboratories from the Newly Associated Countries in the Cell Factory, their incidence in the projects is noticeable: as many as 13% of 1999 Cell Factory projects do have at least a partner form the NAS. For 2000 the figure is roughly the same: 12%.

The Commission is committed to encourage the participation from NAS partners in the Framework Programmes and in addition to the more intensive dissemination campaigns on FP5 in the NAS, two new Calls for Proposals have been published in 2002 (3, 4) aimed at promoting the integration of NAS laboratories in ongoing FP5 projects and to support Networks of Excellence in these countries.


(3) OJEC. C158/12 - 31/05/2001
(4) OJEC. C264/5 - 20/09/2001

 
 
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THE EXTERNAL ADVISORY GROUP (EAG) ON CELL FACTORY (5)
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The role of the External Advisory Group on Cell Factory is to provide the Commission with independent advice concerning the content and direction of research work to be carried out under this Key Action. This involves proposing guidelines for the detailed work programme, including the time table of calls for proposals, the criteria to be used for evaluating project proposals, and verifiable objectives for achieving the aims of the Key Action. The commission has also benefited from the EAG advice on the strategic nature and exploitation of the work to be carried out and on the analysis of the results. This advice has resulted in different revisions of the work programme. The EAG discussions have lead to a number of reports, covering the revision of the yearly work programme and other broader issues, such as: From Medical Biotechnology to Clinical Practice, GMO Research in perspective, Entrepreneurship: Networking of Biovalleys in Europe, and Pivotal Role of the "Cell Factory" Key Action (6). These reports have been invaluable for the Commission Services in steering the activities of the Cell Factory towards a better use of resources and achievements of deliverables.

More specific and detailed introductions on each of the three areas of Cell Factory can be found at the beginning of each chapter addressing each area.


Alfredo AGUILAR
Head of Unit The "Cell Factory"
Directorate Life Sciences I
EC Directorate General for Research

 

 

(5) The names of the members of the EAG Cell Factory can be found at:
http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp5/eag-names.html
(6) The reports and the membership of the EAG Cell Factory are available at: http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp5/eag.html

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