EUROTRANS-BIO – a leg up
for Europe’s biotech SMEs

PRINTEUROTRANS-BIO

EUROTRANS-BIO
Europe’s biotechnology sector has an important role to play in developing new products and services for fields as diverse as health, food, the environment and energy. Furthermore, with over 2 100 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) employing over 100 000 people, the biotechnology sector also has a high socioeconomic value. A lot is at stake; the European biotech industry is already lagging behind its American counterpart and many emerging economies are catching up fast.

The sector’s success depends on its ability to fund and carry out the research needed to develop new products; this could be rendered more effective by boosting cooperation within the sector right across Europe. This would promote the exchange of information and ideas and reduce a possible duplication of research effort.

One major problem in Europe is that there is currently little coordination between the national agencies responsible for funding research, and this is where the EUROTRANS-BIO ERA-NET Action comes in. ERANET Actions are designed to help national funding agencies coordinate their activities.

Under the EUROTRANS-BIO banner, nine European regions and countries (Austria, the Belgian region of Flanders, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the Spanish Basque Country and Spain as a whole) joined forces to promote transnational biotechnology research cooperation, particularly among SMEs. Between them, the project partners cover some 55 to 60 per cent of the EU’s biotech industry.

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The partners include policy makers, agencies and their respective funding programmes, and they are united by their common goal to boost the competitiveness of Europe’s biotech industry. Together, they have succeeded in creating a single, transnational research initiative which funds joint calls from a ‘virtual’ common pot of money.

United we stand

‘EUROTRANS-BIO has created a network of ministries and agencies that efficiently managed to dedicate national or regional funds to international cooperations through creating commitments to increase the rate of cross-border R&D partnerships of SMEs in their respective countries,’ says Project Coordinator, Edith Petitet of the French SME support organisation, OSEO innovation.

The network is not virtual but concrete, as managers from agencies in different regions and countries now contact each other as they would their own colleagues.

At the heart of the project is a virtual common funding pot from which money is allocated to the selected projects. Within the projects, each region and country funds its own participants. Under the rules of the project, each consortium must include at least two SMEs from two EUROTRANS-BIO member regions or countries. A unique proposal submission system was set up, in which all the proposals are evaluated by at least two evaluators of different nationalities helped by external experts. The recommendations for funding are made at a final Evaluator Meeting. From the submission to the decision, all the national funding programmes work hand in hand.

The EUROTRANS-BIO initiative launched its first call for proposals within 15 months of starting. Three calls for proposals have already been launched; new calls are announced on the project’s website as well as on the partners’ own websites, the FP6 website and in the press. In the two first calls EUROTRANS-BIO received 125 proposals for innovative industrial research and development projects, signifying a high level of interest from the SME community. From these calls, 41 projects with a total cost of EUR 77 million were recommended for funding. The SMEs appreciated the bottom-up approach, the high levels of interaction between the agencies and the proximity of their financiers.

Small projects with big ambitions

Projects funded through EUROTRANS-BIO include COLOGENETICS. This project aims to develop innovative diagnostic tools to improve the clinical management of colorectal cancer patients by the better prediction of their clinical outcome and the personalised selection of the most suitable treatment for them. The project brings together an SME, a research centre and a research foundation in the Spanish Basque Country, as well as a German SME, plus three hospitals in the Spanish Basque Country which will recruit and follow up on the patients who will participate in the study.

Meanwhile the ETB-DV project, also funded under EUROTRANS-BIO, brings together Finnish and French partners and is working on third generation DNA vaccines for pandemic and seasonal flu. The project covers the whole phase of vaccine development from fundamental research to preclinical studies.

Though the health sector dominates the EUROTRANS-BIO projects, other sectors are also represented. For example, the SHORTWHEAT project is working to develop a semi-dwarf variety of wheat with improved resistance to Fusarium Head Blight, a fungal disease which reduces both grain quality and yield in wheat crops. The project partners include wheat breeders and biotech labs.

Everyone’s a winner

EUROTRANS-BIO fulfils an important role in providing SMEs with a transnational funding instrument which is designed specifically for small consortia and understands the needs of SMEs. A further advantage of collaborative projects such as those funded by the EUROTRANS-BIO initiative is the fact that risks are shared between the partners, a factor which is especially important in the high-risk biotechnology field.

Participating in EUROTRANS-BIO has also had a major impact on the regional or national agencies and ministries involved. The EUROTRANSBIO team was delighted that the initiative led to improved coordination at the regional, national as well as the European level.

Transnational activities coordinating national and regional research programmes such as EUROTRANS-BIO can lead to reduced risks and costs, fewer cases of research duplication and stronger international SME cooperation all over the European Union.