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Ladies and gentlemen.
Good morning and welcome!
I am very glad that Mr Ehler and I have this opportunity to bring us together today. To celebrate 20 years of Research and Innovation Partnership between the EU and Israel.
Israel is a country where creativity and curiosity-driven innovations are a normal everyday reality. Dreaming big in Israel has given the world many breakthroughs. Such as drugs against Parkinson's and cancer. And even the invention of the USB stick.
These outstanding contributions have received the highest global recognition. Israeli academics have won 6 Nobel Prizes in the sciences, 3 in peace, 2 in economics, and 1 in literature.
I tell you this, because this is why it is so important for us that Israel is an active participant of Horizon 2020. Did you know that Israel was the first ever non-European country to be associated to the EU Framework Programme? It was, and the scale of Israel's success in the last 20 years is incredible. Israel has just over 1% of the population of those countries eligible for an ERC grant. But researchers in Israel have received over 5% of these distinguished grants.
Partnership through collaborative projects has been hugely successful also. Around 5,000 Israeli groups have joined in more than 3,000 EU projects. Together, these institutes, companies and individuals have received around €1.8 billion in EU funding.
It is important to mention that this partnership is not just about money. What is built in these projects are lifelong lasting relationships between like-minded scientists and innovators. These projects also lead us to solve some of society's most pressing problems. And the inclusion of Israeli groups makes conquering these challenges far more possible. This really is a win-win situation for both the EU and Israel. Let me give you an example.
In 2013 the European Commission funded a collaborative research project called UNISEC. The aim of this €6 million project was to work towards developing a universal vaccine against flu.
We do have flu vaccines currently, but unfortunately these vaccines only work against very specific types of the virus. Because the virus changes rapidly, some years the vaccine and the virus don't match. This happened in the winter of 2014-15 for instance. In Europe that winter an estimated 217,000 people died of flu. Think about that number for a minute.
One of the participants in the UNISEC project is a start-up company from Ness Ziona in Israel called Biondvax. This company was started by a scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, who decided to turn her ideas into a company. I've visited the Weizmann Institute – a truly excellent research centre!
Biondvax have a potential universal flu vaccine. And the UNISEC project helped them enormously to develop their product. This included tests on volunteers in Hungary. Joining such a large effort right across Europe, with so much European expertise, helped Biondvax to do crucial work on their vaccine.
Then, on Monday this week, the European Investment Bank announced that it was giving a loan of €20 million to Biondvax to develop this product further. This loan is through InnovFin ID, a part of Horizon 2020 that provides loans to support exciting pre-market products from SMEs.
This story success illustrates perfectly what can happen through partnerships like that between the EU and Israel. An Israeli SME can gain access to all the scientific and innovation excellence that Europe has to offer. Europe, on the other hand, gets to support the development of a product that could have a huge impact on health. Especially for the elderly in Europe. And could save hundreds of thousands of lives.
This truly is win-win.
We are moving into a world of open innovation and user innovation. A world where the digital and physical are coming together. A world where new knowledge is created through global collaborations involving thousands of people from across the world and from all walks of life.
Israel's successful and dynamic innovation ecosystem, particularly in converting start-ups like Biondvax into innovative scale-ups, is an inspiration. It is a highly relevant example to look at when designing our EU research and innovation policies, including the European Innovation Council.
I hope that we can continue to support one another. And learn from one another. For many many years to come.