Europe's hungry biotech sector
26.06.2014 - The launch of Horizon2020 and close of the first deadlines in February has shown the appetite of Europe’s researchers from industry and academia for funding.
A huge number of applications were received, particularly for the two-stage applications, where success rates are as low as 4% for some topics. And pass rates could remain low even at Stage 2.
A silver lining
This is scary news at first glance, but we have to look at it in multiple ways. First, these were the first deadlines after a break between FP7 and H2020, so people had been waiting awhile for the Framework carousel to start turning again. Second, the two-stage application process opens the door to a huge number of speculative attempts at Stage 1, where the application is short. In some ways it’s annoying to think a half-developed idea could beat a carefully crafted effort. Indeed, exactly that has happened to enough EBN Member proposals.
Feeding the European fire
When you look at the big picture, however, you have to feel positive. Horizon 2020 is highly focussed on exploitation and raised impact. If evaluators are spoiled for choice with proposals that can deliver economic returns from biotech, then we can’t complain too much. Goodness knows Europe needs to deliver money back into the system from maturing biotechnology. I’m not talking about the kind of money that comes from the acquisition of an SME for a fraction of the public money that has been poured into making it ripe for purchase, but the genuine maturation of value within Europe. These short Stage 1 proposals also enable people new to EC funding to dip a toe in the water. Much better a failed Stage 1 proposal that gets you thinking about working in partnership and moving your technology forward than no effort at all because a full proposal was too difficult. Failed Stage 1 proposals need to keep their chins up – after all, you’ve started a journey, found some new friends and there are many adventures that beckon.
From small beginnings
The big question coming up is how the new SME Instrument performs. Part of me trembles at the thought of how many applications are cooking and how many will be disappointed. The rest of me is excited – at last, something to drive SMEs forward, masters of their own destiny! We’re cautiously circling the first deadlines in June, and I would imagine that the EC is also waiting with terror in its heart so see what the application process yields, and whether they’ll have to get extra USB sticks out of the cupboard to store all the applications. If you feel any tremors in cyberspace on June 25, you will know the SME Instrument has delivered a bouncing big baby into the nervous arms of its midwife.