Cantabria becomes a territory where responsible research will be practiced

By SalM on March 31, 2021 in News

Cantabrian Government has informed through its official website that this week will see the start of the TetRRIS project (Territorial Responsible Research and Innovation and Smart Specialization) on its territory. It will be conducted through SODERCAN, a public enterprise that is responsible for regional development in the Spanish autonomous community.

The first phase of the pilot project (fully financed by the European Commission) will focus on researching relevant stakeholders but comparisons will be constantly evaluated against the results from three other European regions, which are expected to be created as part of the project: Tampere (Finland), Karlsruhe (Germany) and Szeged-Timisoara (Hungary and Romania).

The focus here is on Responsible Research and Innovation

Innovation in all walks of life is one of these buzzwords that get minds thinking, people talking and administrations funding. In a way, it has always been part of human history and progress and today this is no different. However, in the past decade, there has been a concerted effort to think about the ethical, moral, legal and social implications of conducting research and innovation.

The European Commission took notice of that and decided to insist that research and innovation will be conducted in a responsible manner and that this becomes standardized before it can lend its support behind new initiatives. In that way, Responsible Research and Innovation, or RRI, was born as a term and also as an idea that will have to be taken into account when designing such processes.

In Cantabria, for example, it was announced that the first phase of TetRRIS will involve the conducting of in-depth interviews with different actors, such as clusters, CEOE-CEPYME, regional universities, CTC Technological Centre and start-ups in order to map out the profile of the innovation ecosystem in the region.

The authorities would like to first find out what these actors think the challenges are ahead of them and what they think will be the social implications of their research and innovations for the citizens.

International science cooperation must continue beyond COVID-19

By SalM on March 29, 2021 in News

The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the power of open global research collaboration and this lesson must live on to help address other pressing global issues, says OECD.

“We sit here, and we say this worked well for an experiment. The question is whether or not we need to scale this up,” said Andrew Wyckoff, director of the OECD’s directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation.

During the pandemic, some of the most effective means for coordinating research have been international initiatives, such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which funded initial research on a number of different vaccines. “These platforms have led to culminations we could not have anticipated before,” said Wyckoff.

In an unprecedented global effort, the OECD estimates around $7.5 billion was raised for COVID-19 R&D by the end of last summer, of which around $2 billion was channelled through international initiatives.

While these initiatives were effective in the crisis, many remain underfunded and rely on philanthropic institutions such as the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, and a handful of countries, for financing. To deal with future pandemics and other pressing issues, such as climate change, governments should provide more support.

The global research effort saw a total of 75,000 scientific papers on the virus published by November, over three quarters of which are open access. The scale of publications is another major achievement underwritten by the openness of COVID-19 research. The rapid response was built on the fact that the genome of the virus was sequenced and the results were instantly made public.

The crisis has been a journey of data, notes Wyckoff. He suggests that going forward, the publication of datasets should be incentivised as much as publishing scientific papers. They should be seen as equal contributions.

In Wyckoff’s view, the role China played in pandemic-related research affirmed the country as a global player. China is now the second largest R&D funder in the world and has been developing closer ties to the US, which was reflected in the COVID-19 co-publication patterns.

This has happened at a time when there is creeping resistance to international collaboration, with more demands for reciprocity, and, said Wyckoff, “what we heard in Europe – a growing cry for technology sovereignty.”

Moves to protectionist policies and increasing demands for reciprocity could endanger international collaboration. To avoid this, governments should work on ensuring a level playing field for scientific cooperation, and building trust. For the US, this also means being more open to China, Wyckoff said.

New challenges

Beyond the pandemic, promoting a transition to more sustainable societies will demand massive research firepower. Drawing on the lessons of the crisis, the OECD says governments should rethink science policies and equip themselves with the right instruments to deliver the transition to greener and more resilient societies.

Open and collaborative research with players from around the globe is one piece of the puzzle. Another is taking a multi-disciplinary approach. Complex problems, such as COVID-19 and the green transition, require inputs from many different areas of research, but current R&D policies around the globe are ill-equipped to support this.

At the same time, the way governments fund research should be rethought too. First, it is not all about the money. There is a different between leveraging mechanisms and “releasing the floodgates of funding,” according to Marjorie Blumenthal, senior policy researcher at the US think tank RAND Corporation.

For example, governments may need to rethink how they incentivise business to invest in R&D. Tax incentives are becoming the dominant form of encouraging research in the private sector in most OECD countries, making up 55% of government support in 2017. While tax breaks encourage companies to innovate, they are often untargeted. Long-term, green, and often high risk innovation is better supported with direct grants, OECD believes.

But this will require governments to reverse an age-old trend. Grants, unlike taxes, are tied to the budget. In times of economic downturn, when austerity kicks in and government debt grows, direct funding is typically reduced while tax incentives grow, says Wyckoff.

In the end, funding is not everything. Support for open and international research is the key priority. “To me it’s a little bit less about the money and more about the attitude on new ways going forward,” said Wyckoff.


European Commission Launches Open Access Platform for Scientific Papers

By SalM on March 26, 2021 in News

The European Commission launched Open Research Europe, a publishing platform for scientific papers that will be accessible to everyone. The platform will present the results of research funded by Horizon Europe, the EU research and innovation programme for 2021-2027, and its predecessor, Horizon 2020.

Open Research Europe will give everyone, researchers and citizens alike, free-of-charge access to the latest scientific discoveries. It directly addresses major difficulties often associated with publishing scientific results, including delays and barriers to the re-use of results and high costs. The platform is an optional service for Horizon Europe and Horizon 2020 beneficiaries so that they can comply with their funding requirements for immediate open access, at no cost to them.

Approximately 40 scientific papers from very diverse fields of research have already been submitted and are available for the scientific community to read and review.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said: “We need to accelerate scientific discovery through more collaborative and open research practices. By helping researchers to publish in open access, Open Research Europe removes the barriers to knowledge flows and cultivates scientific debate. This is just the beginning. We will gradually build the reputation of the platform as the publishing venue of choice for the researchers of Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe, and ensure it becomes deeply embedded in the European Research Area.”

Supporting open science and transparency in the scientific publishing process

In the Communication ‘A new ERA for Research and Innovation’, the Commission introduces Open Research Europe as an open access publishing platform for the publication of research stemming from Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe funding across all subject areas in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as social sciences, arts and the humanities.

Open Research Europe will not only contribute to open, fast and cost-efficient scientific publications. It will also make it easy for beneficiaries of Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe to comply with the relevant open access terms of their funding: immediate open access, as required by Horizon Europe and automatic submission in a general purpose repository (for comparison, Horizon 2020 permitted a 6-12 month embargo period). Open Research Europe will offer researchers a publishing venue to share their results and insights rapidly, and facilitate open, constructive research debates. The platform features a wide range of metrics to measure the scientific and social impact of articles and provide information of their use and re-use.

In taking up a new role, the Commission intends to lead by example in actively supporting open science practices and promoting transparency in the publishing process. It aims at inspiring other funders, in particular at national level, to do the same. By integrating Open Research Europe into Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe the Commission is bringing innovative solutions in scholarly communication to the next level.


Currently, 91% of all publications and 95% of all peer-reviewed publications funded by Horizon 2020 are open access, extremely high percentages globally. Nonetheless, the ambition is that all scholarly publications stemming from the research funding of the Commission are open access. In particular, the aim for Horizon Europe is that publications will be openly accessible from the moment they are published, which the platform enables.

Open science is an approach based on open cooperative work and systematic sharing of knowledge and tools as early and widely as possible in the research process.  It makes research and innovation systems more efficient and creative, and reinforces excellence and society’s trust in science. This is because opening and sharing research results and data, making them re-usable and reproducible, and having access to research infrastructures provide the basis for peer scrutiny and scholarly debate, which ensure quality and efficiency in taking research reflections, analysis and innovation further.

The EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has shown the potential of open science to increase collaboration, illustrating how immediate open access to publications and data has been crucial in helping researchers to find new treatments, diagnostics and vaccines. Open Research Europe is taking the next step in this process.


How Science Beat the Virus

By SalM on March 25, 2021 in COVID-19

In fall of 2019, exactly zero scientists were studying COVID‑19, because no one knew the disease existed. The coronavirus that causes it, SARS‑CoV‑2, had only recently jumped into humans and had been neither identified nor named. But by the end of March 2020, it had spread to more than 170 countries, sickened more than 750,000 people, and triggered the biggest pivot in the history of modern science. Thousands of researchers dropped whatever intellectual puzzles had previously consumed their curiosity and began working on the pandemic instead. In mere months, science became thoroughly COVID-ized.

Much like famous initiatives such as the Manhattan Project and the Apollo program, epidemics focus the energies of large groups of scientists. In the U.S., the influenza pandemic of 1918, the threat of malaria in the tropical battlegrounds of World War II, and the rise of polio in the postwar years all triggered large pivots. Recent epidemics of Ebola and Zika each prompted a temporary burst of funding and publications.

In a survey of 2,500 researchers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, Kyle Myers from Harvard and his team found that 32 percent had shifted their focus toward the pandemic. Neuroscientists who study the sense of smell started investigating why COVID‑19 patients tend to lose theirs. Physicists who had previously experienced infectious diseases only by contracting them found themselves creating models to inform policy makers. Michael D. L. Johnson at the University of Arizona normally studies copper’s toxic effects on bacteria. But when he learned that SARS‑CoV‑2 persists for less time on copper surfaces than on other materials, he partially pivoted to see how the virus might be vulnerable to the metal. No other disease has been scrutinized so intensely, by so much combined intellect, in so brief a time.

But the COVID‑19 pivot has also revealed the all-too-human frailties of the scientific enterprise. Flawed research made the pandemic more confusing, influencing misguided policies. Clinicians wasted millions of dollars on trials that were so sloppy as to be pointless. Overconfident poseurs published misleading work on topics in which they had no expertise. Racial and gender inequalities in the scientific field widened.

Open data sets and sophisticated new tools to manipulate them have made today’s researchers more flexible. SARS‑CoV‑2’s genome was decoded and shared by Chinese scientists just 10 days after the first cases were reported. By November, more than 197,000 SARS‑CoV‑2 genomes had been sequenced. About 90 years ago, no one had even seen an individual virus; today, scientists have reconstructed the shape of SARS‑CoV‑2 down to the position of individual atoms. Researchers have begun to uncover how SARS‑CoV‑2 compares with other coronaviruses in wild bats, the likely reservoir; how it infiltrates and co-opts our cells; how the immune system overreacts to it, creating the symptoms of COVID‑19. “We’re learning about this virus faster than we’ve ever learned about any virus in history,” Sabeti said.

EU Considers Tougher Rules to Promote Gender Equality in Horizon Europe

By SalM on March 24, 2021 in News, Women in Research

Excellence and impact will be the main criteria in evaluating proposals, but in case of a tie, gender balance in research groups will swing it. All institutions awarded grants must have published gender equality plans – and show they are implementing them.

The European Commission is weighing up whether to add tougher rules to promote gender equality in research grant contracts awarded in the imminent Horizon Europe R&D programme, according to leaked draft planning documents.

The plan – which is still subject to revision – would for the first time make gender balance in research groups a possible tie-breaker when deciding among competing applications. The main criteria for evaluating proposals remains research excellence and impact. But for proposals with the same score, gender balance between researchers and staff named in the proposal could be the deciding factor.

Under the plan, the Commission would also require all public sector organisations to have published formal gender equality plans, and produce evidence to show plans are being implemented.

The ideas fit into a broader effort to push for greater gender equality across all EU programmes. But in the case of research, leaked drafts of the plan, and some private briefings on it, have stirred concerns that enforcing gender equality will make it tougher for some institutions and EU member states to win Horizon Europe grants.

The gender provisions are among several possible changes the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe programme could introduce from March or April of this year. Many are mandated by the new Horizon Europe legislation that is due to get final Parliamentary approval in coming weeks. These include allowing big research institutions to use their own regular accounting methods, rather than the Commission’s previously rigid formula, when deciding how to bill for indirect project costs like infrastructure and central administration.

Others have been elaborated by Commission staff in months of detailed programme documents.

Many of these drafts have been circulating informally around the EU research community for weeks, but the Commission refuses to comment and won’t publish the final versions until after Parliament formally approves the legislation this spring. “We do not have the habit to comment on leaks,” a Commission spokesman said in an emailed reply to several requests for comment made by Science|Business.

According to the draft model grant agreement, beneficiaries are expected to promote equal opportunities between men and women during the project, in line with their published gender equality plans. “[Beneficiaries] must aim, to the extent possible, for a gender balance at all levels of personnel assigned to the action, including at supervisory and managerial level,” the draft says.

In addition, the proposal template warns applicants to “be aware” that if their proposal is selected, their organisation needs to have its gender equality plan in place before they can sign the grant agreement.

The Commission will require gender equality plans in the form of official documents published by research institutions and universities and signed by the top management. These plans would commit the institution to collect gender data on personnel and students, raise awareness on gender equality and unconscious biases among staff and decision makers.

The plans must also include “concrete measures and targets [on] work-life balance and organisational culture; gender balance in leadership and decision making; gender equality in recruitment and career progression; integration of the gender dimension into research and teaching content; measures against gender-based violence, including sexual harassment.”

According to a draft version of the general annexes to the 2021-2022 work programmes, “If necessary, the gender balance among the personnel named in the proposal who will be primarily responsible for carrying out the research and/or innovation activities, and who are included in the researchers’ table of the proposal, will be used as a factor for prioritisation.”

Broader push for gender mainstreaming

The changes introduced to EU’s main research and innovation programme, reflect a broader political push for gender equality in Europe. A strategy published in May 2020 listed key actions for the next five years to mainstream gender equality in all EU policy areas. “With the Gender Equality Strategy, we are pushing for more and faster progress to promote equality between men and women,” EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said at the launch of the plan.

In the field of research and innovation, studies by the European Commission, show women occupy only 24% of top academic positions, they are under-represented the science, technology and mathematics overall, and represent less than 10% of patent holders.

The Commission has already asked member states to develop concrete plans to promote gender equality, diversity and inclusiveness in research and innovation.

Until now, research organisations and funding agencies were encouraged to implement institutional changes through gender equality plans. The Commission even made funds available from Horizon 2020 for research organisations to implement these plans.

In September, EU research commissioner Mariya Gabriel included further plans for improving gender balance in research organisations in her signature communication on revamping the European Research Area (ERA). That included a call for member states to develop plans to promote “gender equality, diversity, and inclusiveness in science, research, and innovation”. For now, the Commission is in the process of devising a governance structure for ERA and it is not clear yet how the implementation of gender equality plans in member states would be evaluated.

In December, the Commission concluded trilateral negotiations with the Council and the Parliament on the Horizon Europe legal framework, which includes provisions for the research programme to “eliminate gender inequalities” and to promote equality between women and men in research and innovation. “The gender dimension should be integrated in research and innovation content and followed through at all stages of the research cycle,” the framework says.

Universities get ahead

Thomas Jørgensen, senior policy coordinator at the European University Association said most universities have gender equality strategies or similar initiatives in place and will be able to handle the proposed requirements. According to him, it should not be too difficult to tick the gender equality box.

“Researchers will probably be able to show that strategies exists in one way or the other, as most universities already do this,” said Jørgensen.

A study by the EUA in 159 higher education institutions found many have already put together plans to enable people from less-represented backgrounds to advance academic and research careers. “The topic is on the agenda in universities, not only because funders would like it, but because universities want to do it themselves,” said Jørgensen.

However, Jørgensen says the proposed new provisions seem “draconian” and “inflexible” and the EU could be missing a broader debate about “the link between excellence and diversity”. The focus of EU policies should not be only on the gender gap, but should be aimed at supporting a universal idea about equity and diversity that includes other underprivileged groups and how such equity could improve excellence in universities, he says.

Diverse universities perform better than homogenous ones, because they have access to more perspectives and are more creative. “Diversity is a precondition for excellence,” Jørgensen said.

New evaluation rules

In addition to the new gender balance criteria for breaking ties, leaked draft documents reveal further changes to how the new research programme will work compared to its predecessor, Horizon 2020:

  • Horizon Europe applicants will be asked to name all the researchers who will be involved in the project and their role. EU funding experts say this new provision would slow down the application process, as researchers are often on the move and institutions rarely can guarantee that all researchers listed in the application will work on the project through to the end.
  • Also, for certain types of projects, research organisations do not allocate researchers at the time of the application. This new provision could mean that the Commission wants to do more thorough evaluations of personnel costs to reduce a potential source of fraud, check whether personnel costs are used for researchers on the payroll of the organisation, and make sure that consortia do not introduce new people in an ongoing project.
  • According to the leaked drafts, the Commission is to introduce a blind evaluation pilot. For two-stage submissions, the researchers’ identity will not be disclosed to evaluators during the first stage of their assessment.
  • In the leaked drafts, the Commission has also listed all the activities that are eligible for funding. Two new project types will be introduced in the research programme: innovation and market deployment actions (IMDA), for projects that seek to deploy innovations to the market and to scale-up companies; and training and mobility actions (TMA), for projects that use cross-country mobility to improve skills, knowledge and career prospects for researchers. The first is intended for use by the European Innovation Council, which funds small or growing tech companies. The second is for use by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, which funds big consortia of universities and companies that promote innovation and train young innovators.
  • Researchers could be forced to agree to “immediately” deposit any research output in a repository and provide access to it under a creative commons or public domain dedication licences, in case their research is deemed of public interest during an emergency. The draft model agreement does not specify what kind of emergencies would fit this bill. The model grant agreement for Horizon 2020 has a similar clause but that only applied for health emergencies. It remains unclear whether researchers and their organisations will get reimbursed or their intellectual property protected after agreeing to this clause.
  • The Commission is also planning to introduce a new proposal length for single-stage applications. The top limit could be reduced from 70 pages in Horizon 2020 to only 45.

Source: sciencebusiness

European Innovation Council officially launched

By SalM on March 19, 2021 in News

After a three-year pilot phase, the EIC emerges fully formed, with €1.5B to invest in innovation this year and calls for proposals.

After its three-year pilot, the European Innovation Council (EIC) finally launched as a full-fledged €10 billion agency on Thursday, kicking off with three calls worth a total €1.5 billion.

EIC will provide both grant funding and direct investment for start-ups through its €10 billion equity fund, with the aim of supplying the capital to translate Europe‘s world leading science through to market.

“We, Europeans, are excellent [at] making science with money. But we are not so good [at] making money out of science,” Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said. “The new European Innovation Council is there to help resolve this paradox,” she said at the launch.

The €10 billion sounds like a lot of money but more funding is needed to match the ambition, said Christian Ehler, MEP and rapporteur for the Horizon Europe research programme, of which EIC is part.  Success rates have been as low as 2% for some of the calls in the pilot phase. “It’s a thirsty new crowd, but it will be a successful crowd.”

EIC is the brainchild of the previous EU research commissioner, Carlos Moedas. But the concept of a new funding body with new needs within the EU research programme was a nightmare for traditional Commission administrators, and the idea was met with a lot of scepticism and unfavourable media coverage at first, Ehler noted.

But discussions continued, and after funding over 5,000 SMEs and innovation projects in its pilot phase, EIC is now ready for business.

There is a slight qualification, in that Horizon Europe is still awaiting approval by the Parliament. EIC can launch calls thanks to a legal clause that allows a retroactive start to the programme: up to official approval in April, EIC can accept and evaluate proposals. But grant agreements cannot be signed, and no money will flow until Horizon Europe is adopted by MEPs.

From 1 April, EIC will be merging with the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, which manages the EU’s SME support programmes, to form EISMEA (European Innovation Council and SMEs).

This new agency, headed by the current chief of the EIC taskforce, Jean-David Malo, will distribute grant funding on behalf of the EIC, while equity investments will continue to be managed by the EIC Fund, launched last summer.

The EIC could see itself playing a strategic role in the EU quest for technology sovereignty, having the right in certain cases, to buy golden shares in companies, to outvote foreign investors.

But EU research commission Mariya Gabriel said the EIC is not a political tool. “If there are some priorities to fix, it’s not political priorities, it’s European priorities,” she said.

First calls

The first EIC calls and the work programme setting the agenda for the next year are now out. “Today, we don’t just cut ribbons. We get down to business and launch the first calls,” said von der Leyen.

Start-ups looking for funding will be able to submit short pitches at any time and, if successful, will be invited to submit full applications by 9 June or 6 October 2021.

There is a total of €592.5 million this year for start-ups, with an additional €495.1 million for challenge-driven targeted calls in certain areas of health, digital technology and green deal innovations.

The Pathfinder, which funds high-risk projects with breakthrough potential, will accept applications for research in any field until 19 May. A total of €168 million will be awarded in grants of up to €3 million in this bottom-up, open, call.

For the bottom-down call, there is €132 million for research consortia to apply for grants of up to €4 million by 27 October. The Pathfinder sets out five challenges:

  1. Awareness inside (projects scrutinising the idea of artificial intelligence consciousness);
  2. Tools to measure and stimulate activity in brain tissue;
  3. Emerging technologies in cell and gene therapy;
  4. Novel routes to green hydrogen production;
  5. Engineered living materials.

The work programme also introduces Transition grants for translating EU-funded research to market.

There is €59.6 million for the bottom-up call and €40.5 million for innovation targeting medical devices and energy harvesting and storage technologies.

The projects must build on previous EIC Pathfinder or European Research Council proof-of-concept projects. Researchers, SMEs and small consortia can request up to €2.5 million.

Source: sciencebusiness

How science can put the Sustainable Development Goals back on track

By SalM on March 18, 2021 in News

In October, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres made a series of key appointments. He tasked 15 scientists from around the world with providing policymakers with evidence, as well as their thoughts, on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This time last year, the UN’s flagship plan to end poverty and guide the world to environmental sustainability by 2030 was already off track. Since then, the pandemic has reversed most of the achievements made in the five years since countries adopted the goals.

The World Food Programme estimates that 270 million people are now at risk of starvation: double the number before the pandemic. And school closures resulting from lockdowns have set back one of the few SDGs that were within reach before the pandemic — the goal to achieve universal primary education. In December, the UN’s science and cultural organization UNESCO estimated that some 320 million children were out of school, an increase of 90 million in just one month.

This is the situation facing the researchers whom Guterres has tasked with researching and writing the second UN Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) — the first was published in 2019. They have been drawn from all over the world and span a range of disciplines, including climate change, ecology, environmental economics, ethics, health policy, infectious diseases, oceanography, the governance of international organizations and the study of science and development.

The importance of this partnership between research and action cannot be overstated. At present, UN organizations such as the children’s charity UNICEF and the World Food Programme are operating in emergency mode. Research often suffers when budgets are stretched and personnel have to be redeployed — in this case to more pandemic-facing roles. But these organizations still need research. They still need to be able to draw on people who have the time to think and gather evidence; people with the time to reflect on that knowledge before providing advice and answering questions from their colleagues on the frontline, and from policymakers and colleagues in other roles.

Such hands-on research will not be for the GSDR authors to do, but they could help UN agencies and countries to think about how to meet their research needs during the pandemic. Researchers need to test different strategies to help children whose families lack access to smartphones, laptops and broadband. They need to study the effect the pandemic is having on health systems. And, as governments rush to revive economic growth, there is a mountain of research to be done on the pandemic’s economic impact and on how to make recovery as green as possible. The SDGs will not be met unless research can shine a light on these and other issues.


International Collaborations Can Maintain Animal Welfare Standards and Advance Science

By SalM on March 17, 2021 in News

In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, there has never been a greater period in our lifetime to promote science globally. While it might seem paradoxical that international scientific work proceeds, considering global travel is restricted, many scientists remain active across the continents, working day-by-day to chip at pressing problems and the unknown frontiers of science. The success of both basic and clinical research pursuits is supported by such global efforts. Notably, in both basic and clinical research, animals have also played an integral part. A testament to that is the essential role of animals in developing not just one, but several vaccines for COVID-19 (see here). Now, at a time when non-human primate species are in high demand, but short supply (NY Times), we face a reminder of how critical animals are not only for scientific advances but also to the international community.

As with anything on a global scale, there are a variety of factors that play together. Here, they include the intertwining of cultural, societal, ethical, and scientific values. The complexity of finding common ground is obvious, however, not impossible. Facing this reality, we can at least acknowledge how far science has already come. Scientists and scientific organizations have been generators of policy change for years. Science itself has generated a great deal of knowledge about living beings and the world around, so much so that findings have continued to inform and shape ethical considerations and practices. The question then arises, where do we go from here?

We need to identify a set of common standards, being sensitive to the autonomy, societal positions, and resources of different nations. International context and empirical data can work to inform agreeable standards. This is not to say that there will be no compromise. Actually, compromises are expected, similar to how compromises are the fruit of all labor in international policy. A 2016 publication proposing a framework for broad consideration of ethical use and treatment of captive animals (i.e., chimpanzees) across settings, further underscores that this is not a new issue for science or international policy. However, by taking transparent and fact-based discussions even the most complex issues can be tackled – diplomatic scientific relations, if you will.

It has sometimes been conveyed that Western standards are the gold standard that other countries should aspire to attain, but what is missing from that perspective is (a) the resources and (b) a comparative examination of regulatory and research approval processes of different nations. Naturally, developing countries may not have a financial means to construct infrastructure to house animals as per the guidelines of the European Union, for example, but they could be assisted as part of an international collaboration during IAWUC consideration. An international committee, such as the IAWUC, should also help elevate developing nations in its efforts to promote accessibility to science while questioning whether the costs allocated by wealthy nations are indeed better for animal welfare. It is not always the case that costs directly relate to better care for research animals.

Furthermore, it is not about which country has the best policies for animal use and care, it is what is best for the livelihood of animals and humans, health and scientific progress, which an evidence-based approach considers. We should support the principle that any standard be vetted and evidence-based, with clearly articulated rationale. Overall, we can help to avoid the exodus of research from countries that are under too much regulatory burden, have insufficient investment in infrastructure, and/or have created standards that raise costs so much it is untenable to do the work (e.g., financial costs, public relations and risk costs). We can do this by setting a reasonable standard.

When promoting international relations and collaborations, the importance of community engagement cannot be understated. Engagement is required not only on behalf of the scientists, regulators, and policy makers but also by the public, by society. Often, public communication and engagement falls outside the scope of academic responsibilities, yet it is a service not only to science but also to members of the public when the discussions are continued.


Empowering women leads to better science, research and innovation

By SalM on March 15, 2021 in News, Women in Research

EU commissioner for research and innovation announces Women TechEU, an EIC-led initiative that will offer coaching, mentoring and funding to promising female tech entrepreneurs.
Last year was a remarkable year for women in science. Two scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, one from the EU and one from the US, received a Nobel Prize for their discovery on the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic scissors. It was the first time that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to two women in the same year in its 119-year history. It is amazing to see how the impact of women in science has grown exponentially since Marie Curie became the first women to receive a Nobel Prize in 1903. It sends an important message to younger generations of women and the world: We need your skills, talents and solutions.

Better science

While gender equality is important in and of itself, I would like to stress that having more women in science serves another, maybe even greater purpose: better science. The reason that we could start vaccinations in less than a year from the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe is because of the discoveries of amazing women scientists. Because of Katalin Karikó, a scientist from Hungary that since 1990 has worked tirelessly on developing mRNA technologies that are now at the basis of our COVID-19 vaccines. Because of Özlem Türeci, a German physician, scientist and entrepreneur who co-founded BioNTech, the first company to receive vaccine approval from the European Medicines Agency. Because of all the women in research and innovation across Europe and the world that have contributed to new treatments, diagnostics and vaccines.

That is why, I am determined to continue stepping up EU efforts to increase gender equality in education, culture, sports and research and innovation. The latest “She Figures” report, our flagship publication monitoring the state of play on gender equality in research and innovation, indicates a persisting under-representation of women in research and innovation. All disciplines considered, only a third of researchers in the EU are women and only 15% in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Even more striking, women represent less than 10% of patent holders, only 8% of European startups are founded by all-women teams and only 25% are founded by a team that includes at least one woman.

A changing mindset

We need more innovative ways of tackling gender stereotypes among the younger generations. That is why on International Women’s Day 2020 I started a yearlong social media campaign – #EUwomen4future. Since then, I have had the privilege to highlight the remarkable achievements from European women in research, innovation, education, culture and sport. Because of this campaign, a database of talented women from across Europe remains and we will continue supporting and recognizing them and all other amazing women that have made an impact.

Another concrete example of how we are addressing gender stereotypes in science is the project ‘Nobel Run’. This EU-funded project designed a board game where players have to manage a research team, hire doctoral students and researchers, publish articles and get funding through international projects, with the help of top women scientists and inventors. The goal? Winning the Nobel Prize.

A bright future

This is the moment to reaffirm our commitment and take the next steps towards true gender equality. That is why we made sure that integration of the gender dimension into the design of projects funded under Horizon Europe, our new EU research and innovation programme, will be a standard requirement. Furthermore, having a gender equality plan in place will become an eligibility criterion for public bodies, research organizations and higher education establishments.

Now let us talk business. As I mentioned before, when it comes to Europe’s booming technology industry the overwhelming majority of start-ups are founded by all-male teams. We can and must do better. That is why today, on International Women’s Day, I am proud to announce “Women TechEU”, a brand new initiative, spearheaded by the European Innovation Council, to support women-led deep-tech startups, and give them a boost to grow their company into the deep tech champions of tomorrow.

These actions are complementary to those from other EU programmes, such as ERASMUS+, with strong synergies with the transformative agenda for higher education institutions, the European Universities alliances, and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology – which will offer training in digital and STEM skills to 40,000 schoolgirls.

We need more women talents for better science, research and innovation. It is vital for ensuring sustainable and inclusive twin digital and green transitions, and recovery from the pandemic. I call upon all research organisations, universities, businesses, governments and citizens to join me in realising more inclusive, equal and better research and innovation.

COVID-19 lessons for research

By SalM on March 12, 2021 in COVID-19

As we mark the 1-year anniversary of the declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, the world has suffered a staggering and tragic human toll. During this dark time, the scientific community has been called to rise to the occasion in unprecedented ways. The intensity of the work and the sense of urgency have been unremitting and exhausting. As we sort out the triumphs and frustrations, we can begin to reflect on what we have learned.

The rapid development of vaccines has been breathtaking. Moving at least five times faster than ever before, the design, development, rigorous testing, and manufacture of multiple vaccines using different platforms have been astoundingly successful. This was only possible because of decades of investment in the long arc of technology development—working out the details of a messenger RNA strategy, for instance, was a 25-year journey. To prepare for future pandemics, we must extrapolate this lesson to the most likely pathogens lurking in the future. We should also learn from the experience of vaccine trial recruitment, where special efforts like the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) were needed to reach out to communities of color, where the disease has taken its highest toll in the United States. Diversity in clinical trial enrollment is not just a nice idea—it is essential if the results are going to be meaningful to all groups.

Therapeutics that have proven beneficial for COVID-19 include an antiviral (remdesivir), immunosuppressives (dexamethasone, baracitinib), several outpatient monoclonal antibodies, and anticoagulants. Important contributions were made by the Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial in the United Kingdom and the Solidarity Trial sponsored by WHO. In the United States, a public-private partnership, Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV), brought together government agencies, academics, and 20 pharmaceutical companies, ably managed by the Foundation for the NIH. With a priority on therapeutic agents, ACTIV designed master protocols and coordinated rigorous, well-powered randomized controlled trials. Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership initiated by the U.S. government, provided billions of dollars for trial operation and at-risk manufacturing. One lesson learned, however, was that many clinical trials in the United States were not initially well suited to a public health emergency. Far too many small and poorly designed trials (many focused on hydroxychloroquine, which turned out to be a dead end) were initiated in the early days of the pandemic—all with good intentions but contributing relatively little in terms of new knowledge. Another lesson is that the necessary short-term dependence on repurposing existing drugs will not often produce true successful outcomes. For the future, we should begin to work on potent oral antivirals against all major classes of potential pathogens, with the goal of having drugs ready for phase 2/3 efficacy trials when the next threat emerges.

Another major challenge was the need for fast, widely accessible, and highly accurate virus testing. For all their merits, the first-arriving nucleic acid tests, which generally had to be conducted in central labs, took too long to produce the rapid results urgently needed to prevent spread. This inspired an innovative response—the NIH Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) program in which test developers drew on a “shark tank” of engineering, business, and manufacturing experts. From over 700 applications, 137 went through an intense evaluation, and those judged most promising were provided with additional resources. As a result, today there are 28 novel diagnostic platforms collectively contributing an additional 2.5 million tests daily. An analysis of the potential benefits of widespread home testing is about to get under way. This approach, whereby NIH took on the role of venture capitalist, should be considered in the future when rapid development of new technologies is the goal.

In the past, the world has rallied to confront new pandemics, only to lapse into complacency as the risk faded. Having now experienced the worst pandemic in 103 years, we must not make that mistake again.