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European funding brief: Horizon 2020

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This European Funding Brief outlines the EU funding opportunities that are available to support health-related projects, including the eight recently published calls for proposals. You can find details of the Open call for projects below.

The EC (European Commission), and agencies acting on its behalf, manages funding streams to support the implementation of policy objectives agreed at the European level. As such, calls for projects are focused on specific themes and projects must usually demonstrate a European dimension to their expected outcomes.

Please note that this summary is not exhaustive and that more detailed information about EU funding, including advice on how to apply, is available from the BMA's European Office.


Overview of Horizon 2020

On 21 November 2013, the EU Institutions adopted the new framework programme for research, development, innovation and education – Horizon 2020.

With a budget of €78.6bn for the period 2014-2020, Horizon 2020 differs from its predecessor, the FP7 (Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development), in that it merges all EU funding instruments for research & development (R&D), innovation and education into one single programme.

Built on three main pillars - excellent science (€24.4bn), industrial leadership (€17bn) and societal challenges (€29.7), Horizon 2020 maintains funding for fundamental research, but emphasises innovation and research activities.  


Targeting the funding

Societal challenges cover six key themes, of which the 'Health, demographic change and well-being' theme has an indicative budget of €7-8 billion to provide financial support for associated European research and innovation work.

The EC's plans outline in broad terms how it intends to target its funding, with activities including: 

  • understanding the determinants of health (including environmental and climate related factors)
  • improving health promotion and disease prevention
  • understanding disease and improving diagnosis
  • developing effective screening programmes and improving the assessment of disease susceptibility
  • improving surveillance and preparedness; developing better preventive vaccines
  • use in-silico medicine for improving disease management and prediction
  • treating disease; transferring knowledge to clinical practice and scalable innovation actions
  • better use of health data; active ageing, independent and assisted living
  • individual empowerment for self-management of health
  • promotion of integrated care
  • improving scientific tools and methods to support policy making and regulatory needs
  • optimising the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare systems and reducing inequalities by evidence based decision making and dissemination of best practice, and innovative technologies and approaches.


Application procedures

Simplifying the funding and application procedures was the main priority for the EC when shaping the new framework programme. The simplification comes from application of a single set of rules and clearer financing arrangements. Horizon 2020 provides a reimbursement scheme of 100% of direct costs for research projects (70% for innovative actions), and a single flat rate of 25% to refund indirect costs.

Under FP7, an average time for the EC to issue a decision about a project would take at least a year, whereas Horizon 2020 promises that the time between sending an application and receiving a grant should be limited to eight months.  

Funding is distributed through open calls for proposals (projects) with strict deadlines for submission of projects. All projects are submitted electronically. For some topics there will be a two-stage procedure - the first stage will involve submission of a short proposal or concept note. Successful candidates will then be invited to submit a full proposal.

All organisations participating in a project will need a 'participant identification code' (PIC) to be used in project submissions. The PIC can be obtained by registering the organisation online.  

Projects must involve at least three partners from three different EU member states or associated countries (Switzerland, Israel, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Faroe Islands, Moldova).  


Funding priorities

On 13 October 2015 the EC adopted its two-year WP (Work Programme), updated on 25 July 2016, which includes the final version of the 2017 topics, setting out funding opportunities for 2016-2017 under the area of 'Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing'.

The WP's structure, with a budget of €16 million, is a reflection of the overall flexibility of Horizon 2020 which focuses on the EU's long-term priorities and the most pressing societal challenges while allowing it to swiftly address emerging problems such as outbreaks of diseases.  

The main research priorities for 2016-2017 are: 

  • personalised medicine
  • promoting healthy ageing
  • human biomonitoring
  • health ICT
  • InnovFin Infectious Diseases Pilot - a new financial instrument for infectious diseases R&D jointly developed by the EC and European Investment Bank, provides loans between €7.5 million and €75 million to innovative actors active in developing vaccines, drugs, medical and diagnostic devices and research infrastructures for combating infectious diseases
  • maternal and child health.

On 19 July 2017, the EC published eight 2017 calls for proposals on the participants' portal under the Societal Challenges theme.

In addition to the Work Programme, one of the most important reference documents for those intending to apply for EU funds, is the annotated model grant agreement. The document explains in detail the legal and financial aspects of a grant and the requirements necessary when bidding for EU grants.

The EC has recently published its first draft of strategic priorities for the WP 2018-2020 of the Horizon 2020 in the field of health which is expected to be finalised in October 2017.

The following priorities are envisaged:

  • better health and care, economic growth and sustainable health systems
  • decoding the role of the overall environment for health and well-being
  • digital transformation in health and care
  • trusted big data solutions and cybersecurity for health and care
  • functional ecosystems, sustainable food systems, healthy lifestyles.


Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions - research fellowship programme

The programme is a funding scheme under Horizon 2020 and it provides European research grants available to researchers regardless of their nationality or field of research.

In addition to providing funding for specific research activities, the scheme allows scientists to gain experience abroad or in the private sector, and to complete their training with competences or disciplines useful for their careers.

Approximately €6 billion will be available for the 2014-2020 period for fellowships, research exchanges and mobility programmes.

Clinical research is welcomed under this programme, which is structured around:

  • early stage researchers - doctoral and initial training of researchers proposed by international networks of organisations from public and private sectors
  • experienced researchers - individual fellowships for the most promising experienced researchers to develop their skills through international or inter-sector mobility
  • exchange of staff - international and inter-sector cooperation through the exchange of research and innovation staff
  • COFUND - Co-funding of regional, national and international researcher mobility programmes.

Read more about the programme and its funding opportunities


Open call for projects

  • Horizon 2020 - RIA Research and Innovation action (two-stage model)

    Fund: Horizon 2020 - RIA Research and Innovation action (two-stage model)

    Publication date: 19 July 2017

    Deadlines: 24 October 2017 and 16 May 2018

    Funding available for all 7 calls: €126,439,000


    Call 1

    Development and validation of technology enabled, quantitative and sensitive measures of functional decline in people with early stage Alzheimer's Disease (RADAR-AD)

    The action generated by this topic will be part of the RADAR (Remote Assessment of Disease and Relapse) programme which aims to test if new pre-emptive therapeutic development and clinical care strategies based on remote continuous monitoring are both scientifically feasible and also practically feasible as part of a wider healthcare system.

    More information


    Call 2

    FAIRification of IMI (Innovative Medicines Initiative) and EFPIA data

    The project will focus on IMI projects that have data that is scientifically valuable and amenable to being made FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable). It is expected that the databases of more than 20 IMI projects will be made FAIR in this project. All IMI projects will be assessed for the presence of such data that requires FAIRification, though it should be noted that IMI2 projects are already required to manage their data according to similar protocols.

    More information


    Call 3

    Development of sensitive and validated clinical endpoints in pSS (primary Sjögren’s Syndrome)

    The major scope of the action generated by this topic will be the identification, development and validation of pSS-related outcome measures including clinical, PRO, laboratory, bio-behavioural activity and imaging parameters (biomarkers), applying the following step-wise approach: Data generation and review. 

    • Existing data including published epidemiology data, results from interventional and non-interventional studies, and from pSS registries will be reviewed and analysed.
    • Development of new outcome measures based on the review and analysis activities.
    • Application and validation by prospectively testing of these proposed new pSS outcome measures, as well as existing ones, in (at least one) dedicated, prospective clinical trial.
    • Analysis of the outcome of the validation trial and validation of the new endpoint(s). The performance of the new outcome measures or scoring systems will be compared to that of the existing ones, with the purpose to select the most promising outcome measures for future validation.

    More information


    Call 4

    EHDN (European Health Data Network)

    The call has the following 3 goals:

    • to 'reduce to practice' the approaches pioneered in these earlier research projects and develop a standard methodology
    • to help mature both the supply side and the demand side of this 'health data eco-system' in compliance with robust privacy and ethics governance
    • to stimulate development of new and augmented health services through available and expanded technologies, in the interest of health outcomes

    More information


    Call 5

    Analysing the infectious disease burden and the use of vaccines to improve healthy years in aging populations

    The scope of the action is to:

    • obtain a clear picture on the infectious disease burden in an aging population (50 years +)
    • quantify the problem such as number and type of hospitalisations and medical visits when the 50 years + group is exposed to the health care system
    • understand this evolution over the coming years
    • obtain a better insight in the immune response in the age-group of 65 years +
    • develop cost-benefit predictions based on an extended vaccination programme
    • better control the burden in that age-group through simulations with advanced disease models, and finally
    • develop strategies to educate all stakeholders working with the elderly

    More information


    Call 6

    Discovery and characterisation of blood-brain barrier targets and transport mechanisms for brain delivery of therapeutics to treat neurodegenerative and metabolic diseases

    The objectives are:

    • establishment and characterisation of BBB (Blood Brain Barrier) models relevant for healthy and disease conditions for evaluation of disease-modifying agents (human in vitro cell based, in particular iPSC (inducible pluripotent stem cell) or progenitor-derived cells, and in vivo)
    • identification of translational readouts closer to the pathogenesis of neurodegeneration and mimicking altered BBB under disease conditions
    • in-depth understanding of the biology of the BBB and characterisation of various transport mechanisms across the BBB, including virus-mediated BBB and CNS (Central Nervous System) penetration
    • discovery and development of innovative and efficacious brain delivery systems

    More information


    Call 7

    European Screening Centre: ESCulab - unique library for attractive biology

    The project should include:

    • A screening library: the core of the ESCulab library will ideally consist of ~550 000 unique, non-commercial compounds from the pharmaceutical companies and the short proposal applicant consortium
    • Compound logistics and uHTS ((ultra High Throughput Screening) screening facilities
    • Assay development capabilities
    • Screening facilities: ESCulab is expected to run 50 programmes free to the public and also develop a strategy to enable the screening of externally-funded screens
    • Hit Confirmation capabilities
    • Long-term sustainability plans

    More information


  • Horizon 2020 - RIA Research and Innovation action (single-stage model)

    Fund: Horizon 2020 - RIA Research and Innovation action (single-stage model)

    Publication date: 19 July 2017

    Deadline: 24 October 2017

    Funding available: €5,000,000



    Exploitation of IMI project results

    This call for proposals aims at providing a starting/short term support to develop enabling solutions to ensure that significant results from IMI projects become fully exploitable, available to all relevant end users, and/or fully sustainable in the long term and in their own right. This will ensure that the significant outputs, important samples and/or data that have been generated by the large public-private investments are maintained and made available for future research by the whole scientific community and that important findings are integrated in general research and medical practice in support of the objectives of IMI2.

    The work to be supported will consist mainly of activities and measures to make the results available to the broader scientific community and as such may include measures to enable technology transfer and the analysis of regulatory aspects, as well as the standardisation and transfer of samples, databases, tools, etc. to sustainable infrastructures. In addition, the work may also encompass further activities should novel solutions/tools/methods be required to achieve the objectives of sustaining the results and ensuring their full impact. These could include adaptation of technologies to enable wider engagement, development of novel standardisation and/or interoperability measures, further development of scientific and business solutions, etc., as appropriate.

    More information


  • Marie Skłodowska-Curie (single-stage model)

    Fund: Marie Skłodowska-Curie (single-stage model)

    Publication date: 11 April 2017

    Deadline: 14 September 2017

    Funding available:

    • Action 1: €10,000,000
    • Action 2, 3 and 4: €205,000,000
    • Action 5: €33,700,000


    Individual Fellowships - 5 Actions:

    • Society and Enterprise panel
    • Career Restart panel
    • Reintegration panel
    • Standard European Fellowships
    • Global Fellowships

    Support is foreseen for individual, trans-national fellowships awarded to the best or most promising researchers of any nationality, for employment in EU member states or associated countries. It is based on an application made jointly by the researcher and the beneficiary in the academic or non-academic sectors.

    Fellowships take the form of European Fellowships or Global Fellowships. European Fellowships are held in EU member states or associated countries and are open to researchers either coming to Europe from any country in the world or moving within Europe. The researcher must comply with the rules of mobility in the country where the European Fellowship is held.

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  • Marie Skłodowska-Curie (single-stage model)

    Fund: Marie Skłodowska-Curie (single-stage model)

    Publication date: 5 April 2017

    Deadline: 28 September 2017

    Funding available:

    • Action 1: €30,000,000
    • Action 2: €50,000,000


    Co-funding of regional, national and international programmes - 2 Actions:

    1. Doctoral programmes
    2. Fellowship programmes

    The COFUND scheme aims to stimulate regional, national or international programmes to foster excellence in researchers' training, mobility and career development, spreading the best practices of Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions. This will be achieved by co-funding new or existing regional, national, and international programmes to open up to, and provide for, international, intersectoral and interdisciplinary research training, as well as transnational and cross-sectoral mobility of researchers at all stages of their career. Applicants submit multi-annual proposals for new or existing doctoral programmes or fellowship programmes which are expected to have an impact on enhancing research and innovation related human resources on regional, national or international level.

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