The public webcast “COVID on campus: Will R&D ecosystems survive?”, organized by Science|Business, was held on Wednesday 22nd April 2020. This online meeting assessed the disruption brought by the Covid-19 crisis on public and private organizations involved in research and innovation and explored solutions for addressing the impact on R&D systems.
First to speak was Robert-Jan Smits, current President of the Executive Board of the Eindhoven University of Technology and former Director-General of DG Research and Innovation (RTD) within the European Commission. In his introduction, he underlined the importance of robust stimulus packages for ensuring the continuation of research and mentioned that a recession could force high-tech compagnies to rethink their strategies, as R&D departments are often cut in times of crisis. Though when speaking on stakeholder collaboration during the current crisis, he highlighted that actors in the research and innovation space are coming together in order to serve patients and overcome the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On EU-funded research and the next EU budget, he underlined that the European Commission tabled robust proposals for Horizon Europe and expressed his hope for a swift agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027.
Salah-Dine Chibout, Global Head for Discovery & Investigative Safety at Novartis, subsequently provided his perspective as regards the impact of Covid-19. He highlighted that Novartis aims to adjust to the crisis by many means and that he is witnessing a boost in collaboration and partnerships. Digital technologies in particular are enabling many activities to continue as planned.
On the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), the current partnership between the European Commission and the pharmaceutical industry for speeding up the development of innovative medicines, Dr. Chibout highlighted the IMI call, launched in February and March 2020, that aims to support the development of new therapeutics as regards Covid-19. He also mentioned that this can be seen as an example of how long-term investments into R&D in Europe are paying off.
Up next was Andreas Mortensen, Vice President for Research at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). He underlined that, for now, not much severe harm has been done to R&D systems due to the fact that many stakeholders came together in their efforts to address Covid-19. Though he also highlighted that the economic conditions that will prevail after the crisis will be important as major financial disruptions could hit the R&D sector hard. In this regard, he underlined that it is key that governments take strong action in order to support and fund innovation ecosystems.
Karina Angelieva, Deputy Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Bulgaria, then highlighted that the Covid-19 crisis has united the research sector but also underlined that a financial recession could be challenging. She then mentioned that maintaining the educational system in Bulgaria is a key priority for the current government, particularly as many medical universities are coping with delays.
Moreover, Ms. Angelieva highlighted the importance of maintaining and supporting the EU’s structural funds and mentioned that adopting an ambitions EU budget will be instrumental.