Returning to the Horizon Europe programme – let’s collaborate again

Last month, we received the welcome news that the UK re-joined the flagship Horizon Europe research programme. Researchers across the scientific community, including everyone at the Drug Safety Research Unit (DSRU), breathed a sigh of relief, that we will now be able to apply for research funding and pursue collaborations with EU colleagues that focus on a wide range of issues, from cancer and infectious diseases to the climate crisis, food security, artificial intelligence and robotics. And especially from our perspective projects on pharmacovigilance, real-world safety studies, risk management and risk minimisation of medicines.

It cannot be denied that it’s been a tough few years since we were locked out of the programme due to Brexit. With a budget of £95.5bn, Horizon Europe is the world’s largest transnational research and innovation programme. It provides an opportunity for researchers of every level, in every science sector, to push the boundaries and find solutions to some of society’s biggest issues.

At the DSRU, we have been fortunate to be involved with large EU collaborative studies funded by FP7, a predecessor of the Horizon Europe programme. These included the ARITMO project, which aimed to study the potential for certain types of drugs (antipsychotics, antihistamines and anti-infectives) to cause a cardiac arrhythmia; and the SAFEGUARD (Safety Evaluation of Adverse Reactions in Diabetes) project, which evaluated the cardiovascular and pancreatic safety of oral blood glucose-lowering medications in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Both projects were large collaborations made up of 14-17 partners from countries all over the EU, of which the DSRU was one. The pharmacovigilance (PV) field benefited from the predecessors of the Horizon Europe programme in the past and from wider cross-border collaboration. It provides non-commercial funding of a magnitude that allows many research organisations from across Europe to work together and working with a large group of collaborators provides accessibility to a large amount of research data (eg, patient medical records). This means that the studies are more likely to detect a rare side effect or rare link between a drug and an arrhythmogenic side effect, for example.

It was therefore a huge blow that UK scientists were to be excluded from the possibility of winning new Horizon 2020 (the name of the programme at the time of Brexit) funding and the chance to take part in some brilliant collaborations, just because of a political decision.

Us and our PV colleagues were therefore thrilled when the government announced the UK was to re-join the programme, as without Horizon Europe it is unlikely that there would be the opportunity for so many of the greatest minds in PV to work together.

The thrill was somewhat short-lived however, as we have recently discovered deadlines have passed for health-related grant applications for the 2023-24 Horizon Europe call, so it appears that there is nothing for us to apply for until at least 2024-25.

Nevertheless, because the current cycle of funding runs until 2027 and will be replaced by a seven-year funding cycle and another seven-year cycle after that, it provides scientists with reassurance of long-term financial support after this year, which we at the DSRU, will gladly pursue.

We are looking forward to engaging with our European colleagues on studies that assess, monitor and prevent adverse events from pharmaceutical products. Horizon Europe is stronger with the UK, and UK research is stronger in Horizon Europe.

Please get in touch to start discussions of how we can work together in the future.