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EU funds ‘ambitious’ infectious disease research network

European Commission and UK government also confirm participation in global Covid-19 vaccine initiative

The EU is contributing €15.7 million to support the establishment of what the European Commission announced will be an “ambitious” clinical research network to support work on treatments for Covid-19 and other emerging infectious diseases.

The initiative, called EU-Response, will be supported under the Commission’s €1.4bn pledge for research and innovation on vaccines, new treatments and diagnostic tools to prevent the spread of Covid-19, €1bn of which comes from the 2014-20 EU R&D programme, Horizon 2020.

Research commissioner Mariya Gabriel described the network as a “major step towards pan-European clinical trials”, adding that it would offer the scale needed to assess treatments and that coordination would mean trials can be tweaked as evidence accumulates.

France’s national institute of health and medical research, Inserm, is leading the initiative, which the Commission said on 18 September “brings together 21 partners with world-class research capabilities from 13 EU countries, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey”.

On the same day, the Commission also confirmed its participation in Covax, an initiative co-led by the World Health Organization that aims to ensure fair access to Covid-19 vaccines worldwide. The EU will contribute €230 million through a loan from the European Investment Bank and the same amount in guarantees from the EU budget, the Commission said.

This is enough support to pay for about 88 million doses of a putative vaccine, which the EU would transfer to low and middle-income countries. “No one is safe until everyone is safe,” said Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

The UK government announced on 18 September that it is also joining Covax. It promised to contribute £48m (€52.6m) to finance vaccines for lower-income countries during the Commission’s Global Vaccines Summit on 4 June.

“The global effort to find a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine is not a competition, but is among the most urgent shared endeavours of our lifetime—it benefits us all to be better equipped to fight this virus,” said business secretary Alok Sharma.