As the world struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the EU is supporting efforts to develop vaccines and effective treatments as soon as possible.
The EU has come up with a coordinated response to help tackle the current crisis. Funding research and innovation projects to find a cure for Covid-19 is a vital part of that plan.
The EU and its member states are cooperating closely in the race to find safe and effective vaccines to counter the spread of Covid-19. The focus is on developing a prophylactic vaccine to prevent the disease and a therapeutic vaccine for treatment. Accelerated regulatory procedures are being put in place so that safe, effective and high-quality medicines can be put on the market as soon as possible.
MEPs have praised EU efforts to support research, but have repeatedly stressed the need to ensure widespread access to affordable medicines.
Tackling the outbreak
The EU has invested heavily in research since the beginning of the outbreak: by September 2020, nearly €459 million had been invested in 103 new coronavirus research projects through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. Grants went to projects ranging from diagnostics, treatments, vaccines, epidemiology and preparedness and response to behaviour and socioeconomics, manufacturing and medical and digital technologies.
The plan is to invest €1 billion in research and innovation to tackle Covid-19 and its impact by the end of 2020.
As part of its EU Strategy on Covid-19 Vaccines , the European Commission has reached agreements with several pharmaceutical companies, which will allow member states to purchase vaccines as soon as they are proved safe and effective.
In response to the resurgence of Covid-19 cases, on 28 October the Commission announced the launch of additional actions to help limit the spread of the virus and save lives. They include improving data sharing at EU level and recommendations on more effective and rapid testing strategies as well as mobilising €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument to directly purchase rapid antigen tests and deliver them to member states.
The Commission also prepared a list of key steps that member states should take to be ready to quickly distribute and deploy the vaccines once they are ready.
Programmes already in place
The EU’s already had a number of research and emergency funding mechanisms in place to deal with public health crises, which have been mobilised. They include, among others, Prepare, a project supporting the readiness of hospitals in Europe and enhancing their understanding of the dynamics of the outbrea, and the European Virus Archive, a virtual collection of viruses that provides material to researchers to help in diagnoses.
The EU is also supporting start-ups and small firms in developing technology that could be helpful in tackling the outbreak, including EpiShuttle, a project for specialised isolation units, and m-Tap, air filtration technology to remove viral particles.
During a plenary debate on 14 May, Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said that the Commission is working on a new EU pharmaceutical strategy to make the EU more resilient in the future that will draw lessons from the current crisis. The strategy should be presented later this year.