News / 20 August 2019

The EMBL Australia PLN Secretariat hosted a visit from Director-General Jean-Eric Paquet, Research and Innovation, European Commission at Monash University on July 24th, followed by a public event at the National Gallery of Victoria with  Prof James Whisstock, Scientific Head EMBL Australia, and Bernie Hobbs, ABC Broadcaster.

Bernie hosted an insightful conversation between D-G Paquet and Prof Whisstock on ‘Funding Science, Funding Futures:  European Approaches’.  The discussion focussed on current European and Australian funding models of research, and future collaborations between Europe and Australia.

In his current role, D-G Paquet oversees a staggering € 77 billion in the program Horizon 2020, the world’s largest research and innovation investment. The next framework, Horizon Europe, runs from 2021 to 2027, and has a budget of around €100 billion.

“With this increase, it is a very a large budget. The EU is deeply committed to investing in research. We need blue sky research – it’s key because the results can be built on it,“ said D-G Paquet.

Australia was the first industrial country to sign an agreement with Europe 25 years ago.  Currently, there are some European projects that Australian scientists participate in, and funded schemes to support Australian scientists.

As an associate member of EMBL, Australia recruits the best early career researchers from around the globe through the EMBL Australia Partner Laboratory Network, which supports them to set their labs up in Australia.

A number of EMBL Australia’s Group Leaders have come from Europe.  This includes Prof David Lynn who is based at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).  One of his projects was an €11 million PRIMES project, funded by the European Commission, which brought together a number of international teams.  They mapped the molecular interactions in colorectal cancer cells.

“The EMBL Australia model is a staunch supporter of Australia’s relationship with Europe.  The story can get lost because we’re in such a large time frame, but by developing collaborations with European scientists, building teams and being part of the large multidisciplinary groups like David’s group, we can work together to try and wipe out diseases,” said Prof Whisstock

Bernie asked D-G Paquet two questions that the audience, which was mainly made up of researchers, were keen to have answered.  How does the European Commission allocate its funds? What role might Australia play in Horizon Europe?

“The program will be driven by challenges our society is facing in climate, economics, aging, AI and digital.  We hope that countries such as Australia could become further associated with the program.  We will continue to do a lot together, but we will also look at organising it more effectively,” D-G Paquet answered.

Research is expensive and the Australian data shows the return on investment for medical research is 4 to the dollar.  It’s through this scheme that we can maximise the benefit to Australian scientists, and it is incredibly exciting,” said Prof Whisstock.

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