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November 22, 2013

Horizon 2020 Adopted

Cures for major diseases could follow if EU seizes opportunity to fund 21st-century science in Horizon 2020 framework

Humane Society International/Europe

  • Horizon 2020 could hold the key to unlocking cures and improving therapies for some of the biggest diseases in the world. istockphoto

STRASBOURG —The European Union’s €70.2 billion scientific research and innovation funding and policy framework, Horizon 2020, was adopted by the European Parliament in plenary session. Horizon 2020 could hold the key to unlocking cures and improving therapies for some of the biggest diseases in the Western world, if directed towards 21st-century science without animal testing.

Beginning in 2014 and running until 2020, the funding framework aims to promote industrial leadership and excellent science, thereby boosting the competitiveness of EU companies and improving the health of citizens. The priorities set by EU legislators provide an opportunity to revolutionise safety testing and health research if funds go toward innovative human-relevant research tools and technologies.

Troy Seidle, Humane Society International’s director of research & toxicology, said: “Researchers struggle with progress in treating and curing some of the world’s major diseases despite decades of effort. Asthma, for example, affects millions of people worldwide; yet only two asthma treatments have emerged in the last half century. In stroke research, only one effective drug has been developed in recent decades. This agonisingly slow progress is significantly due to the limitations of using animals as models for human biology. Horizon 2020 now provides a game-changing opportunity for Europe to catapult its medical research into the 21st century and embrace the potential of modern technology. If we fail to invest now, cures for some of the major diseases could evade us for many more decades to come.” 

Already, animal-based research using rodents and dogs for testing chemical and pharmaceutical toxicity is quickly being surpassed by innovative human-relevant tools such as bioengineered organs-on-a-chip, robot-automated high-throughput human cell and gene tests, and next-generation computer modeling. These tools allow scientists to study the underlying biology of human disease at the cellular and molecular level to identify chemical hazards, as well as potential new medicines, more quickly, cheaply and accurately than ever before.  

The potential of Horizon 2020 to build on these successes and transform medical research further has been recognised by the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a €3.4 billion strategic public–private partnership of the European Commission and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations.

In its scientific assessment report last year, the IMI acknowledged that Horizon 2020 “offer[s] unique opportunities to overcome the hurdles which prevent efficient and safe medicines from reaching patients suffering from debilitating diseases,” and its Scientific Committee called for "an urgent need to revisit the use of animals in pharmaceutical research ... since their limitations in predicting actions of drugs in humans are becoming more and more apparent."