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Europe’s evolving R&D ecosystem

11th Sep 2015

Pharmaceutical and chemistry-related businesses have bemoaned the negative impact of regulation on innovation and, more recently, a decision to cut $2.4bn from the European Commission’s flagship science research program, Horizon 2020. In contrast, the US aims to increase its National Institutes for Health budget by almost $9bn over the next five years – and infrastructure investment has fostered thriving research hubs in Boston and San Francisco. China is pushing even further ahead, having surpassed the US in attracting foreign investment in R&D; the country’s publically funded R&D is also on the rise. Beyond this, other challenges for Europe remain. Overcoming a timid attitude to risk could be one answer, according to Anne Glover – who recently stood down as the EU’s chief scientific adviser.

Patents are also cited as proof that the US is racing ahead of Europe. For the larger, multinational research organizations, a long-awaited unitary European patent system under development could grease the wheels of new product development by lowering the cost of filing, renewing and defending patents. But there are risks attached – losing a patent under the new system would mean losing protection throughout Europe, rather than one individual country. But we must factor in quantityand quality, taking into account the rate of commercially successful patents rather than just volume: how many of these go on to become commercially viable, revenue-generating products in the market? Tracking these together, over three to ten years, could become a far more accurate indication of productivity and innovation between these regions. 

The challenge, then, lies in converting private and public funding into actionable knowledge and, in turn, converting that knowledge back into revenue. This process of managing and leveraging knowledge is complex at the best of times, encompassing human, technological and organizational factors. These are even more complex in an increasingly collaborative R&D environment – where it is becoming the norm for any given project to involve multiple stakeholders accessing and inputting data from different devices and locations. A recent report also highlighted the challenges innate in programs that involve academia and industry – where knowledge can become ‘locked up’ and lead to frustration and confusion.

Under such tight budget restrictions, it will be even more important for R&D functions to establish a single source of data – a single point of knowledge. Putting in place a secure, end-to-end system that makes research data accessible and searchable will minimize time and money wasted on repeated work, and maximize the speed at which R&D teams can experiment, develop and bring new products to market. For European organizations looking to punch above their weight on the global stage, that will be key.