Fight for Sight / Vision Foundation welcomes news of the UK re-joining Horizon Europe

07 September 23

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Press Office

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The UK’s scientific community receives a boost today following an announcement by the UK government that we have re-joined Horizon Europe, the EU’s flagship scientific research funding programme.

It means that UK scientists and institutions can again apply for money and lead research consortia bids from the £85bn fund.

The UK was frozen out of the scheme for three years due to a disagreement over the Northern Ireland Protocol despite associate membership being agreed as part of the Brexit trade deal.

The government had put in place a Horizon Europe Guarantee scheme to cover all Horizon Europe calls that close on or before 30 September 2023 to provide funding to researchers and innovators whilst the UK was in the process of associating to the programme.

Our Current Grant Opportunities

From today (Thursday, 7 September), UK researchers can again apply for grants and bid to participate in or lead projects under the Horizon programme. It means the UK will participate as a fully associated member for the remaining life of the programme to 2027.

Keith Valentine, CEO of Fight for Sight / Vision Foundation, said: “We’re investing in a raft of programmes that have the potential to slow down or even reverse sight loss, giving hope to individuals and families, like mine, impacted by inherited conditions. We collaborate across the research sector and with other charities.

“Regaining the opportunity to access European funding and for collaboration throughout Europe is a boost for the scientific sector as a whole and for researchers dedicated to saving sight and changing lives”.

Research funding delivers new horizons in sight loss sector

Dr Madina Kara, our Director of Research and Innovation, said: “Collaboration in research is vital for sharing expertise in tackling global challenges. We have heard the concerns of many in the sight loss research community and beyond on the need for access to funding and the associated partnerships Horizon Europe brings.

“We, therefore, welcome today’s news that the UK will associate with Horizon Europe, which will help the research and innovation community to access a significant funding programme and deliver on the potential to develop understanding, diagnostics and therapeutic treatments as well as create and retain the research leaders of the future.

“In addition, for rare diseases where the numbers in the UK are small, pan-European partnerships enable vital cross-border collaboration with European researchers, fostering the development of research consortia”.

The need for funding for sight loss research

The UK boasts some of the best researchers in the world, and the UK is a global leader in eye research. We know the calibre of UK research because Fight for Sight / Vision Foundation awards grants to them every year, funding programmes that can #SaveSightChangeLives.

Our Time to Focus report also shows that, on average, the UK’s eye research publications receive over 10 per cent more citations than the world average.

Our grants support researchers to conduct research that spans the clinic and lab and boosts retention of the research workforce. We deliver small grants that pump prime scientific breakthroughs that scale through to a multi-site clinical trial supported through the European Society of Retina Specialists-  EURETNA, known as the TIGER trial. Most recently, for example, work we funded alongside  Alzheimer’s Research UK is supporting the diagnosis of neurological conditions by examining scans of the eye.

{Sub-heading} A boost for the scientific community

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “With a wealth of expertise and experience to bring to the global stage, we have delivered a deal that enables UK scientists to confidently participate in the world’s largest research collaboration programme – Horizon Europe.”

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said: “The Horizon programme is unrivalled in its scope and opens a world of opportunity for cooperation on science that delivers real-world benefits for the UK - creating jobs, boosting our economy and opening up collaboration for the sector.”

The government press release announces that re-joining Horizon will “give UK companies and research institutions unrivalled opportunities to lead global work to develop new technologies and research projects in areas from health to Artificial Intelligence.”

A Vision for a better future

While we welcome the news, we would urge the UK government to allocate greater funds to research into vision loss and eye disease.

In 2018, just over 1.5 per cent of the £1.4 billion that UK Research and Innovation, government and other public bodies invested in medical research was for eye research, as we reported in Time to Focus. That’s £9.60 for each person affected by sight loss in the UK.

Yet, by 2050, the number of people in the UK living with sight loss will jump to 3.5 million.

Failing to invest is costing the UK economy billions every year. Treating sight loss costs the NHS and social care services up to £3.9 billion annually. Other costs contributing to the total of £25.2 billion include education, welfare, and device costs.

More importantly, investing in research can save sight and change lives. It could transform the lives of the 2.5 million people in the UK affected by sight loss.