UK Re-joins Horizon Europe

United Kingdom

On 7 September, the UK re-joined the world’s largest research collaboration programme, Horizon Europe. The decision has been welcomed by academics and life sciences businesses within the UK and the EU with hopes it will foster greater cross border collaboration between researchers after the UK’s three-year hiatus, enabling UK scientists to re-join the international research networks that they had built up over decades. From this date UK researchers are once again able to apply for grants from a pot of over € 95bn (£81 bn) and bid to take part in projects with certainty that the UK will be participating as a fully associated member until the end of the programme in 2027. 

The bespoke deal for associate membership to Horizon Europe negotiated over the past six months had been delayed largely over misaligned expectations of the UK’s financial contribution. The new financial terms require the UK government to provide almost €2.6bn (£2.2bn) per year on average but a ‘correction mechanism’ has been agreed whereby the UK will begin to receive compensation from the European Commission if it contributes 16% more to the programme than it receives in grants over a two year period, whereas the UK will have to start making further payments to the Commission if it receives 8% more than it contributes over the same period. This effectively puts a cap on the potential gains or losses the UK can make from its membership, although the mechanism does not apply equally in both directions as it does for some other associate members, such as Israel.

The government is encouraging UK researchers to take part in projects under Horizon Europe and apply for grants immediately with the hopes of restoring the levels of participation UK researchers previously enjoyed as soon as possible. With the first payments into the programme being due in January 2024, the government has said that this will “provide breathing space to boost the participation of UK researchers…before we start paying into the programme”. As part of the programme, cooperation opportunities are not only opened in the EU, but also Norway, New Zealand and Israel which are part of the programme and countries such as Korea and Canada which are looking to join.

From an intellectual property (IP) perspective, re-joining Horizon Europe will undoubtedly benefit innovation in the UK, which then drives the need for IP protection. Withdrawal from Horizon was impacting on the UK’s reputation as a leading hub for life science innovation due to difficulties in attracting talent and funding. It will take some time for the lost ground to be reversed, but this is certainly a great step in the right direction, and one of the most positive announcements since Brexit.  UK researchers will now be able to lead EU programmes and the increased collaboration will allow UK life sciences innovations to thrive.

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