On 6 December 2022, the European Commission approved the second work program of Horizon Europe for the years 2023-2024. In this article, we highlight several grants that may be relevant for scientists studying myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
Introduction: what is Horizon Europe?
Horizon Europe is the big research and innovation program of the European Union (EU). It has a budget of 95 billion euros for a period of seven years (2021 to 2027). The program includes investments to tackle climate change, boost economic growth and encourage digital innovation. A substantial part, around 8 billion euros, is reserved for health research.
Every two years, the European Commission publishes a work program that contains calls that describe the type of health research it aims to fund. On 6 December the work program of Horizon Europe was announced for the years 2022-2023. Two calls stand out that might be particularly interesting for scientists studying ME/CFS.
Call 1 (Forthcoming): Tackling high-burden for patients, under-researched medical conditions
This call was inspired by the ME/CFS resolution and aims to support illnesses such as ME/CFS that have a high disease burden but have thus far been under-researched. It focuses on medical conditions that “fail to be recognised and/or be correctly diagnosed in a significant proportion of patients. As a consequence they are inadequately treated and often can become a chronic burden for the patient. These medical conditions may be insufficiently researched even though they manifest with high prevalence.” In a footnote, “chronic fatigue syndrome” is mentioned as an example next to Lyme disease, and back pain.
The call will open on 30 March 2023, and we expect that its scope will be further refined in the future. A footnote explains that the European Commission has contracted a scoping study to help “identify under-researched high-burden medical conditions and define the type of research and/or research priorities to better address the different needs of patients with these conditions.” EMEC was able to provide feedback to this study as were our colleagues of the World ME Alliance. We stressed that the definition of high-burden, under-researched diseases should be strict and specific enough so that it focuses on the illnesses that have historically been most neglected. We also argued that it should focus on diseases whose pathology is poorly understood and which have few treatment options.
The call has a total budget of €25 million. It aims to fund 4 projects that will receive 6 to 7 million euros each. It has a two-stage process of submission with a first deadline on 19 September 2023.
Find more info about this call here.
Call 2 (Forthcoming): Relationship between infections and non-communicable diseases
This call focuses on the relationship between infections and non-communicable diseases. The description states that “increasing evidence suggests that several infections might influence the development of many non-communicable diseases (e.g. multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer, post-covid-19 condition)…” Submissions for this call are expected to elucidate causative links between infections and non-communicable diseases onsets.
Given that many ME/CFS patients report that their illness started with an infection, this call might provide funding for longitudinal studies to test why the incidence of ME/CFS is increased after certain types of infection. The Dubbo study and prospective studies on Epstein-Barr Virus have previously found that this is the case but larger sample sizes are needed to identify risk factors for developing ME/CFS.
This call has a budget of 30 million. It aims to fund 4 projects that will receive 6 to 7 million euros each. The planned opening date is 12 January 2023, which is much sooner than the above call on high-burden and under-researched illnesses. Researchers will then have 4 months to submit their proposal as the deadline is 13 April 2023.
Find more info about this call here.
Researchers in the US, UK, and Norway can also receive funding
An application requires researchers from minimally 3 different EU countries or associated countries.
Any legal entity, regardless of its place of establishment, is eligible to participate in Horizon Europe projects. To receive Horizon Europe funding, the general rule is that applicants must be established in an EU Member State. There are, however, some exceptions that allow researchers in the US, UK, or Norway to receive Horizon Europe funding as well.
- First, in recognition of the opening of the US National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) programs to European researchers, any legal entity established in the United States of America is eligible to receive Horizon Europe funding to support its participation in projects funded under the cluster “Health”. This is true for all calls mentioned above and an important addition given the many ME/CFS researchers located in the US. In practice, however, an application will need to be centered on research institutions in the EU. While a US organization can join an EU project, a consortium with mainly US partners and only a few EU partners has little chances of success.
- Second, several non-EU countries haves signed an agreement to become an associated country. This means that they can participate in Horizon Europe under the same conditions as entities from the EU Member States. This is, for example, the case for Israel or Norway where several ME/CFS research groups are located.
- The United Kingdom is currently negotiating an agreement with the EU but has not become an associated country yet. Researchers from the UK can, however, participate in Horizon Europe calls as if the UK were already associated. If the project is then evaluated positively and the UK has not yet become an associated country at the time of the grant agreement, the UK organizations in the consortium will become associated partners and will not receive an EU grant. Fortunately, the UK provides a guarantee to these organizations that their funding will be provided by the UK government for the entire project duration. They renew this guarantee on an annual basis.
- Fourth, applicants from low- and middle-income countries (e.g. Argentina, South Africa, Indonesia) can also be eligible for funding.
We advise researchers interested in applying for Horizon Europe grants to contact their National Contact Points as these provide guidance, practical information, and assistance on all aspects of participation in Horizon Europe.
How does an application work?
Applications must be submitted electronically via the Funding & Tenders Portal electronic submission system. Before submission, all beneficiaries and affiliated entities must be registered using a participant identification code (PIC). The PIC (one per participant) is required in the online application form and further correspondence with the EU services. Only if your proposal is successful, you will be contacted for the validation of your PIC registration data (such as your bank account, financial capacity, and official legal status).
If the expertise of your research group is relevant to the call you can publish “partner requests”, either in searching or offering expertise for collaboration.
The application form is made up of two parts. Part A contains administrative forms with data on participants, legal declarations, and contact persons. Part B (the narrative part) includes a technical description of the project with planned activities, work packages, costs, etc. These must be uploaded in PDF format. Applications must also include a gender equality plan and a plan for the exploitation and dissemination of results.
- A program guide on applying for Horizon Europe funding is available here.
- An online manual to participate in EU grants and tenders is available here.
After submission, your proposal will be evaluated by an independent evaluation committee composed of outside experts. They will rank your proposal based on three criteria: “Excellence”, “Impact”, and “Quality and efficiency of the implementation”. Each criterion will be scored on a 5-point scale. The necessary threshold for individual criteria is 3 points. The overall threshold, applying to the sum of the three individual scores, is 10 points.
Find collaborators and patient organizations
EMEC will continue to advocate for patients and support ME/CFS researchers to make sure they have fair funding opportunities in the EU. We are happy to connect researchers who are interested in collaborating and submitting a proposal to a Horizon Europe call. We could also bring you in contact with patient organizations and direct you to infrastructure and resources (such as biobanks, networks) that might help in submitting a successful project.