The NHMRC recently wrote to Mr. Achilleas Mitsos, the Director-General of the Commission's Research DG, to announce the new fund, which it hopes will encourage EU-Australian collaboration in this field. The move follows discussions between officials earlier this year, who agreed that some effort must be made to encourage Australian researchers to participate in FP5. The Australian delegation looked carefully at how the other countries with co-operative agreements for the European 5th Framework programme have adjusted administrative procedures to this end, and were particularly impressed by the Swiss approach.
In consequence, Australia's NHMRC has decided to accept European Union peer assessment for FP5 projects, rather than insisting on peer review in both Canberra and Brussels. However, it will maintain some scope to review funding on national interest grounds and allocate funding on the basis of need, where demand for funds exceeds those available. It will also allow Australian funding decisions to be synchronised with the timetable for FP5.
Australian researchers involved in projects selected for funding under the Quality of Life programme's call for proposals with a closing date of 11 October 2000 are now eligible to apply for NHMRC support. This will be a competitive process, taking into account the quality of the project, its relevance and value added to Australian research objectives and the need for funding.
The health and medical research areas in this call for proposals include:
- control of infectious diseases: development of vaccines, new strategies for treatment and prevention, public health issues;
- the cell factory: development of new diagnostics and therapeutic strategies;
- chronic, degenerative and rare diseases: common underlying pathogenic mechanisms;
- genomes and diseases of genetic origin - genome analysis, functional genomics and proteomics;
- neurosciences: cell communication, brain theories;
- public health and health services research: health service research, health and safety at work, fighting drug related problems;
- research relating to persons with disabilities;
"Whilst on one level this may be seen as a modest development, it sets an important precedent for other Australian funding bodies to follow", according to Jan de Kok, the acting head of delegation to the European Commission to Australia and New Zealand.
Under the EU's Fourth RTD Framework programme, EU and Australian researchers collaborated on a total of 38 projects. Of these, 13 were in the medical and health field. In the first year of the Fifth Framework programme, ten joint EU-Australia projects have been selected of which four are in the medical and health fields. More information is available at the EU Quality of Life programme pages.