The European Commission has unveiled a 6.4 billion euro package aimed at research and innovation, with a good chunk of the cash being made available to small and medium-sized enterprises specialising in health.

The 2011 budget for the Seventh Framework Programme, which is up 12% on 2010 and 30% in 2009, will see funding made available to 16,000 participants from research organisations, universities and industry, including about 3,000 SMEs. Grants will be awarded through "calls for proposals" and evaluations over the next 14 months and the package is expected to create more than 165.000 jobs.

Over 600 million euros will be dedicated to health and more than 1.3 billion euros are reserved for “the best creative scientists selected by the European Research Council”. Mobility grants for 7,000 highly qualified researchers will be provided through 'Marie Curie Actions', worth 772 million euros.

The Commission says that “top priority is given to SMEs, described as “the backbone of the European innovation system, representing 99% of all European businesses”. SMEs, will receive close to 800 million euros and there will be ring-fenced budgets in several areas, eg in health, “knowledge-based bio-economy, environment and nanotechnologies SME participation must reach 35 % of the total budget for a number of topics”.

In health research alone, the Commission noted that around 206 million euros – one-third of the overall budget for 2011 – will be spent on ‘investigator-driven clinical trials to get new medicines on the market quicker”.

Launching the package, Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn said that “investment in research and innovation is the only smart and lasting way out of crisis and towards sustainable and socially equitable growth”. She added that “this is a huge and efficient economic stimulus and an investment in our future."

Commenting on the news, Leslie Galloway, chairman of the Ethical Medicines Industry Group (EMIG) which represents small and medium-sized pharmaceutical companies, told PharmaTimes World News that the 800 million euros set aside for SMEs “makes a lot of sense since it’s widely accepted that [they] are most likely to deliver the future growth that will compensate for countries’ budget shortfall”.

He noted that health is getting 682 million euros but warned that “a critical issue will be the definition of innovation”. Mr Galloway added that “it’s important for governments to recognise that incremental innovations - the type of products that EMIG companies and SMEs across Europe deliver - make a critical difference to patients’ quality of life”.