Global Life Sciences Program Secures Financing Until 2016

BRUSSELS—Members of the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), which provides grants for transcontinental life sciences research, have agreed to continue funding the program from 2014 to 2016. Under the agreement, reached at an intergovernmental meeting here on Tuesday, most program funders will increase their annual contribution by 2% to 4% to offset budget cuts by Japan, the country that has been HFSP's largest sponsor since its inception in 1989.

HFSP, the only program of its kind worldwide, provides research grants for intercontinental teams, postdoctoral fellowships, and career development awards to stimulate high-risk research on complex biological systems, with an emphasis on quantitative methods. Scientists from all over the world are eligible for HFSP grants if the main applicant is from one of the member countries.

When the program was set up 24 years ago, Japan provided 100% of its funding, says Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, the secretary-general of the HFSP organization in Strasbourg, France. Today, the program has 14 members, and although Japan still provides the biggest chunk of the budget, it has decided to cut back. Out of about HFSP's $57 million budget for 2014, Japan's contribution will amount to $22.2 million—down from the $29.5 million that it had initially agreed to spend in 2013. That's still well above the 2014 contribution by the United States ($10.13 million) and the European Union (€4.76 million).

Other countries have now agreed to make up for Japan's reduction. "The time has come for greater burden-sharing," the program's members wrote in a joint statement, in which they acknowledge Japan's role "as the initiator of HFSP, its largest contributor and the cornerstone of its hitherto success and sustainability." The decision is a "tremendous achievement," Winnacker says, coming at a time when member countries are tightening their belts themselves.

Members touted the value of HFSP today. The program "has been an inspiration and a model for frontier research funding schemes throughout the world, including our own European Research Council," said the European Union's research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in a statement after the meeting. "There's no globalization in [bottom-up] research funding, except the HSFP," Winnacker adds. In his 2011 Nobel lecture, medicine laureate Jules Hoffmann acknowledged HFSP's support during the 1990s in building up his field, now known as innate immunity research, on an international level.

HFSP is funded by the governments or research councils of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union. Several countries interested in joining the program (Brazil, China, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey) also attended part of the Brussels conference as observers.

The next meeting of the program's funders is scheduled to take place in the United Kingdom in 2016.