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Luxembourg is regularly at the forefront of European projects. This is the case for Phoenix, an innovation project financed by the Horizon 2020 framework programme, which aims to create an open innovation test bed for the preclinical phases of developing nano-pharmaceuticals.

In concrete terms, these are drugs that use nanotechnology (the use of matter at the atomic, molecular and supramolecular levels for industrial purposes) in one form or another.

The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), and more specifically Dr Tommaso Serchi, has been entrusted with the coordination of the research part of this project. He is working closely with Dr Nazende Günday-Türeli from MyBiotech (in Germany, near Saarbrücken), who is in charge of the scientific coordination.

A single entry point

“This project encompasses testing (in vitro and in vivo), GMP compliant manufacturing, formulation, characterisation, etc.,” says Dr Serchi. “To this end, the project will develop and demonstrate a portfolio of services and establish a single entry point that will link service providers to the market.”

All these services, from development to commercialisation, are planned to be made available to SMEs, start-ups, research laboratories and interested users.

The Phoenix project, which started in the spring of 2021 and will end in 2025, has a total budget of €14.45 million, of which €11.1 million is funded by the European Union. In addition to LIST, it brings together ten other partners from academia and industry from Germany, Austria, Croatia, Spain and the Netherlands.

“The Phoenix Association, which will serve as a single entry point, is being established and will begin operations in the near future,” says Dr Serchi. “The service portfolio is being updated and validated on selected test cases. We will soon launch a call for additional ‘pro-bono’ test cases, in order to test the needs of the market and get a first feedback from the field.”

Identifying the need

LIST is used to responding to calls for projects in the context of European programmes with. It has participated in 59 Horizon 2020 projects and received a total funding of €24 million. For Horizon Europe, LIST is already participating in 6 projects selected during the first year of the programme.

“It is difficult to know in advance what the chances are that a project will be selected or not,” says Dr Serchi. “It depends on many criteria: the preparation time, the level of competence of the teams and the personality of the evaluator. If you are unsuccessful, it is only when you read the final evaluation report that you understand the weaknesses of the application.”

Obviously, submitting a project to a framework programme such as Horizon Europe is not something you can improvise. But even if the success rate is far from guaranteed, companies have a lot to learn from such an approach, provided that it corresponds to a real need. “Often, the bureaucracy and intellectual property aspects are two big obstacles for companies to get started,” says Dr Serchi. “But these are two aspects that can be easily managed. As soon as a project corresponds to a concrete interest – for example, for the development of a product or even the long-term development of the company – it is worth taking the plunge, with proper support.”

The importance of networking

So what is the best strategy to adopt? According to Dr Serchi: “Have a strong network, build an experienced team of writers and… submit lots of projects!”

A strategy that Stefano Pozzi Mucelli, Head of European R&D and Innovation Support at Luxinnovation, agrees with 100%. “It is essential to develop a network, identify the best collaborators and take time to address all aspects of the proposal, whether administrative or scientific.”

The multidisciplinary team of Luxinnovation’s European R&D and Innovation Support department is specialised in supporting companies and researchers throughout the project life cycle. “We analyse statistics from previous calls, identify the most successful policies and networks and advise on management and intellectual property issues, in order to increase the chances of success of projects,” summarises Dr Pozzi Mucelli. For the year 2021 alone, 49 European projects involving 55 Luxembourg participants have received a total of €17 million in funding from the European Commission.

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