Brussels is set to announce plans to plough millions of euros into research on new coronavirus variants as it seeks to step up its response to the rapidly evolving pandemic. Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, is preparing to announce €150m in funding for research into novel mutant strains of the pathogen and related work, using money from the EU’s Horizon scientific research programme.
In addition, at least €75m of EU funding will be ploughed into developing specialised tests for emerging variants of the disease, according to people familiar with the plan. The spending is part of an effort by von der Leyen to regain the initiative on the coronavirus battle after weeks of critical headlines over the bloc’s sluggish inoculation rollout. One big question that has been raised is whether the commission and member states put insufficient money upfront to boost companies’ efforts to develop vaccines and build manufacturing capacity.
Earlier this month, von der Leyen admitted to the European Parliament that the commission had made mistakes in the jab procurement strategy it runs along with member states. Brussels had been too late to approve some Covid-19 shots, too optimistic when it came to vaccine manufacturing capacity, and too confident that doses would be delivered on time, she said.
The commission chief is expected to unveil the new strategy on the battle against variants on Wednesday, alongside Stella Kyriakides, health commissioner, and Thierry Breton, internal market commissioner.