Jutta Hartkoorn-Pasma is an EU grant expert in the Global Government Grant Office of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies. Based in Leiden, The Netherlands, she works with a variety of project teams from all over Johnson & Johnson, supporting them in their applications for external funding.
Q1: What are grant consortia and who participates in them?
EU grant consortia come in all different shapes and sizes, but they’re usually a combination of public and private partners working together to tackle a project that might otherwise be beyond the resources of any one member. Often, the academic institutes are the ones supplying the cutting-edge science and the private partners are contributing their know-how. All partners work together to advance the technology or innovation being developed, often with the academic partners taking the lead.
“By working with partners you can really achieve much more than would be possible on your own.” – Jutta Hartkoorn-Pasma
For Johnson & Johnson, participation in these consortia is often about forming connections with others in the ecosystem and contributing to projects with a potential to improve patient lives. What we bring to the table is the ability to do applied research, for example with clinical trials, or to provide access to advanced technologies. We also help by providing input in areas where we’re generally more experienced than academic labs or smaller companies, for example regulatory filing activities. Our specific involvement really depends on the project; sometimes we play a supporting role, helping others who are working on a certain topic or development activities in an area of interest to us; other times we’re the ones leading the work and bringing in our experts from different disciplines. Johnson & Johnson takes part in so many consortia; there’s often a new angle!
Q2: What are some of the benefits of joining a consortium?
By working with partners you can achieve much more than would be possible on your own. For example, in the field of data science, access to real-world data enables research insights and the development of new technologies, but individually one often wouldn’t have large or rich enough datasets to be useable in isolation. By connecting data sources, partners can use software algorithms (like artificial intelligence or machine learning) to generate the real-world evidence. This can be done in a federated way, so the data stay with the owner but are safely accessible for collaborative research. It's an efficient way to bring together more knowledge than each partner has on their own.
“These grants can put people in touch with a network of different groups they might not otherwise interact with, which is really the main benefit of the consortia: access to the skills, expertise, and tools of the other partners.” – Jutta Hartkoorn-Pasma
Consortia are also a good way of connecting a diverse group of partners – academics, SMEs, pharma – who all gain something different out of the arrangement. As a pharma company, we might benefit by facilitating the creation of a new technology or digital biomarker that can then be used for future product development. For academic groups and smaller companies, the non-dilutive funding is a big incentive, but the consortia may also provide them a way to test and verify their technology, to obtain proof-of-concept for their innovation or gain the data needed for regulatory approval. Consortia might also include patient organizations, which can provide insights into patient opinions and early contact with potential clinical trial participants. These grants can put people in touch with a network of different groups the consortia member might not otherwise interact with, which is the main benefit of the consortia: access to the skills, expertise, and tools of the other partners.
Q3: What are some things to bear in mind if you’re thinking of applying for an EU grant?
The first question when considering a grant should be: 'What is it that you really want to get out of this project?'. An EU grant might seem very attractive because of the funding, but it’s not always the best choice. You have to take into account who will benefit from any IP generated, how you will manage the grant reporting, and that being part of a consortium can slow down development timelines. You need to be sure that you’re applying for a grant for the right reasons; that joining a consortium is going to strategically help you get to where you want to be in the long term.
“The first question when considering a grant should be: 'What is it that you really want to get out of this project?'.” – Jutta Hartkoorn-Pasma
If you’ve thought this over, the next question is: 'What are the eligibility criteria?’. The terms and conditions of the funder might have a big impact on the kind of partners you need, for example, with restrictions in terms of region or certain combinations of partner types. If you don’t meet the eligibility criteria, your chances of successfully obtaining funding are slim.
Q4: How would you go about building a good consortium?
In my experience, the best consortia are built on a pre-existing network. As an SME, for example, if your company originated as a spin-off from a university then make sure to maintain those academic ties. Existing scientific networks are often the easiest starting points for consortia, even for Johnson & Johnson. That being said, we’re always open to conversations and will do our best to connect external groups with the right people within our organization. My key message here would be to start the conversation early: if your project or technology is strategically aligned with what Johnson & Johnson is doing, then we might very well be able to work together towards a common goal!
To learn more about EU Grants, we invite you to view the recording of the webinar ‘Soft Money: Adding an EU Grant to Your Financing Mix’.