AC Buzz

A successful model of scientific research

Catalan medicine research has recently scored a very important goal in the world’s most renowned league of scientific publications. Remarkably, three out of the four original articles published by the February 19 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the oldest continuously published general medical journal in the world and the second scientific journal in the world in terms of impact factor, were either led or co-authored by Catalan scientific research institutes and researchers.

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Catalonia ranks 4th worldwide in the ratio of European Research Council (ERC) grants received

This achievement should not be perceived as a lucky clover in the field of Catalan scientific research and innovation. There are indicators supporting the good health of the Catalan scientific model, despite the bad economic conditions of the past years and the perennial need for more resources.

The scientific impact Catalan scientific research and innovation has worldwide, for example, is the highest of all Spanish regions with a regional impact factor of 1.47 in 2011 (meaning it is 47% above world regional average). We can also check the number of European Research Council (ERC) grants per million inhabitants received by Catalan research between 2007 and 2014: 20.4. This ratio places the Catalan average well above the European Union average, one position above Sweden and close to the Netherlands (3rd worldwide after Switzerland and Israel).

In addition to this very competitive academic research environment, Catalonia also offers a very competitive corporate research environment, being the region in Spain with the largest number of companies that conducted R&D innovative activities (6.062) in the period between 2009 and 2011, and one of the regions with the highest investments in technological innovation, according to data from the FECYT (Fundación Española para la Ciencia y la Tecnología). These data point at the fact that, although Catalan research does not receive as much public funding as research in other Spanish Autonomous Communities (such as Madrid), its high quality makes it extremely cost-efficient.

Reasons for success

What is it then that makes Catalan research so cost-efficient and far-reaching? Certainly, these feats must be related to the hard and high-quality work of some of Europe’s most prestigious scientific research institutes based in Catalonia, such as, for instance, ISGlobal and VHIO in the field of medicine, CRG and PRBB in biomedicine or ICFO in photonics to mention only a few of them.

Research institutes in Catalonia have made a titanic effort to maximize the international impact of their research partly by increasing their collaboration with other well-known international institutes, implying that as much as 46.8% of all research produced by Catalan researchers is co-authored with other researchers from outside of Spain (FECYT data). The ICREA Programme, funded by the Catalan Government, has an enormous impact on the possibility of hiring researchers, many from overseas.

Another ingredient –seemingly existent across different sectors of Catalan society– holds particular importance in the achievement of this success: the well-functioning collaboration between many different actors. In the case of research, this success has often been made possible thanks to the collaboration between the public sector, corporations and individual citizens. On the one hand, just by the end of 2014 we saw SmartQuimic, an IRB- based (Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Barcelona) company, break the news by crowdfunding over €100,000 from citizens for schizophrenia research.

Even more impressively, the Catalan national TV (TV3) has been fundraising thematically for medicine research on a yearly basis since 1992, raising millions of euros every year. On the other hand, corporations such as La Caixa (by means of its sister foundation) or the Cellex foundation have increased their funding of scientific research for institutes such as ISGlobal and VHIO, boosting the reach of a model that works.

Source: Catalonia Votes

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