Is there a fair allocation of healthcare research funds by the European Union?

PLoS One. 2019 Apr 15;14(4):e0207046. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0207046. eCollection 2019.


Background: This study aimed to investigate the distribution of European Union (EU) healthcare research grants across EU countries, and to study the effect of the potential influencing factors on grant allocation.

Methods: We analysed publicly available data on healthcare research grants from the 7th Framework Programme and the Horizon 2020 Programme allocated to beneficiaries between 2007 and 2016. Grant allocation was analysed at the beneficiary-, country-, and country group-level (EU-15 versus newer Member States, defined as EU-13). The investigated country-level explanatory variables included GDP per capita, population size, overall disease burden, and healthcare research excellence. Grant amounts per 100,000 inhabitants were used as an outcome variable in the regression analyses.

Results: Research funds were disproportionally allocated to EU-15 versus the EU-13, as 96.9% of total healthcare grants were assigned to EU-15 countries. At the beneficiary level, EU funding was positively influenced by participating in previous grants. The average grant amount per beneficiary was higher for EU-15 organizations. In the multiple regression analysis GDP per capita (p = 0.002) and research excellence (p<0.001) had a significant positive association with EU funding. Population size had an inverted U-shaped relationship with EU funding for healthcare research, having the largest per capita funding in second and the third quartiles (p = 0.03 and p = 0.02).

Conclusion: The uneven allocation of healthcare research funds across EU countries was influenced by GDP per capita, medical research excellence and population size. Wealthier countries with an average population size and strong research excellence in healthcare had more EU funding for healthcare research. Higher disease burden apparently was not associated with more EU research funding. While our findings are in line with analyses on previous periods, they suggest that the EU did not implement any effective policy measures to improve the unfair allocation of research grants.

MeSH terms

  • European Union / economics*
  • Financing, Organized / economics*
  • Health Services Research / economics*
  • Humans
  • Resource Allocation*

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.