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Respiratory Science Promoted by International Research Exchanges

Final Report Summary - RESPIRE (Respiratory Science Promoted by International Research Exchanges)

Founded in 1990, the European Respiratory Society, ERS, (www.ersnet.org) is the leading professional organisation in its field (respiratory medicine) with some 12,000 members in over 100 countries. Its scope covers both clinical medicine and basic science. ERS seeks to alleviate suffering from respiratory disease and promote lung health through research, sharing of knowledge and through medical and public education. Respiratory diseases represent 20% of all deaths worldwide e.g. lung cancer, COPD, pneumonia, asthma, and constitute a major financial burden in Europe.
There is a need for Europe to sustain and substantially increase its investments in research and transnational mobility. The ERS directly supports science and research through task forces, research awards and particularly through research fellowships which were first established in 1997 focusing mainly on clinical research. The successful fellowship programme of transnational exchange of researchers in respiratory medicine and science (www.ersnet.org/fellowships) operated by ERS since 1997, was expanded in 2009 under the FP7 COFUND scheme with the RESPIRE programme.

The main objective of the RESPIRE (Respiratory Science Promoted by International Research Exchanges) was to boost the careers of the fellowship recipients and promoting the European Research Area, by creating the necessary platform to enhance and maintain scientific networks, and by retaining promising researchers in Europe. This will in turn be an important step towards conquering some of the most disabling diseases in Europe. RESPIRE allowed ERS to extend its existing fellowship programme by targeting post-doctoral career opportunities in respiratory research. The aim of RESPIRE was to support researchers’ internationally mobile scientific careers, facilitate the networking of existing centres of excellence in Europe and enable the creation of virtual centres through closer relations between various organisations, and bringing together scientific communities.

The RESPIRE fellowships call topics were broad, encompassing respiratory disease, and addressed an area of substantial human suffering that is both widespread and significant in its impact. The scientific strategy of the ERS aims to focus on science and research with the deliberate intention to attract the best scientists but also improve standards in low-income countries. RESPIRE was widely promoted and advertised using various media including via the ERS website, ERS Newsletter, ERS mass-mailings, and advertisements in the European Respiratory Journal. The calls were widely disseminated in the ERS Annual Congress final programme, in the Lung Science Conference, on the American Thoracic Society website and in scientific journals such as Nature Medicine, New Scientist and finally through Community services via Euraxess & Cordis websites. Posters and flyers advertising the Marie Curie RESPIRE programme were distributed at the ERS Annual Congresses in 2009 and 2010 which attracts in excess of 20,000 delegates and with stands at events. The first call was published on 13 February 2009 with an application deadline of 13 April. 8 fellows were selected from a total of 34 applications (all European exchanges) through a rigorous peer-review process focusing on excellence. A second call was published 2 November 2009 with a deadline on 31 January 2010 and a total of 11 fellows were selected in 2010 (of which 5 were from non-European home institutions based in India, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, USA). Researchers were freely allowed to select their topic and destination. RESPIRE has allowed ERS to more than double the number of post doctoral researchers, thus allowing experienced researchers to become leading investigators in their fields producing quality research publications in high impact factor journals. During the entire RESPIRE programme period of 48 months (4 years), a total of 19 fellows (18.25 fellowship-years) were selected and funded. The RESPIRE metrics indicate excellent success on application process and gender balance. The participation in RESPIRE of female researchers was high with 72% of the selected fellows being female.

ERS was able to foster advanced and innovative research in the field of respiratory science by supporting the exchange in Europe of outstanding scientists through a 12-month work period. The scientific and professional merits of the successful researchers were highlighted so as the quality and excellence of the wide research topics. ERS has through RESPIRE gained reputation and recognition in the respiratory community. The post-doc RESPIRE programme also enabled to stimulate a greater investment of ERS own funding into more basic research, which is an area of increasing interest. RESPIRE also allowed the ERS to elevate the standard of competitiveness during the reviewing process and overall has led to spill-over effects which has strengthened the quality of the existing more clinical ERS Fellowship Programme. RESPIRE has led to the establishment of new procedures accompanying the fellows before, during and after the fellowship training, which has facilitated the creation of a fellows’ network for future respiratory basic science leaders reinforced via the annual ERS "Fellows' Get-Together" session at the Annual ERS Congress, which is the largest respiratory congress in the world and makes ERS to be one of the most relevant key stakeholders in respiratory science in the ERA. The ERS Annual Congress continuously strives to be the best forum for the presentation of breakthrough discoveries and attract abstracts from high-level research centres in Europe and worldwide. It is a showcase for cutting-edge research and its translation into clinical solutions, offering a platform facilitating dialogue between young scientists and established investigators, with whom they can discuss both scientific and career questions during the dedicated Fellows’ Get-Together, as well as during the numerous events, aiming to facilitate discussion and interaction between the participants.

Beyond the funding period the plan is to continue the RESPIRE programme and even expand it via RESPIRE 2 as means of implementing the ERS Respiratory Roadmap (www.ersroadmap.org) which was published in 2010 as a basis to communicate with key decision and policy makers on the importance of a focused strategy for respiratory medicine to meet the societal challenges of the next generation. Important pillars of this roadmap are training and research and an increased strategic investment in basic science. It is obvious to see how a prominent research programme such as RESPIRE improves training and research for the individual fellows and the host institutions. In fact many of the fellows in their feedback explained how the RESPIRE programme led to prominent publications and career advancement. Following the success of RESPIRE a clear need identified in the roadmap is that Europe needs a strong new generation of medical researchers who are trained to tackle different aspects from basic research to translational and clinical research and who can support the chain of innovation. To deliver innovations there will be a continuous need to train more respiratory scientists, both clinical and non-clinical, but also to support international mobility.

RESPIRE has built enthusiasm within the ERS for experienced researcher fellowships. Using fellowships has a double effect of increasing human capital and supporting the conduct of research. The effective RESPIRE fellowship programme will enable the ERS to continue to develop its research programme in this direction as the basis and the foundation have been established. The programme is also by design non-specific, framed only by the long term strategic vision contained in the ERS Roadmap, which means the same process can be used to support a broad array of fellowships of varying scientific focus.

More importantly RESPIRE has thus built a model for experienced researcher fellowship programmes that will be carried into the future by means of RESPIRE 2. The enhanced focus on scientific and non-scientific career development will be an additional feature offered in RESPIRE 2 fellowships. Furthermore, this programme will build a list of expectations for host institutions that will become the standard for fellowships. RESPIRE 2 will solidly establish upfront assurance of working environment quality for fellowships. Quality post-doctoral fellows are a commodity. RESPIRE 2 will establish the understanding that if you want quality fellows, you have to offer quality working conditions. Now is a critical time to emphasise high quality respiratory training programmes aligned with the European Charter for Researchers and the ERA.

RESPIRE has strengthened, quantitatively and qualitatively, the human potential in research and technology in Europe, by stimulating experienced young scientists to take up the profession of a researcher, encouraging European researchers to stay in Europe, and attracting to Europe the best researchers from the entire world.