Brazil’s leading regional research funding institution has announced a new US$680 million package of long-term investment in 17 cutting-edge areas of scientific knowledge, ranging from neurotechnology, stem cell research and biomedicine, right through to molecular physics.
These fields will be studied at academic centers, known as RIDCs (Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers). These hubs, based at universities in São Paulo state, will bring together the existing work of more than 500 scientists, including 69 foreign researchers. The objective is to create a global center of excellence for multidisciplinary, high impact science.
What’s unique about the initiative, announced May 15th by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) is that it will commit funding to named projects for 11 year periods. FAPESP’s funding is additional to the Brazilian federal government’s spending which in 2012 raised the allocation of funds for scientific research in its 2012 budget, from R$6.4 billion (US$ 3.6 billion) to R$8.5 billion.
So although the overall sum in new money must be set against both the federal government’s budget and FAPESP’s overall budget (ScienceforBrazil calculates the RIDC money represents around a 6% increase in annual budget of the regional funding agency), the tenor or duration of the commitment is remarkable. Already, FAPESP is running projects with 20 year timelines, such as its BIOTA biodiversity program, and its financial firepower is backed by long-term endowments.
In a financially-constrained world where recipients of three year fellowships sometimes go out in pursuit of their next funding source within months of receiving their first grant checks, 11 year funding is a huge luxury. In those disciplines where results depend on long-term data-gathering, short-term grants undermine continuity and credibility.
So Brazil seems to be bucking a trend. Elsewhere in the world, including the European Union and the United States, scientific budgets are increasingly being limited to more short-term projects. (In the US, President Obama proposed increasing spending on science and research by about 1 percent, to $143 billion in his 2014 budget. It is instead likely to be cut by 5%).
This foundation has earmarked US$370 million of its own multi-year funding (money coming from its formal right to receive a fixed 1% of São Paulo state’s booming tax revenues), and has secured further commitments from the six state-run universities with which it works closely, valued at another US$310 million for salaries and other infrastructure support for researchers in the RIDCs. Additional funding will be obtained by each center from industry and government organizations.
The RIDC program has been running in pilot form since 2000, supporting 11 research centers. In 2011, a decision was made to upgrade the program and 90 proposals were evaluated, out of which the 17 awardees were selected. The selection process used 150 Brazilian and international reviewers, an International Committee composed of 11 invited scientists.
The expanded funding initiative signals Brazil’s determination to forge a knowledge-based economy by boosting its industrial potential to accelerate now-flagging economic development. This, policymakers hope, could unleash a new and energetic phase of capturing and exploiting advanced technologies.
Over the last 40 years, Brazil has used technology capture to build a number of successful industries, including aviation (its national aircraft builder Embraer is the world’s third largest); offshore oil drilling (state-controlled Petrobras is embarking on ultra-deepwater drilling to 4,000 meters below surface) and in alternative energy (the Proalcool ethanol fuel program is the world’s largest).
After decades of sending research scientists abroad to gather knowledge, policy initiatives have shifted towards building centers of excellence in-country, and attracting foreign scientists via generously funded visiting fellowships. The RIDC initiative is part of this wider trend.
Each RIDC is expected to establish a hub of excellent research in its focus area. In addition, each RIDC must actively seek out and develop opportunities to have its research results contribute to commercially and/or socially relevant high-impact applications, as well as contributing to education and dissemination of knowledge.
The research topics covered by the centers include the following: food and nutrition; glasses and glass-ceramics; functional materials; neuroscience and neurotechnology; inflammatory diseases; biodiversity and drug discovery; toxins, immune-response and cell signaling; neuromathematics; mathematical sciences applied to industry; obesity and associated diseases; cellular therapy; metropolitan studies; human genome and stem-cells; computational engineering; redox processes in biomedicine; violence; and optics, photonics, and atomic and molecular physics.
For FAPESP, the RIDC financing is additional to its regular funding program, which in 2012 distributed approximately US$525 million.
Since 1962, FAPESP has granted more than 110,000 scholarships and fellowships (from the undergraduate to postdoctoral level), supported nearly 100,000 research projects, and contributed remarkably towards improving the research infrastructure and the social and economic development of the State of São Paulo. In 2012, FAPESP received 21,600 research proposals.
The research centers:
- Food Research Center – FoRC.
- Brazilian Research Institute for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology – BRAINN.
- Center for Research on Inflammatory Diseases – CRID.
- Center for Research and Innovation in Biodiversity and Drug Discovery – CIBFar.
- Center for Research on Toxins, Immune Response and Cell Signaling – CeTICS.
- Research, Innovation and Dissemination Center for Neuromathematics – NEUROMAT.
- Center for Research in Mathematical Sciences Applied to Industry – CeMEAI
- Obesity and Co-Morbidities Research Center – OCRC.
- Center for Research in Cell Therapy – CTC.
- Center for Metropolitan Studies – CEM.
- Human Genome and Stem-Cell Research Center – HUG-CELL.
- Center for Computational Science and Engineering – CECC.
- Center for Research on Redox Processes in Biomedicine- REDOXOME .
- The Center for Research, Teaching, and Innovation in Glass (CEPIV).
- The Center for Research and Development of Functional Materials (CDFM).
- Center for the Study of Violence – NEV-USP.
- Optics and Photonics Research Center – CEPOF.
São Paulo is the most developed and diversified state in the country, contributing 33% of Brazil’s GDP. About half of the research articles published yearly by scientists in Brazil have authors working in the State of São Paulo. The state is responsible for 45% of the doctorates awarded yearly in Brazil.
With 41 million people, it hosts six public research universities, the University of São Paulo (USP), the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), the University of the State of São Paulo (UNESP), the Federal University in São Carlos (UFSCAR), the Federal University in São Paulo (UNIFESP) and the Federal University in ABC (UFABC), and the renowned Aeronautics Technology Institute (ITA).
The state also hosts 19 state funded mission oriented research institutes, such as the Agronomics Institute of Campinas (IAC), the Institute for Technology Research (IPT) and the Butantan Institute, as well as the National Space Research Institute (INPE), the National Center for Airspace Technology (DCTA), and the National Research Center for Energy and Materials (CNPEM), which includes the National Synchrotron Light Source (LNLS).
R&D expenditures in the State of São Paulo reached 1.6% of state GDP in 2011, with 60% of expenditures contributed by the business sector.