BioWorld International Correspondent

The European Union announced on Nov. 17 that it was in discussions to fund more than 500 projects proposed by health care companies and academics under its new €2 billion program to support life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health.

A portion of the funding is for the creation of a European Consortium for Stem Cell Research - covering preclinical studies on nonhuman embryonic, fetal and adult stem cells, with potential to differentiate into cell lines with neural, mesodermal or epithelial characteristics. Other stem cell-related projects cover the study of adult mesenchymal stem cells engineering for connective tissue disorders and further improvement of radiotherapy of cancer through side-effect reduction by application of adult stem cell therapy.

Other projects include work with mutant p53 as a target for improved cancer treatment; advanced molecular tools for array-based analyses of genomes, transcriptomes, proteomes and cells; identification of genes involved in healthy aging and longevity; and genome-based therapeutic drugs for depression. Over the next few weeks, EU officials will finalize funding contracts with the research teams.

Innovative Drug Firms Warn on Biosimilars'

Risks to patients from generic biotechnology medicines are being talked up by the high-technology European pharmaceutical industry. The issue has come to prominence as the European Union's two-year-old plan to update its rules on authorization and monitoring of pharmaceuticals moves toward a crucial phase in December, when the European Parliament will give its views on the proposals. Much of the discussion centers on whether new rules are needed to ensure that so-called biosimilar medicines meet necessary standards.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations has been lobbying Parliament over recent days to ensure that generic biotech products are required to undergo preclinical testing and clinical trials to demonstrate safety and efficacy.

"Biological medicinal products are not the same as chemical medicinal products and cannot be treated the same," it said last week. And EuropaBio, the European biotechnology industry association, is similarly arguing that comparability rules of generics and biological medicinal products "should be strengthened to guarantee patient safety and to avoid confusion and legal inconsistencies where biosimilar medicines are concerned."

European Industry Support For UK Biotech Initiative

The UK government's Nov. 17 announcement of policy measures to support the UK biotech industry won immediate support from EuropaBio, the European biotechnology industry association. EuropaBio called on other European countries to follow suit and make their countries the best places for young innovative companies to grow and succeed.

"The biotech industry should not always expect solutions to come from Brussels," said Hugo Schepens, EuropaBio's director. "Any EU initiative takes years, and in the process, proposals often get weaker, more complicated, less easy to implement and miss their intended goal. In many cases, it is much better for member states to use their own power and adopt stimulating measures nationally and rapidly. If that creates competition among member states for the most effective fostering framework, so much the better."