BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Following the announcements that two cloned babies had been born in the United States and Europe, there has been a chorus of opposition from European regulators and the biotechnology industry. European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin last week reaffirmed in Brussels his full support for the Franco-German initiative on a world convention banning the reproductive cloning of human beings.

"Reproductive cloning of human beings must be condemned not only on obvious ethical grounds and on the basis of common values, but also because it is an entirely irresponsible practice from the scientific point of view. Experience with animals has shown that cloning involves a huge number of risks and uncertainties," Busquin said.

The commissioner pointed out that human cloning is explicitly prohibited by Article 3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Moreover, he said, research into the cloning of human embryos for reproductive purposes is not eligible for any financing under the European research framework programs.

Busquin welcomed the Japanese announcement that it wishes to work with other countries to draw up a world treaty prohibiting human cloning. The European hostility to the concept of human cloning is already expressed the 41-member Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, in a special additional protocol on the prohibition of cloning human beings. And within the European Union, the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies also has spoken out against human cloning.

In the European Parliament Thursday, Irishman Se n Neachtain called for a worldwide ban on human cloning to be drawn up and implemented in the coming months.

On Jan. 9, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations and its specialized group of Emerging Biopharmaceutical Enterprises welcomed Busquin's support for a worldwide ban on human reproductive cloning. "Behind every effort to push back the limits of science, man should remain the beneficiary and not the subject of research itself," said Brian Ager, EFPIA director general. The industry believes that "Europe is well equipped to prevent human reproductive cloning" through a range of its legislative instruments.

At the same time, the industry is keen to keep the distinctions clear between different types of cloning, for fear of seeing its scope for development unduly hampered. "Human reproductive cloning, which is an inadmissible practice, should not be confused with therapeutic cloning, which can offer great opportunities for treatments and cures," said Peter Heinrich, President of EBE, in the same statement. "The use of stem cells or stem cells generated through therapeutic cloning is expected to revolutionize the treatment options for a wide range of serious conditions and degenerative diseases."

New EU Presidency Backs Biotechnology

Greece has taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union for the first half of 2003, and during its six months in office it says it wants better treatment for biotechnology.

In its priorities, presented to the European Parliament last Wednesday, it spoke of "bringing a new momentum to research and innovation" and of "policies to increase expenditure for research and development." In particular, it said it was "looking forward" to the Commission's upcoming report on life sciences and biotechnology. It promised to examine "appropriate measures for biotechnology."

But as a sign of discussions still to come, Jean Lambert, UK Green member of the European Parliament, was quick to warn against "too much emphasis being put on biotechnology" by the Greek presidency.