BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union launched its €17.5 billion 2003-2006 research support program Monday at a three-day conference in Brussels titled "Research 2002," which the EU said was "the biggest-ever conference on science and technology" in Europe.

Genomics and biotechnology are among the key priorities of the research program and were at the root of many of the projects showcased at the opening of the conference and that currently benefit from EU research funding.

They ranged from a Finnish presentation on combinatorial biosynthesis, with generation of novel therapeutic substances by combining genes from actinomycetes and cyanobacteria, to a UK project on biomechanical interactions in tissue engineering and surgical repair. Others included a Danish project on ribosome inhibitors (using the protein translation apparatus as a target for the development of new antimicrobials without cross-resistance to existing antibiotics), and a German project on macrophage function. Details were provided on a Belgian project on mechanisms that control the development of the cerebral cortex, a French project bringing 38 academic and industrial partners together to develop tuberculosis vaccine candidates and a pan-European project based in Sweden on generation of novel live attenuated vaccines for prevention of HIV.

The conference is intended to explain the scope of the program to researchers and to generate interest in seeking EU funding. Specialized sessions and workshops will elaborate on priorities of the program, such as life sciences, genomics and biotechnology. European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said, "I invite the European scientific and business community to join EU institutions and member states in making the program a success and to foster the creation of a European research area." The first calls for proposals will be published shortly.