BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Concern in the European Parliament about a possible embargo on stem cell research has been countered by the Danish presidency of the European Union.

Following complaints by the Parliament's industry and research committee last week that EU member states were shelving any chance of EU funding for embryonic stem cell research until the end of 2003 in order to win a compromise agreement on the EU's new research program, the presidency stated that no deal has yet been reached. (See BioWorld International, Aug. 28, 2002.)

Italy's objections on ethical grounds to such funding have in fact prevented agreement among member states on the research framework program for 2002-2006, which was supposed to be finalized before the end of July so that proposals for research support could be solicited this autumn. What members of the Parliament took to be a final decision was in fact only a compromise proposal the presidency floated during the summer break, in the hope of overcoming Italian opposition. But Italy refused to sign up, saying it was not prepared to put the decision off to a later date.

As a result, the program - which will put some ā‚¬17.5 billion into EU research over the next five years, with around ā‚¬2.5 billion directly into biotechnology research, and at least as much again indirectly - remains on hold.

Still hopeful of a successful outcome, the Danish presidency has again stressed that no EU funding will go to research activities aimed at human reproductive cloning, modification of the genetic heritage of human beings, or the creation of human embryos solely for the purpose of research or stem cell procurement.

The Danish minister for science, technology and innovation, Helge Sander, said the presidency is sensitive to concerns over the ethical aspects of biotechnology research. "Creativity in science and technology and genuine innovation in its applications must go hand in hand with due reflection on any challenge it poses to mankind. I would like to think of freedom under responsibility' as the main feature of European efforts in this field.

"Personally, I cannot think of a stronger basis for a true knowledge-based economy," she said, setting out new plans for resolving the deadlock.

While activities related to stem cell research are only a part of the planned activities of the research program in quantitative terms, "a compromise on this sensitive issue has become a precondition for final adoption of the specific programs," the presidency said. Now that EU business has resumed after the summer break, it is scheduling urgent talks at the ministerial level to win the agreement needed for the program to go ahead.