BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Parliament last week finalized its views on the European Union's upcoming research program for 2002-2006, including how the €2.5 billion (US$2.4 billion) allocation for biotechnology research should be used.

When the program comes into effect, probably in October, the wording agreed by the Parliament will form the basis for the decisions as to what projects may be funded, and how.

The Parliament sets out what should be funded under the program's provisions for life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health. On genomes, the text now runs: "The sequencing of the human genome and many other genomes heralds a new age in human biology, offering unprecedented opportunities to improve human health and to stimulate industrial and economic activity. In making its contribution to realizing these benefits, this theme will focus on integrating post-genomic research and related molecular mechanisms into the more established biomedical and biotechnological approaches, and will facilitate the integration of research capacities (both public and private) across Europe to increase coherence and achieve critical mass."

For structural genomics and related molecular mechanisms, "The objectives are to enable researchers to determine, more effectively and at a higher rate than is currently feasible, the 3-D structure of proteins and other macromolecules, which is important for elucidating protein function and essential for drug design." In the section on comparative genomics and related molecular mechanisms and population genetics, Parliament said the objectives are to enable researchers to use well-characterized model organisms for predicting and testing gene function and to take full advantage of specific population cohorts available in Europe to determine the relationship between gene function and health or disease." And in multidisciplinary functional genomics and related molecular mechanism approaches to basic biological processes, the objectives are defined as enabling researchers to study fundamental biological processes by integrating the above innovative approaches."

Parliament's research priorities also include: "Technological platforms for the developments in the fields of new diagnostic, prevention (including vaccination to control infectious diseases and cancer) and therapeutic tools." Support in that area will be granted for pharmacogenomic approaches; cell therapy, including therapy using adult stem cells and adult "reprogrammed" somatic cells; research into ethically acceptable alternatives to technologies that are controversial within the EU, such as alternatives to experiments on animals and to embryonic stem cell research and artificial insemination methods that could prevent the production of supernumerary embryos; support for innovative research on transgenic plants for the production of drugs, hormones and proteins for therapeutic purposes; and innovative research in post-genomics and related molecular mechanisms, which has a high potential for application, including stem cell therapies in neurological and neuromuscular disorders.

The new text also says Europe enjoys a strong position in the nanosciences, which needs to be translated into a real competitive advantage for European industry. Specifically on nanobiotechnologies, it said, "The objective is to support research into the integration of biological and non-biological entities, opening new horizons in many applications, such as for processing and for medical, environmental and food analysis systems." Research will focus on lab-on-chip technology; interfaces to biological entities; surface-modified nanoparticles; advanced drug delivery and other areas of integrating nanosystems or nanoelectronics with biological entities; processing, manipulation and detection of biological molecules or complexes; electronic detection of biological entities; microfluidics; promotion and control of growth and polarization of cells on substrates; differentiation of stem cell, tissue repair and engineering artificial organs; and sensing systems based on the use of biomolecules and biocompatible components.

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