BORNHEIM, Germany ¿ The German Research Ministry chose nine winners in the fifth round of its BioChance competition and plans to support them with DM20 million (US$9.2 million) in funding.

With the BioChance competition, the German government aims to support research and development projects in young biotech companies.

Selected companies include Esplora GmbH, of Darmstadt, which specializes in target finding in the blood-brain-barrier. The money will fuel investigation of regulating mechanisms in the development of the blood-brain barrier, the company¿s managing director, Sabine Wolf, told BioWorld International. Esplora researchers want to explore the interactions between the barrier¿s functions and neurodegenerative diseases, Wolf said. Esplora was founded in April 2000.

Pieris Proteolab AG, of Freising, wants to use the money to build up libraries of novel potential therapeutic proteins, or anticalins, Pieris CEO Martin Pvhlchen said. Anticalins¿ structure is derived from natural lipocalines, which in human blood serum act as carriers transporting insoluble molecules. Pieris was founded in February.

At IonGen AG, of Gvttingen, researchers with the funding want to validate certain ion channels as drug targets for cancer treatment, IonGen Chief Scientific Officer Luis Pardo told BioWorld International. The company¿s core interest is exploring ion channels for cancer diagnostics. IonGen was founded in January and started operations in May.

Other winners in the current round of the competition were:

¿ BioVision GmbH, of Hannover (peptides for potential treatment of diabetes).

¿ Coronaris Research Institute GmbH, of Kiel, and Scienion AG, of Berlin (joint project on DNA arrays in the field of inflammation).

¿ Cytronetrics, of Reutlingen (patch clamp technology with microstructure chips).

¿ Heart Biosystems GmbH, of T|bingen (novel molecular approaches for treatment of restenosis).

¿ Helix Informatics AG, of Martinsried (bioinformatics integrating processes in the laboratory).

The competition started in 1999. To date 35 projects in four previous rounds were granted DM70 million. The whole program is expected to provide DM100 million by 2004.