BRUSSELS, Belgium - The science and technology committee of the UK's House of Lords is expected to produce an initial review of current European thinking on human genetic databases in late October.

Over recent weeks it has been collecting evidence on current and planned projects that involve collecting genetic information on people, and on the collection of material such as tissue samples that could be used to generate databases of DNA profiles. It has been seeking information on why these genetic databases are being assembled, how these activities are funded, what practical considerations will constrain developments, and whether there are other ways of meeting those objectives.

The committee has been asking what genetic information is being collected, how is it being stored and protected, and how organizations involved see their responsibilities regarding privacy, consent, future use, public accountability and intellectual property rights. The review also covers likely developments in genetic databases and the advances in sequencing, screening and database technology that are anticipated, and what lessons can be learned from genetic database initiatives in other countries. On the basis of the written evidence received, the committee plans a series of public hearings between November and February, and a full report and recommendations in March.

Barcelona Group Open To Embryo Research

The Barcelona Science Park's "Observatory on Bioethics and Law" has kept the door open to research on embryos fertilized in vitro with a declaration agreed to in late September.

Research should be permitted if it is endorsed by an ad hoc committee, if the donors of the gametes or embryos have given their consent, and if the embryos are surplus to assisted reproduction, or are created expressly for research into pathologies suffered by the donor couples, or where embryos are created from gametes donated for research purposes and not in connection with any reproductive project, or where they are somatic embryos obtained by cloning, says the Observatory's declaration. This declaration lines up alongside the UK government's August statement approving the cloning of human embryos for therapeutic purposes - and contrasts with the early September resolution of the European Parliament, which rejected any type of experiment on human embryos, irrespective of the purpose, describing it as "contrary to human dignity."

Protein Facility Opening In The Netherlands

The world's first ultra-high-field wide-bore spectrometer for biological research will be inaugurated in Leiden, the Netherlands, on Friday. The high-resolution instrument, based on superconducting magnets, will permit study of how membrane proteins work - a key question of the post-genomic era.

Initial bioinformatics estimates from human genome analyses suggest that 30 percent of all proteins are membrane proteins, but little is known about how they look and how they work. Thousands of membrane receptor targets are awaiting analysis in pharmaceutical companies worldwide, according to the European Commission's biotechnology research directorate, which funded the program. Officials claim that detailed information about how hormones or drugs bind to protein membrane receptor targets will permit rational drug design, providing new insights into the biological interactions that control sight, taste, smell and internal processes central to diseases ranging from depression to arthritis.

EU Seeks Compromise On GMO Rules

The European Union's Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the European Commission have started work on the search for a compromise on an update to the EU's basic rule on biotechnology, the 1990 directive on the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms into the environment.

A compromise is needed because the Parliament and the Council disagree over the final form of the update, proposed by the Commission back in 1998, and under protracted discussion since. Serious divergences of view exist on how to treat human medicines, on the degree of detail needed on location and conditions of production of GMOs, and on traceability of GMOs downstream of production. Following a first meeting in the EU's so-called conciliation procedure, the Parliament will determine its position early this month on compromise proposals for the contentious areas, and a second tri-partite meeting will follow in mid-October.

New European Biotech Group Gets Started

Emerging Biopharmaceutical Enterprises, the new specialized group for biotechnology companies announced in June by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, is moving into an operational phase. It will hold its inaugural working meeting this month, to plan how it will achieve its goal of promoting a favorable business and regulatory climate for rapid application of the bioscience technologies in the European pharmaceutical sector, with a particular focus on smaller firms and start-ups.

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