BRUSSELS, Belgium The European Union¿s newly approved US$15 billion research and technological development program for 1999-2002, the Fifth Framework Program, will be launched at a conference Feb. 25-26 in Essen, Germany.

Research and development will qualify for funding in several of the program¿s sections, including ¿quality of life and management of living resources,¿ with a budget of US$2.5 billion; ¿energy, environment and sustainable development,¿ US$2.2 billion; ¿the international role of EU research,¿ US$500 million; ¿promotion of innovation and encouragement of participation of smaller firms,¿ US$380 million; and ¿improving human research potential,¿ US$1.35 billion.

After a long standoff within the EU over funding and control of the program, the Council of Research Ministers gave its final agreement on Dec. 22. The Essen conference, designed to inform the worlds of research policy, industry and science, will provide details of the final contents of the programs, the participation conditions and examples of successful projects from earlier programs.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has released a list of research funding opportunities at the European level, including venture capital companies with a particular record of investing in biotechnology firms, including 3i, Advent, Alta Berkley, Atlas Group, Danish Development Finance Group (which invests mostly in Denmark), Electra, Euro Continental, Euro Ventures, Finovelec of France (with strong U.S. links), Medical Science Partners, Sofinnova France, Rothschild Bioscience UK, Shroeder Ventures, GIMV (the Flemish agency in Belgium), TVM (German, but also in Boston), Apax Partners (London), Technology Leaders and Wain (U.S.).

In response to the difficulty that biotechnology and other high-tech companies have in accessing funds from the financial markets, the European Commission has set up two programs linked into the commercial sector: EuroTech Capital and Seed Capital Pilot Action. EuroTech Capital is a venture capital program run by the European Commission which aims to promote private funding of transnational high-technology projects. The program operates through a network of 14 private venture capital funds, each with an investment capacity of at least US$50 million, of which at least 20% is allocated to companies involved in transnational high-tech projects.

The European Commission implemented Seed Capital Pilot Action in order to stimulate the supply of equity capital to innovative business projects by supporting the creation of 23 specialized investment funds. These funds are independent entities, under private law, and are responsible for their own investment decisions. By the end of 1997, the 23 funds had invested US$45 million in 346 new companies. Eight of the 23 funds are specialized to make investments in the biotechnology sector. n