BRUSSELS, Belgium - More than 150 European Union (EU) biotechnology research projects are to receive funding of about US$150 million under a new plan proposed by European Commissioner for Research Edith Cresson.

The projects include the development of new vaccines and therapeutic drugs, the optimization of bioprocesses ensuring food safety and environment restoration.

Health-oriented projects range from searching for new antimicrobials; controlling the spread of antibiotic resistance; developing vaccines for diseases such as asthma and diabetes; and preventing food poisoning. Other projects involve fundamental research in overcoming drugs' inability to cross the blood-brain barrier or in achieving effective gene therapy.

This brings to more than 450 the total of biotechnology research projects funded by the EU since 1994 - with support for each project averaging more than US$1 million.

The new projects have been selected from nearly 600 proposals, focusing heavily on cell factories, neurosciences, structural biology and immunology and transdisease vaccinology.

The projects are not just academic. Industry is closely involved as the originator in a sixth of those selected and is an active participant in two-thirds of the total.

Since 1995, 456 projects have been funded, with a total contribution by the EU of ECU533 million. This represents an average EU contribution of ECU1.1 million per project.

Industrial participation has risen to a satisfactory level, with two-thirds of projects involving at least one company.

At the same time, the European Commission (EC) has launched what it calls the “European Plant Biotechnology Network“ to bring together almost 400 EU-funded laboratories active in the field, and to help exploit and disseminate results from current pan-European research projects in this sector.

The EC claims results will lead to improved food products and biodiversity monitoring for the environment.

At present, the EU funds 45 different projects in plant biotechnology, involving 394 laboratories in 20 countries. Combined, these projects represent a total research investment of ECU150 million.

This new initiative, established in collaboration by the Plant Industrial Platform (the European plant science community) and AMICA, a pan-European plant research company, has several aims: to promote technology transfer from European plant biotechnology research projects to industry; to increase interactions between researchers and end-users of research results; and to inform society of the benefits of plant biotechnology.

In addition to contact meetings, the network will run a technology brokerage service and coordinate a European Plant Biotechnology Week. *