Brussels, 21 March 2002
Support for the further integration and coordination of research efforts under the Sixth Framework programme for research (FP6) was expressed at a Commission seminar on the new instruments for FP6 in the priority theme 'Genomics and biotechnology for health' on 18 March.
During the session on 'Integrated projects,' Professor David Stuart from the UK's Medical Research Council presented the Spine (Structural proteomics in Europe) project, which is being funded under the Fifth Framework programme for research (FP5). The project aims to 'extend the scope of the genome revolution' by using robotics and other technology to advance the analysis of protein function. The project will bring together leading European structural biology groups to develop new methods and technologies for targeting human proteins implicated in certain diseases.
Professor Stuart said that the collaboration of 17 major partners in the project would help to 'capitalise on the strength of structural biology in Europe,' where he said research in the area was both started and nurtured. He added that the project, which is lead by biomedical targets but has goals for technology development as well, is organised around the concept of 'nodes' or work packages headed up by individual partners. He said it aims help to 'democratise' structural biology and structural genomics in Europe through the involvement of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) in the development of affordable new technology.
Professor Marc Girard, who heads up the EuroVac project - a cluster of 21 laboratories which aims to bring a human HIV vaccine to a phase 1 trial in human volunteers - outlined a number of suggestions to improve the coordination of HIV research in the EU. These include broadening the EuroVac cluster under a larger grant, grouping together all top class HIV research groups in Europe, the creation of a core facility for the storage of specimens and access to legal and intellectual property advice.
During the session on 'Networks of excellence,' Professor Jorma Isola presented the ErbB2 - Directed Immunotherapy of Breast Cancer project, funded by the Commission under FP5, which examines the use of monoclonal antibody drugs to tackle breast cancer. Professor Isola said that the new instruments of FP6 will act as 'an important intellectual catalyst in biomedical research' by encouraging cross-over between different scientific disciplines and the creation of research consortia. He said that the project he coordinates creates 'European added value' by including groups with totally different scientific backgrounds, from physicists to clinicians.
Professor Eliane Gluckmann presented the two projects Eurocord I, a European research project on cord blood banking and transplantation, and Eurocord II, which examines cord blood as an allogenic source of stem cells for clinical use. She said that while the work undertaken in the projects 'would not have been possible without European funding,' their duration is too short for the full research potential to be realised. Professor Gluckmann said she would like to see a permanent programme set up in this field of research.
At the seminar, Bruno Hansen, Director of the Research DG's 'Life sciences: research for biotechnology, agriculture and food' directorate, countered concern expressed by a Hungarian delegate that candidate countries which enter into Sixth Framework programme integrated projects at a later stage may be disadvantaged. He said he is confident that candidate countries will become involved in FP6 projects, adding that just as under the Fourth and Fifth Framework programmes, the priority will be to 'make sure we are sponsoring the best science.' He added that it is important to ensure flexibility and openness and prevent integrated projects funded under FP6 from becoming a 'closed club.' He explained that the admission of new partners during the lifetime of an integrated project will help to ensure this.
Mr Hansen added that the aim of the new instruments of FP6 is 'not just big and beautiful for big and beautiful,' but a crucial mechanism for generating the critical mass in research needed to keep Europe competitive. He added that Europe would not be starting from scratch with the new instruments, as 'the ground has been laid' by projects carried out during the Fourth and Fifth framework programmes.
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