Diagnosing the illness
Healthcare currently swallows up almost 10% of
all public expenditure in the European Union.
New treatments are urgently needed for the major killers
heart disease, stroke and cancer as well as for the chronic
diseases associated with old age, such as arthritis, brittle bones
New drugs are also needed because the problem of resistance, a major
cause of failure of classical therapies, is increasing alarmingly.
Resistance to chemotherapy is a major obstacle in cancer treatment.
Equally, microbes (viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites) are becoming
increasingly resistant to antimicrobial agents that have been around
for years. Many existing treatments are effective but very expensive,
inconvenient to take or cause unpleasant side effects.
Prescribing the right treatment
Possibly the most important source of new medicines
will come from knowledge of how living cells function. New genes
can be engineered into living organisms, such as bacteria, fungi
or plants that then produce pharmaceutical substances. Much current
research is focused on understanding and repairing malfunctioning
genes and the biological functions they control.
Through its Framework Programmes, the European Union
has invested heavily in three basic areas of healthcare research:
new treatments, better diagnostic tools, and the means to prevent
ill health. The EU fosters co-operative research between academic
institutions, private enterprises (including SMEs) and financial
investors across Europe in collaboration with the rest of
In the Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002), the Quality of Life
programme is funding key actions and generic research in the improvement
of health. In the next Framework Programme (2002-2006), 2.6
billion has been proposed for research into genomics and biotechnology
for health, as well as for safer food and health risk assessment.