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image European Research News Centre > Medecine and Health > Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health: a European priority
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image image image Date published: 07/11/02
  image Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health: a European priority
RTD info special FP6
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  Selecting genomics and biotechnology for health as one of the priority themes of the Sixth Framework Programme is in line with a major political and strategic choice the Union made recently in meeting the challenges of the new knowledge-based economy (see the action plan Life sciences and biotechnology: a strategy for Europe, adopted by the Union in the first half of 2002). This is also a response to the expectations of society, at global as well as European level. Halting the deteriorating health situation in those developing countries afflicted by communicable diseases has become a key condition for a sustainable world.
   
   

European research has an undeniable capacity for excellence in the field of the life sciences, as demonstrated by its very active participation in most of the major genome sequencing achievements of the past decade – human, yeast, the bacteria Bacillus subtillus and the plant Arabidopsis thaliana. This high level of scientific quality has been achieved through close co-operation between multinational teams in a spirit which prefigures that of the European Research Area.

The Pasteur model

The present post-genomic era requires a continuation of this cross-border co-operation. It must combine fundamental research with a spirit of innovation able to translate scientific progress into concrete applications, the latter an area in which Europe has always lagged behind the United States.

This aptitude for 'transferring' research results – now known as 'translational research' – is characteristic of the arrival of the knowledge-based economy. It must be based on an increasingly active involvement of scientists in creating new highly specialised companies in which their know-how is a vital asset. New diagnostic tools or treatments based on sometimes very recent breakthroughs in fundamental research are never 'commonplace' innovations in the way everyday consumer products can be. A high level of expertise and an acute sense of economic realities are necessary accompaniments to the extremely sophisticated process involving their development and complex path to the market. In his day, Louis Pasteur was very much the 'researcher-entrepreneur'. It is a model which is more necessary now than ever before in exploiting the vast amount of knowledge which will bring in a new age of medicine.

Clinical research close to the patient

The priority given to European research in the health sector is not limited, however, to advances in genomics and biotechnologies alone. A second approach aims to focus scientific and technological co-operation and coordination on combating a number of diseases by including not only 'upstream' research into the development of new treatments, but also the essential stage of clinical trials, a field in which the Union previously had had no direct intervention. This applies in particular to one of the major public health concerns in Europe today: the fight against cancer. The European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) and its 2 500 doctors from 360 hospitals is particularly important in this area of clinical research in Europe. The clinical phase, which precedes and concludes the final development of any treatment, plays a key role as it is at this stage that the quality of life of the patient must be taken into account.

Special Union support will also go to research on the world's three major communicable diseases – Aids, malaria and tuberculosis – which are causing particular devastation in the poorest developing countries.

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To find out more:
The official text of the adoption of the Sixth Framework Programme
RTD info has devoted a number of dossiers and articles to research in the field of health. These include details of several European projects and links to many research organisations.
RTD info 35 (September 2002):
Article on the European EDPTC initiative (clinical research on Aids, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa)
RTD info 33 (April 2002):
Cancer Dossier
RTD info 32 (December 2001):
Stem cells dossier
RTD info 28 (December 2000):
Neurosciences dossier
RTD info 27 (September 2000):
Genomics dossier
• Website on research during the Fifth Framework Programme:
Catalogue of projects
Website of the Environment
and health key action


Diagram of the molecular structure of the Abl protein, whose genetic deficiencies can cause several forms of fatal leukaemia. This discovery by a team from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL - Heidelberg, DE) offers new prospects for molecular engineering solutions able to repair this defect.

Diagram of the molecular structure of the Abl protein, whose genetic deficiencies can cause several forms of fatal leukaemia. This discovery by a team from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL - Heidelberg, DE) offers new prospects for molecular engineering solutions able to repair this defect.

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