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Sixth framework programme (2000-2006): Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health

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This specific programme aims to exploit in an integrated manner the results of deciphering the genomes of living organisms in the interest of public health, the competitiveness of the European biotechnology industry as well as the environment and agriculture.

ACT

Council Decision 2002/834/EC of 30 September 2002 adopting a specific programme for research, technological development and demonstration: "Integrating and strengthening the European Research Area" (2002-2006) [Official Journal L 294 of 29.10.2002].

SUMMARY

The discovery of the sequencing of the human genome at the end of 2000 heralds a revolutionary new scientific age. The availability of the complete human gene map opens up enormous possibilities requiring a pooling of research efforts on a very large scale.

The development of genomics (study of all the genes of a living organism) and biotechnologies for health (genetic manipulation of molecules or transgenic organisms) can completely change approaches in medicine to the treatment of illnesses through the alteration of defective genes or in the production of new medicines.

In this connection, the Sixth Framework Programme has established an undeniable excellence capability in the life sciences and in the spirit of the European Research Area.

European Union action is concentrated on two major areas for a total amount of 2 255 million:

  • advanced genomics and its applications for health;
  • combating major diseases.

I. ADVANCED GENOMICS AND ITS APPLICATIONS FOR HEALTH

Research in genomics will affect the daily lives of many people over the next few years. The implications in the field of health, agriculture, forestry and fisheries are such that genomics could become the science of the future. In this area, the sixth programme identifies two lines of action:

A. Fundamental knowledge and basic tools for functional genomics in all organisms

The objective is to foster an understanding of genomics in order to decipher the function of genes and gene products and improve human health. Research actions encompass the following aspects:

  • gene expression and proteomics. Objective: to enable a researcher to decipher the function of genes and gene products and to study the regulation and function of proteins as part of normal or pathological activity;
  • structural genomics. Objective: to determine the 3D structure of proteins and other macromolecules to achieve a better understanding of the function of proteins for drug design;
  • comparative genomics and population genetics. Objective: to enable researchers to use model organisms for predicting and testing gene function;
  • bio-informatics. Objective: to access efficient tools for managing and interpreting the ever increasing quantities of genome data and for making it available to the scientific community;
  • multi-disciplinary functional genomics approaches. Objective: to study fundamental biological processes by integrating all innovative approaches.

B. Applications of knowledge and technologies in the field of genomics and biotechnology for health

The objective is to foster the competitiveness of Europe's biotechnology industry by exploiting the wealth of biological data produced by genomics and advances in biotechnology.

Research actions encompass technological platforms for the development of new diagnostic, prevention and therapeutic tools, in particular research into stem cells (cells capable of multiplying and specialising) and ways of replacing animal experimentation. This approach is also aimed at fostering academic and industrial collaboration.

II. COMBATING MAJOR DISEASES

Prevention, confinement and therapy combine to combat rare diseases, whose resistance to the efforts of researchers and doctors is explained by its complexity. In this area, three lines of action should be identified:

A. Application-oriented genomic approaches to medical knowledge and technologies

The objective is to develop strategies for the prevention and management of human disease including the use of animal and plant genomics, particularly in the following areas:

  • combating cardiovascular diseases, diseases of the nervous system, diabetes and rare diseases. Objective: to improve the prevention and treatment and pool research resources for these diseases;
  • combating resistance to antibiotics and other drugs. Objective: to attack drug-resistant pathogens;
  • studying the brain and combating diseases of the nervous system. Objective: to use genome information (gene pool of individual) to better understand the functioning and dysfunctioning of the brain;
  • studying human development in the ageing process. Objective: to better understand human development, with special emphasis on the ageing process.

B. Combating cancer

One of the major public health issues in Europe is the fight against cancer. Each year more than four million new cases are diagnosed, making it the second most common cause of death.

The framework programme aims to develop improved strategies for earlier diagnosis and better treatment with minimal side effects. The approach is very broad and aims to develop patient-oriented strategies (effects of radiotherapy, hormone treatments, etc.) from prevention to diagnosis and treatment. This approach will comprise three interlinked components:

  • developing networks and initiatives for the coordination of research activities carried out at national level and for the exploitation of research on cancer in Europe;
  • supporting clinical research aimed at validating new and improved interventions. The clinical phase which precedes and completes the final application of any treatment plays a very key role in the patient's quality of life;
  • supporting translational research aimed at bringing basic knowledge through to applications.

C. Confronting the major communicable diseases linked to poverty

The objective is to confront the emergency in the poorest developing countries caused by the three major communicable diseases - HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis. The challenge is to develop effective intervention strategies at Community and international level.

In this connection, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Programme on Poverty-related diseases (EDCTP) provides a coherent response by combining Community and national efforts in the fields of clinical trials, new therapies and vaccines against Aids, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa.

Clinical research represents the biggest investment in the process of developing new vaccines and treatments adapted to the socio-economic circumstances of the southern hemisphere. Effective coordination of clinical research is essential if we are to reduce the terrible effects of these pandemics.

REFERENCES

ActDate
of entry into force
Deadline for implementation in the Member States
Decision 2002/835/EC01.01.2003-
Last updated: 04.01.2007
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