Efforts to achieve a more co-ordinated strategy for planning and investing in life sciences research across Europe took a step forward last week with the first annual EuroBioForum organised by EuroBioFund, a new initiative launched in June by the European Science Foundation with support from the European Commission.

The forum held in Helsinki, Finland, brought together life sciences researchers with representatives from bioscience companies, public/private foundations, national academies and innovation agencies, research funding organisations and intergovernmental agencies. The first of three planned annual conferences in the initial phase of the EuroBioFund initiative, the Helsinki EuroBioForum was a platform for selected consortia conducting life science research on a European scale to air their proposals to a variety of funding bodies through posters and presentations.

Among the projects selected by the EuroBioFund steering committee for oral presentation at this year’s forum were METABOTECH, a programme developed at the Leiden Amsterdam Center for Drug Research in the Netherlands that seeks to co-ordinate European national research in the field of metabolomics. This involves the quantitative and qualitative analysis of small molecules in cells, tissues and body fluids, which could help to identify treatment targets in conditions such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and depression.

Unpicking heritable diseases

Another project showcased in Helsinki focuses on the role of mitochondria – components of eukaryote cells with their own genome, mtDNA – in life, death and disease (MitLiDiDe). Mutations of mitochondrial gene expression have been identified as causing a variety of somatic and heritable diseases. Mitochondrial dysfunction is also associated with more common neurodegenerative disorders and the accumulation of mtDNA mutations with the ageing process. The aim of this project, based at Newcastle University in the UK, is to combine European research expertise in the field with a view to characterising the processes central to mitochondrial function and cell viability.

These kinds of opportunities for ‘brokerage’ between researchers and funding bodies are central to the EuroBioForum concept. The next conference has already been arranged for 15-16 November 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal, while a third EuroBioForum will be held in France the following year – each site reflecting the current presidency of the European Union.

The EuroBioForum is one of three main strands of the EuroBioFund initiative, which addresses the existing fragmentation of research and development investment for the life sciences between assorted funding bodies across Europe. The rationale is that better interaction between funding bodies and life sciences researchers will help Europe to achieve the necessary critical mass to keep pace with research efforts in the US and Asia.

The two other key objectives of EuroBioFund, which next year will have extra support from the EU’s €50 billion New Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for scientific research and innovation, are helping to organise research communities and facilitate ‘bottom-up’ generation of research programmes on a European scale (EuroBioGenerator); and helping to develop joint investments and joint funding of life sciences research (EuroBioAccess). By Peter Mansell