BioFunding

European biobank draws investors

17.11.2009

Europe’s ambitious pilot biobanking project, the BBMRI (Biobanking and Bio­molecular Resources Research Infrastructure) has attracted massive investment from national biobanking initiatives. The project is to link up to 300 European blood, plasma and tissue biobanks containing 11.6 million samples for biomarker research. According to Kurt Zatloukal (Graz Medical University), who is heading up the 5-year preparatory phase before implementation of the unique resource, the BBMRI has attracted more than EUR30m in the 20 months since its launch. The latest funding came from the Dutch government, which is contributing EUR22.5m plus 3-year follow-up funding into a national biobanking initiative. Additional money is still coming in.

“We are also in close talks with Luxembourg,” Zatloukal told EuroBiotechNews. This summer the small country began hiring staff for the establishment of the Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg (IBBL), which is part of a EUR140m biomedical research initiative designed to push Luxembourg into the upper echelon of biomarker discovery centres in the world. Both the Dutch investment and the talks with the IBBL in November have led to rumours about who will lead the BBMRI in the future. “It is true that one centre must lead the BBMRI after the preparatory phase, due to the establishment of the so-called ERIC status. Both the Netherlands and Austria have applied, “ said Zatloukal. “But there isn’t any competition, and it looks like Austria will take on this role.” For implementation of ERIC (European Research Infrastructure Consortium) status, the BBMRI must be anchored within a single member state. With the new scheme, Europe is seeking to outweigh a major disadvantage European researchers have compared to their US counterparts. “We have more samples and data relating to samples than anywhere else in the world,” according to BBMRI managing director Professor Eero Vuorio. But differing regulations among EU member states make it difficult to pool resources, which is an important prerequisite to attracting cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry. The ERIC scheme offers several advantages that should help to overcome the typical fragmentation of EU research. The BBMRI could hire staff in several member states under a common contract, for example, which would allow greater researcher mobility while retaining health and social security benefits. The ERIC scheme also offers VAT-free status to the BBMRI. The respective ministers of the partners that are supporting the the project financially are expected to decide which country will host the BBMRI by next year. Soon after, says Zatloukal, the European Commission will decide on ERIC status.

IBBL could eventually support

US competition

While more investment in the BBMRI is expected to come from additional national biobanking programmes, a cooperation with the IBBL might also offer an opportunity for US researchers to access Europe’s biobanking resources and research market via the Luxembourg Programme in Personalized Medicine, which includes three major projects:
– Creation of the IBBL in partnership with the Arizona-based Translational Genomics Research Institute(TGen).
– The Arizona-based Partnership for Personalized Medicine, which will work on IBBL-based lung cancer projects.
– The Center for Systems Biology Luxembourg (CSBL), which is intended to track the genetic basis of disease and develop protein-based tests, will cooperate with Amgen founder Leroy Hood.B

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