The German federal research minister, Annette Schavan, has welcomed plans from the European Commission to continue to fund stem cell research in the Horizon 2020 research funding programme which will run from 2014-2020. Schavan’s statement came in response to the publication of the Commissions’ proposals for Horizon 2020 on 30 November (see European Commission announces €80-billion plan for research).
The Commission’s support for stem cell research shows the field is guided by ethical principles, Schavan said.
Schavan’s comments follow an interview with research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in the German newspaper Die Welt, in which she sought to assuage scientists’ fears that stem cell research is losing favour in Europe. She said the EU supports all types of stem cells research and emphasised studies must strictly follow ethical rules.
Many scientists have been concerned about the future of stem cell research in Europe after the European Court of Justice ruled on 18 October that procedures involving human embryonic stem (ES) cells cannot be patented (see European ban on stem-cell patents has a silver lining).
In other developments, questions concerning new rules for the commercialisation of research funded by Horizon 2020 are also emerging. An article in the New York Times says the rules mean that inventions or discoveries resulting from research funded by the programme will be marketed in Europe first.
A Commission spokesman told Nature that the rules do not apply to all inventions.
EU officials told the New York Times that the rules were in line with those in many other countries, including the United States, and would apply in only a few cases, like the first commercial applications of a potentially highly lucrative invention or where large numbers of jobs were at stake.
“This should not be taken as the European Union or the commission putting forward a protectionist policy,” Geoghegan-Quinn said.
The conditions on commercialization could help major European manufacturing companies keep production at home, she adds.
But it raises the question: could they also hamper commercialisation by limiting the markets for these innovations?
US industry groups think so. An article in the European Voice newspaper warns a ‘Europe-first’ provision would “discourage inventors from engaging in high-risk research”.
The United States Council for International Business told European Voice that the rule was “over-restrictive and would have a chilling effect on the development of new technologies in Europe”. It said the speedy introduction of new technologies such as for mitigating or adapting to climate change “would be hampered by insisting that such technologies be worked first in Europe before being deployed overseas”.
European businesses seem less concerned about the move. Nathalie Moll, secretary general of EuropaBio, a European association for biotechnology industries, told Nature, “Horizon 2020 is the most open research programme in the world. While EuropaBio would be concerned by any broad protectionist measures in Europe, we welcome the Commission’s initiatives on stimulating economic growth in Europe, particularly the increased funding being made available to the bio-economy and the specific measures in place to entice SME participation. “