Lab Companies and the EU’s FP7

The EU’s Seventh Framework Program for Research and Technological Development (FP7) began in 2007 as the successor to the FP6 program, the EU’s main system for funding research. Boasting a much larger budget (€50 billion [$66 billion = €0.75 = $1]) than its predecessor (€17.50 billion [$23.10 billion]) and running until 2013, the FP7’s goals are to increase scientific and technological knowledge in Europe and increase EU competitiveness (see IBO 5/31/08). This article highlights three new FP7 projects in which laboratory product companies participate. Although the commercialization of products developed as part of the projects is not a given, the companies’ involvement is advantageous in obtaining knowledge of new technologies, user input and increased visibility.

Participants in FP7 projects range from universities to institutions and private companies across EU member states. The FP7 consists of four thematic subgroups: Cooperation, Ideas, People and Capacities. It also funds the atomic Euratom project and the EU’s Joint Research Center. The projects pertinent to the development of lab products fall within the Cooperation thematic subgroup, which will receive 61% of FP7’s funding. Among the 11 research categories within the Cooperation subgroup are health, agriculture, energy, environment and nanotechnology.

Collaborative Projects (CPs) are one of FP7’s main funding mechanisms and are composed of participants from different EU countries. After the approval of the first round of proposals in 2008, total collaborative project funding was €1.19 billion ($1.58 billion). The topic and field covered by a CP generally determines its size. Large CPs receive funding of €10 million ($13.20 million) on average and cover a wide set of defined objectives. Small- and medium-scale CPs receive €1.90 million ($2.50 million) in funding on average and target specific technological objectives.

One such CP is the ATLAS project. The ATLAS project will run for three years beginning in April and receive €2.93 million ($3.87 million). The project aims to replace current chemical methods for crosslinking chromatin immunoprecipitation (XChIP) with a more precise technique based on a dual-pulse femtosecond laser (LChIP). The prototype system will consist of a microfluidic-based fluorescence-activated cell sorting platform and LChIP. The system will also do chromatin immuno-linked ligation applications, allowing for the use of smaller amounts of starting material. Project partners are four companies (Sigolas, Diagenode, Net Brinel and Light Conversion), two institutes and three universities.

Founded in 2003, Diagenode provides sonication instruments and epigenetic kits. Diagenode’s role in the ATLAS project is to optimize a PCR or non-PCR method for use prior to ChIP analysis; create antibodies for LChIP targets; and develop reagents and kits. “The way we became involved is because we know most of the European opinion leaders for research and they know us. This is a very classical dynamic of how a company can take a constant survey of what the market is expecting,” said Francios Dohet, manager of Sales and Marketing at Diagenode. According to Mr. Dohet, by collaborating closely with researchers, the company can “gain a clear idea of what the market wants. We can be sufficiently innovative, but not too innovative because, as you know, a solution can be brilliant, but it can be that it is not the right time to launch it or use it in the lab; so, mid-way between innovation and market reality,” said Mr. Dohet. The company will also learn about technical developments related to the project at an early stage. FP7’s shared patent rules give the rights to all project participants, which can use it to create products or share it with outside partners.

The MEMFIS (Miniature Analyzer to Reform IR-Spectroscopy) project, which began in September 2008, will run until August 2011. The project falls under the nanosystems category of the Cooperation subgroup, and received €2.85 million ($3.76 million) in funding. This CP’s goal is to create a miniature FT-IR spectrometer with a short measurement time using MEMS technology for applications ranging from air quality testing to security. The project’s participants are four companies (Bruker Germany, Vigo System, RHE Microsystems and HiperScan), three institutes and one university. “[Bruker will gain] experience about the performance of MEMS as part of a spectrometer, and knowledge in using MEMS,” said Arno Simon, chief technology officer at Bruker Optics. Mr. Simon highlighted the uncertainty of success: “This project is very ambitious and risky in a sense that there is no guarantee that the concepts will finally lead to a marketable commercial product.” However, like Mr. Dohet, he stressed that any new information about the technology, developed as part of the project, could aid in creating a commercial product.

The CARS EXPLORER project is focused on developing non-linear optics (NLOs), including coherent anti-stokes Raman spectroscopy (CARS) systems, for in situ imaging in order to allow for noninvasive, specific molecule targeting. The project, which began in March 2008, received €3.09 million ($4.07 million) in funding and will run until February 2011. The participants are Mauna Kea Technologies (MKT), seven institutes and two universities.

MKT is an eight-year old company that offers the Cellvizio confocal imaging system for clinical and research applications, including cancer research, longitudinal studies for stem cell research and cellular imaging of animals’ brains while awake. “Moving [NLO instrumentation] to in vivo and in situ experimental conditions is difficult. The main reason is that the excitation light which is needed to have the tissue generate CARS signal requires very specific optics and, moreover, fiber optics,” explained Fracois Lacombe, chief scientific officer at MKT. “Solving [this problem] requires specific technical development to be done, instruments to be partly reinvented or reoptimized for exotic wavelengths, and finally systems to be validated on relevant biological sample. That’s why we need collaborations.” According to Mr. Lacombe, the company’s relationship with the Institut Fresnel, one of the project partners, brought CARS EXPLORER to MKT’s attention.

Mr. Lacombe made clear that there are four research partners, in addition to MKT, involved in the CARS EXPLORER project that may develop a product based on the findings. He explained that if a company or partner were to solely develop an idea or technology for the project, it would then be that company’s property. Although the project’s future is an unknown, “being part of this project puts MKT in the very front row of these very promising but difficult developments.”

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