Europe needs major investment in medical applications of nanotechnology
18 December 2005
The European Science Foundation (ESF) has called for a clear strategy and
investment plan to ensure Europe does not miss out on the benefits of
nanomedicine. This was the result of its wide-ranging Forward Look Study
The report concludes that nanomedicine is about to deliver a healthcare
paradigm shift in which it will be possible to monitor people on the basis
of known genetic predispositions, diagnose disease before there are any
symptoms, administer drugs that are precisely targeted, and use non invasive
imaging tools to demonstrate that the treatment was effective.
The ESF report notes that Europe is particularly strong in many areas of
nanotechnology needed for advances in nanomedicine and that several European
companies are at the cutting-edge of research in this area. Another positive
note is that funding in Europe for nanotechnology research is rapidly
growing. However, the report also warns that Europe’s ability to lead and
benefit will be compromised unless a series of key recommendations are
A nanometre is defined as a billionth of a metre — 1,000 times smaller
than the width of a human hair. Nanomedicine uses nano-sized tools for the
diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disease and to gain deeper
understanding of complex causal factors. Nanotechnology is the development
of objects and machines measured in nanometres to probe and manipulate
biological systems on the molecular level.
The ESF Forward Look study on Nanomedicine was a two-year-long study
begun in late 2003 and completed in November 2005 following the realisation
that nanomedicine – defined as using “nano” miniaturised molecular tools and
molecular level knowledge of the human body to diagnose and treat disease –
was becoming a reality. This mirrors a similar pattern in the electronics
and materials sector. Gathering the leading European experts in the field
from across academia and industry, the study set out to define the field,
discuss the future impact on healthcare and society, assess the current
situation and Europe’s strengths and weaknesses, deliver recommendations on
future research trends and funding priorities and the organisational and
structural changes needed at national and European level to ensure success.
The ESF report found that nanomedicine is already delivering significant
benefits through new diagnostics, imaging agents and even nanomedicines
themselves. Examples mentioned included biosensors from Oxford Biosensors,
imaging systems from Philips and Schering, and polymer-based cancer
therapeutics from Celltech.
Chaired by Professor Ruth Duncan, Cardiff University, UK, the report
carries the following recommendations:
- A strategic focus on nano-therapeutics for major disease areas such
as cancer, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular disorders.
- 5- and 10-year plans to enable manufacturing industry to move to
production of in vitro multi-analyte nanodiagnostics and in vivo
nanosensors and devices.
- Interdisciplinary education and training in nanomedicine, to ensure
that Europe has sufficient specialists in the field and to prevent
- Support for collaborations in nanomedicine between academics and
industry including access to manufacturing facilities.
- Acknowledgement that nanomedicines represent a new class of
pharmaceuticals and that there needs to be a new regulatory approach.
- Confronting safety and environmental concerns such as toxicity.
- Ensuring that politicians, the media and the general public are
informed about nanomedicine and understand its advantages and potential
“We hope this report will be welcomed and form a catalyst for action,“
concludes Professor Duncan “ I truly believe that we are at the dawn of a
new beginning, and that implementation of these recommendations should
enable Europe to play a continued leading role in the controlled development
ESF’s CEO Bertil Andersson says that he is “pleased to see the successful
conclusion of this foresight study, which has been the first such exercise
focused on medical applications of nanoscience and nanotechnology.” He added
that implementation of the recommendations laid out in the policy briefing
should ensure that Europe remains at the leading edge of research and
development in nanomedicine. Most importantly, this will lead to “reduced
healthcare costs and the rapid realisation of medical benefits for all
European Science Foundation: www.esf.org/
ESF Policy Briefing: Scientific Forward Look on Nanomedicine (236K PDF file)