Europe is on its way to establishing the first international not-for-profit biobank that will bring together hundreds of collections of molecules to further drug development.

The data collection will lead to new levels of security and standardisation around the world.

Focusing on EU member states, the Pan-European Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI) plans to create the first European Union Research Infrastructure Consortium, which should be in place midway through 2010.

If successful, the consortium will provide a database of high-standard specimens from biobanks within the EU, medical institutions and laboratories from around Europe, and offer a centralised research facility for private business and institutions to use.

All findings from research at the facility will be stored for public use, with the hope of increasing knowledge transfer throughout the industry, and therefore the level and quality of drug production.

The BBMRI has representation from 51 scientific groups from across Europe and associations with 80 other groups that are working to determine access rights to the facility.

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BBMRI coordinator and Medical University of Graz, Austria, Institute for Pathology project coordinator Professor Kurt Zatloukal said the collaboration hopes the biobank will help the industry overcome bottlenecks that occur with regulation, difficult access to materials and questionable quality of specimens.

Undoing this bottleneck should also make it more cost effective to produce drugs.

“Biomedical researchers work in an environment that started to become more regulated ten years ago so this type of infrastructure will ensure very high-quality samples adhere to those guidelines [making it more cost effective for drugs to be produced],” Zatloukal said.

The BBMRI has followed guidelines set up by the OECD for the creation and governance of human genetic research databases to make it easier for research organisations to adopt the BBMRI’s own standards and rules. It will also make the resource more attractive for researchers and companies of international standing.

“The OECD took years to set up its guidelines for this and all of our member nations have accepted this work already,” Zatloukal said.

The increase in international pandemics such as avian (HPAI) and swine (SIV) influenza have highlighted the need for international cooperation in medicine and the sharing of intellectual property from research.

“We will invite the international community as well as researchers in the EU to make use of the centre and share their knowledge with us through projects at the centre,” Zatloukal said.

“This will also benefit the EU as there will come a time when researchers here will find a need to have access to Chinese antibodies, for example.”

Europe has some of the most mature databanks in the world, while some nations have only started collecting specimens in the 1990s. Others, such as Finland, have created biobanks dating back to the 1950s.

The BBMRI biobank will not house all of these specimens in one location. It will instead provide a database of where they sit in the EU.

It will also provide a one-stop repository of information on health records of people in the EU and efficacy of treatments.

A complex IT solution has already been developed by BMRRI to link this data together. However, financial commitments and public support from member states will be required to get the biobank infrastructure off the ground.

Zatloukal said the biobank will tie in to national e-health projects but instead of focusing on the individual, it will have structures in place to ensure no data can be linked to the individual it pertains to.

Robust software and guidelines for best practice, standards and protocols are also being identified for the handling and sharing of samples.

By Penny Jones.