Germany is launching the second round of its Marine Materials research program with the aim to tap the oceans' vast resources of highly interesting biotechnological compounds. The new funding is intended to initiate new industry academia cooperations, to set up Centers of Excellence, and to support young scientists' research groups. Deadline for the new proposals is October 1, 2000.
Marine life-forms are an overflowing resource of new pharmacologically active agents and lead structures. Special living conditions and functions in the marine ecosystem forces them to produce a vast number of bioactive metabolites with unique structures. These antitumorous , antiviral, and antifungal compounds may function as new drugs for humans, animals, or plants.
"Currently, less than 1% of the marine species are known and not even 10% of the pharma products contain agents from this origin," says Thomas Schweder, a researcher at the Greifswald-based Institute for Marine Biotechnology (ImaB). So there is a booming interest in the new research area from both scientists and industry. One example is sponges and their complex association with bacteria that produce fascinating substances.
With this second round of the program, Germany wants to boost collaborations between universities and industry. "There is a considerable interest on both sides for such collaboration," says Hans Eggers, assistant head of the science ministry's marine research division. "Marine biotech is a field with remarkably short paths between basic research and ready-to-buy products," Eggers tells Next Wave. While the first 30-million-DM round of funding focused more on basic research, the emphasize now shifts toward applied research. "We also hope to especially encourage excellent young researchers to apply for funding to set up their own research groups," Eggers tells Next Wave.
Since marine biotech is a highly interdisciplinary field that is closely tied with the booming biotech industry, young scientists may find the research area a tempting stepping stone for their careers. Start-ups will especially benefit from the increased outsourcing strategies of the huge pharmaceutical and chemical industry, explains Bert Steffan, co-founder of the newly founded Thetys Corp. "Marine biotech is rapidly growing and opens highly interesting possibilities for young researchers," says Steffan.
Senckenberg Institute; Deep Sea Fauna Research Group