Landmark research project hits impasse

  • 2004-12-22
  • Baltic News Service
TALLINN - The Estonian Genome Project Foundation and its financial backer, EGeen, have terminated their contract by mutual agreement. As a consequence, the foundation is now looking to the state for finance to continue the landmark project that aims to create a genetic database for the Estonian populace.

The sides decided to terminate the contract due to changes in the business climate and a consequent change in EGeen's goals, Andres Metspalu, a member of the genome foundation's board, said Dec. 21.

"The small company was not able to find the money to finance us," he said, adding that the world's large biobanks are backed by state funds.

Metspalu said the termination was mutual, meaning that Egeen, which represents mainly U.S. investors, will not demand repayment of the 67 million kroons (4.3 million euros) already invested in the genome project.

"Now we're free of EGeen and can look for other investors, which we couldn't do while the agreement with EGeen was in effect," Metspalu said. But foreign firms won't be interested in funding the genome project until gene samples of 100,000 people have been collected, he added.

At present the foundation has approximately 10,000 samples.

As the foundation presently has only 10 percent of the required funds for next year, it will count primarily on a financial injection from the state.

To set up a gene databank, it was planned to invest a total of 192 million kroons in 2002-2007. EGeen has already placed 70 million kroons, or 36 percent of the target, in the project. In the next three years the foundation will need 125 million kroons for additional financing of data collection and development, including 36 million kroons in 2005.

"This will enable us to bring the number of gene donors to 100,000," Metspalu said.

The disagreements between EGeen and the foundation go back to the beginning of the year when EGeen wanted the gene bank to be set up on a disease basis as opposed to a population-based database.

The Estonian Genome Project Foundation currently employs 28 people.