Brussels, 11 Feb 2005
The solution to closing the gap with the US in the field of biotechnology is two-fold, say representatives of European healthcare biotechnology: the creation of a pan-European stock exchange and the 'Europeanisation' of the Young Innovative Companies (YIC) concept.
The point was made at the launch of Bio Impact, the first scientific study on the impact of biotechnology-derived medicines on the quality of life and life expectancy of patients, which took place in Paris and Brussels on 10 February. At the event, the biotech industry also called for an EU-wide fast track system for the registration of innovative products and a common policy for the reimbursement of innovative products by national social securities.
The Young Innovative Companies (YIC) concept, which is currently being developed in France, means no social costs, no income tax and no capital gains tax for companies less than 15 years old that spend at least 15 per cent of their expenditure on research and development (R&D).
'Europe needs its independence in healthcare just like it needs its independence in defence, says Philippe Pouletty, chair of France Biotech and vice chair of EuropaBio, the European association for bioindustries. 'The gap between the EU and the US in terms of biotechnology is very big - and increasing. The ratio between investment in the EU and the US is 17 per cent. This is not a good figure. We have similar GDPs but Europe has a bigger population. We cannot afford to be lagging behind or we will become dependant on medicines researched and developed in the US.'
Biotechnologies are a strategic sector - 50 per cent of all new medicines originate from them, notably the most innovative medicines (insulin, growth hormones, vaccinations, monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of cancers, and cell therapy.) Almost 250 million patients are already benefiting from advances made in biotechnologies, both in terms of diagnostics and treatment.
According to the Bio Impact study, these medicines offer safer, more efficient therapeutic solutions with reduced side effects, especially in conditions where unmet medical needs are very high, including cancer, cardio vascular diseases, diabetes, haemophilia, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis, severe anaemia, inflammatory diseases and growth hormone deficiency. Biotechnology can also help in the field of rare diseases that tend to be genetic in origin.
There are 1,500 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Europe involved in developing new therapeutic products in the biotechnology field. According to the biotechnology industry, it is crucial to stimulate the environment for these innovative biotechnology companies, and strengthen their ties with academic research and the pharmaceutical industry. Yet biotechnology is capital consuming. While a company is developing a drug it can be faced with the prospect of no revenues for ten years, and it therefore needs long-term and significant investment. Although the industry recognises that the environment in Europe is improving, they say that key elements are still lacking.
'European companies suffer from the fragmentation and anaemia of European stock exchanges, as well as the lack of appetite among European investors for technology stocks. The stock market avenue is indispensable for the growth of a biotechnology company that needs several hundred million euro in capital to develop its first medicine and become profitable. The absence of stock exchange exit possibilities further compromises and penalises biotech start up financing, as venture capital funds continue to finance existing companies rather than new start-ups,' explains France Biotech.
To fulfil the Lisbon objectives, Europe needs to reach out to the private sector, especially in areas with a high growth potential, adds EuropaBio: 'YIC have that growth potential and remain a largely untapped source of innovation and employment growth.' According to EuropaBio, YIC represent an investment with a high economic return for governments.
The industry also calls for a cutback in the red tape that currently discourages development, and for a reduction in the time needed to gain product approval.
Ysbrand Poortman from the European platform for patient organisations, science and industry (EPPOSI) also called for a re-shaping of the current healthcare re-imbursement system in order to accommodate biotech products.
'The present system is based on a 'wait until the damage is done' attitude,' said Mr Poortman. 'With biotechnology, you can predict diseases earlier and start treatment before the damage is done. We need to work on a new healthcare system based more on prediction and prevention. It would make economic sense,' he added.
In the opinion of the industry, the public needs to be made aware of the benefits of biotechnology. 'Now that we are delivering, we need to show that it is worthwhile investing trust and money in biotech,' said Erik Tambuyzer, vice chair of EuropaBio.
Referring to the decision by the Belgian government, announced on 10 February, to block the reimbursement of all biotech drugs, Dr Tambuyzer said: 'The problem is there is too much talk about the patients and not enough talk with the patients. Their opinions are not asked. Patients and their quality of life are taken hostage in questions about financing.'
Biotechnology is taking over information and communications technologies (ICT) in terms of investment in Europe, yet biotech products are not reaching the patients, complained Dr Tambuyzer.
People need to remember what biotech has already done for society, added Johan Vanhemelrijck, EuropaBio's secretary general. 'The diagnosis test to see if food is healthy is a biotech tool, and so is DNA. We all consider it normal but we need to remember all the research that was required for us to obtain it. The public is too quick too forget,' he concluded.
For further information about the Bio Impact survey, please visit: