Brussels, 21 October 2005
Biotechnology is driving innovation in medicines, agriculture and industry. Biotech-based industrial techniques consume fewer resources, clean up the environment and provide substitutes for more harmful chemical processes. And new possibilities are opening up for preventing, treating and curing hitherto incurable diseases: it is estimated that over 80% of biotechnology activity in Europe is health-care related. Aiming to ensure that this emerging technology can fulfil its promise, the European Commission’s in-house research facility, Joint Research Centre is launching a study on the social, economic and environmental consequences and challenges of modern biotechnology. The Commission plans to draw on this study to update its Biotechnology Strategy of 2002 in preparation for the Spring European Council 2007. For more information, see MEMO/05/389 .
Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen responsible for enterprise and industry policy said: “This Commission has made biotechnology a high political priority. If used properly, it has the potential to become a driving force in our knowledge-based economy.”
Commissioner Janez Potočnik, responsible for research policy, added: “The JRC study will be a very useful and timely contribution. It will help to inform the debate on biotechnology at European level and provide a scientifically sound basis for future decisions”.
The EU biotech industry, having approximately the same number of companies as in the US sector, employs nearly half as many people, spends one third as much on R&D, raises three or four time less venture capital and has access to four times less debt finance. Nevertheless the US industry generates only roughly twice the revenues of the EU sectors.
The main financing obstacle for EU biotech companies seems to occur after few years in the business cycle. At the moment at which companies should take off, many of them appear to run out of money.
Therefore it is important for European business to exploit the potential of biotechnology while addressing ethical and social concerns in close cooperation with third countries. This initiative aims at supporting research, competitiveness and innovation while safeguarding intellectuel property in an increased electronic information network.The Commission intends to help EU companies facing this challenge in close cooperation with stakeholders, Member States and EU partners
Another related document, the third Biotech report, sets out what needs to be done by the Commission and other EU institutions. It identifies what stakeholders need to deliver on the aims set out in the Commission’s strategy of 2002 which consists of policy orientations and a 30-point action plan.
For instance, these actions aim at:
- developing skills (e.g. by identifying education and training needs, linking education, industry and career guidance, staff exchanges etc.),
- supporting research (under the Framework Programmes),
- getting the EU intellectual property system in force (the Commission has referred eight Member States to the Court for their failure to transpose Directive 98/44/EC ).).The cost of protecting intellectual property is, as a result, four times higher in Europe than in the US,
- networking all the various stakeholders working in biotechnology (Technology Platforms, web portal, EuroBioClusterSouth regional network)
- building on recommendations to the Commission from the Competitiveness in Biotechnology Advisory Group composed of representatives from industry and entrepreneurial academics.