Genome Valley needs 'giants'

January 22, 1999

Too many small biotechnology companies and public "biophobia" over genetically modified crops threaten the United Kingdom's bid to become the leading bioindustrial country in Europe, according to John Padfield, chief executive of Chiroscience.

Dr Padfield's warnings are contained in an analysis for the Department of Trade and Industry, which is consulting industry on how to create a cluster of successful biotechnology firms - a Genome Valley - in the UK.

In his SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, Dr Padfield says: "Too many companies should not be the goal; a few world-class companies are more valuable for the science base, to investor confidence and in attracting inward investment."

He also voices concerns about higher tax rates because of European Union harmonisation. He says there are not enough leading information technology companies capable of linking with bioscience firms to store the genetic information being generated.

There is a danger that the DTI's Genome Valley will be seen either as "rebadging" previous government biotechnology initiatives, with no new commitment, or as an all-embracing "soup to nuts" project lacking in focus, he adds.

On a more positive note, Dr Padfield lists world-class biology and clinical university departments and institutes among the UK's strengths in biomedicine.

The legislative environment for genetic research is positive, there is a range of small to large industrial bioscience companies and there is healthy investment in academia by companies, he says.

There is also a rapport between UK and United States scientists and general public support for biosciences applied to medicine. The existence of the National Health Service is also a positive factor as it could improve patient care, cut waiting lists, define "at risk" groups and use targeted drugs to cut other health costs.

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