Germany gears up for biotech top spot

November 3, 1995

The German research ministry has launched a campaign to make the country's biotechnology research the best in Europe.

Research minister Jurgen Ruttgers told a meeting of experts: "Biotechnology will play a key role in medical advances and economic success in the 21st century."

As well as spending DM900 million (Pounds 409 million) a year in this field, Ruttgers has launched a regional competition, "BioRegio", to encourage new research initiatives. The ministry has invited proposals for research projects with entrepreneurial potential and has pledged to contribute funds to the best 20.

German research confidence has been boosted by the recent Nobel prize given to genetic research scientist Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, director of the Max Planck Institute for Development Biology in Tubingen, for the ground-breaking work she and two scientists from the United States achieved in genetic control of early embryonic development.

A spokesman for the research ministry said: "The prize was awarded for an achievement made some time ago but it has really come at just the right time for us."

The Germans believe they lag behind France and Britain in biotechnology, especially genetic technology, because in the past research has been hindered by strict legal regulations and public opposition which has put off investors. They hope this new campaign and a recent legal reform which brought research conditions into line with other European countries will help them catch up, the ministry spokesman said.

Ruttgers has also sharply criticised some federal states, particularly Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia for supporting campaigns against genetic technology and for "poisoning the climate for investment". He said 40,000 people were employed in biotechnology in Germany but there could be 100,000 more jobs had it not been for the uncertainty within the industry.

Wolfgang Fruhwald, president of the German research organisation DFG, said pure research in genetic technology and molecular science was "world class" but that it did not get enough support from industrial research. He said tax relief for industrial research work could improve the situation.

Dr Fruhwald said he regretted that the lack of domestic industrial interest in genetic technology meant German publicly-funded scientists did research instead for the US and Japanese markets.

He appealed to German industry to be readier to take risks to support the field, which "will be so important in the future".

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