Brussels, 26 Apr 2004
A newly published progress report by the European Commission on its life sciences and biotechnology strategy outlines the initiatives that the Commission has implemented over the last 12 months, but calls on the Member States to do more.
The Strategy for Europe on Life Sciences and Biotechnology was adopted in January 2002, and the Commission stated its intention then to report regularly on the progress made in implementing the strategy, which comprises policy orientations and a 30 point plan to transform policy into action.
For its part, the Commission highlights how it has established a high level advisory group on 'competitiveness in biotechnology', and completed a regulatory framework for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), with its increased budget for these fields of research, is also seen as an incentive to conduct research.
Action at Member State level is not painted in quite such a positive light. While the report acknowledges that several Member States have established relationships between academia and industry, as well as society, and that most have adapted their school curricula to include life sciences, the Commission is clear that the Member States still have more to do.
'Public and private investments in research urgently need to be increased,' states the report. In addition, 'There is a need to continue to improve biotechnology companies' access to finance.'
The transposition of measures agreed at EU level into practice at national level is also inadequate, according to the report. 'Member States still need to make progress on the implementation of measures to which they are already committed,' states the report, citing the example of the EU Directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions, which has not been implemented in eight Member States. 'The delays incurred in the implementation of Directive 98/44/EC [...] leave companies engaged in innovative biotechnology research uncertain as to whether they are fully entitled to the commercial fruits of their work. This is severely hampering the industry's development, discouraging not only innovators themselves but also the potential investors whose finance is so desperately needed.' Delays in adopting a Community patent have also had a negative impact on Europe's biotechnology industry, according to the Commission.
The Directive on the authorised release of GMOs into the environment and two regulations on the traceability and labelling of GM food and feed have also not been implemented in all Member States.
The Commission makes it clear that while its competence is limited, it continues to keep up the pressure on the Member States to act on the measures agreed in the life sciences and biotechnology strategy: 'The Commission is directly responsible for some actions, but it is also determined to do what it can to keep up the general momentum and to play a facilitating role.'
Sections of the biotechnology community are equally disappointed in the lack of progress made at national level: 'Sadly, this year's progress report is not reporting much progress,' said Feike Sijbesma, chair of EuropaBio, the European association of bioindustries. 'It is repeating yet again that Member States have to implement rules they agreed a long time ago.'
'We acknowledge the EU Commission's efforts in trying to strengthen the scientific and technological basis of Europe and to improve its competitiveness,' added EuropaBio Secretary General, Johan Vanhemilrijck. 'The institution has played an important role in concluding the recent major review of pharmaceutical rules, which has given the world the first framework legislation for biosimilar medicinal products. The 500 million euro venture capital transfer from the EIB [European Investment Bank] to finance innovative biotechnology firms is a concrete support measure also piloted by the Commission. But Member States need to give more support to the Commission's efforts.'
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