Brussels, 23 January 2002
A new report published by the European Commission's Enterprise DG, 'Innovation and Competitiveness in European biotechnology,' has concluded that although Europe lags behind the USA in all aspects of the commercial development of biotechnology, the creation of a European research area could help to reverse this trend.
The report says the biotechnology industry is characterised by the strong relationship between innovation and competitiveness, the collaborative basis of research and the importance of small, specialised firms, known as dedicated biotechnology firms or DBFs, which have entered the sector 'with the explicit aim of exploiting the new technologies of life sciences for different industrial purposes.'
It says that patents and collaborative R&D data reveal that the USA has a dominant advantage over the EU in innovative biotechnology activities, and that Europe lags behind the USA in all aspects of the commercial development of biotechnology.
The study also notes, however, that some of the smaller European countries, including Ireland, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, have all successfully specialised in biotechnology. It also points to a surge in entry into the biotechnology sector between 1996 and 2000 - during which time the population of independent European DBFs almost doubled to nearly 2,000 - and a subsequent slowdown. It says that this slowdown is similar to that observed in the USA at the beginning of the 1990s, and suggests that Europe's lag behind the USA in biotechnology could in part be due to its late entry into the sector. 'Innovative activities are generally characterised by increasing returns and being first provides long-lasting leadership,' note the report's authors.
The report also says that the comparative weakness of Europe's biotech sector could be due to the fact that many European DBFs are smaller than those in the USA and less active in global networks and collaborative relationships. 'A fundamental precondition for a successful development of biotechnology is the availability of leading-edge scientific capabilities,' explain the authors, as 'without a strong and diversified scientific research base, no technological take-off is possible.'
The report points to the 'fragmented' nature of European research, which it says may be due to 'regulatory, entrepreneurial, fiscal and financial factors,' and to a possibly 'inadequate' supply of cutting edge scientific research. It says that these problems could be addressed through higher funding, a move away from closed national systems, and the higher integration of research with teaching, clinical research and medical practice. 'One of the most effective means of achieving this,' it says, 'would be through the establishment of a European research area.'
The report, originally prepared as a background report for the Enterprise DG's European competitiveness report 2001, was prepared by Italian academics Agnes Allansdottir, Andrea Bonaccorsi, Alfonso Gambardella, Myriam Mariani, Luigi Orsenigo, Fabio Pammolli and Massimo Riccaboni.
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