Outside advice a must for biotech

August 21, 1998

Biotechnology firms should be required to consult independent experts about drug trials, the Commons Committee on Science and Technology said this week, writes Alison Goddard.

The recommendation followed its inquiry into British Biotech, whose share price slumped when its head of clinical research said that results of clinical trials were unlikely to lead to marketable drugs within the time envisaged by the company.

Many spin-off biotechnology companies created by university researchers have a scientific advisory board and also consult external experts. But the committee heard that British Biotech, which in 1992 was the first biotechnology firm to float on the stock exchange, took no outside advice.

"We were surprised to hear that not all biotechnology companies in the United Kingdom use an external scientific advisory board to validate clinical trials," said Alan Williams, a committee member. "Such a device could serve not only as a source of valuable scientific expertise but also as a means of protecting scientific objectivity."

Biotechnology firms should also "strive to reach a balance among non-executive directors between those who can offer crucial business development expertise and those who are familiar with the risks and vicissitudes of drug development", the committee said.

The committee began its investigation after concerns that the controversy surrounding British Biotech would adversely affect other UK biotechnology firms.

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