'Share EU R&D efforts'

September 25, 1998

The European Union's multimillion pound biotechnology research effort should be opened to collaboration with scientists in the rest of the world, according to a five-year assessment of the programme by Brussels.

The study, which covers the EU's biotechnology R&D effort in 1991-95, says a shift away from a eurocentric approach to research is needed because the globalisation of science and industry is calling into question the original rationale for the biotechnology programme. "On the horizon there is also a risk of R&D being located by multinational companies to cheaper countries. New approaches are needed to address such new conditions."

The report recommends measures to improve Europe's scientific infrastructure, particularly training and support for public-sector research programmes, to encourage big companies to keep their R&D activities in Europe.

Manchester University's Luke Georghiou, chairman of the assessment panel, said that globalisation calls for an opening of not just the biotechnology initiative but also for many others parts of the EU's multibillion pound Framework research project.

As a strategic programme, the biotechnology initiative is good at meeting the needs of large firms. But the panel says that small and medium-sized firms tended no to benefit because of their emphasis on near-to-market work.

The panel calls for new measures to help the SME biotechnology sector, including a training scheme for academics on all aspects of creating and running biotechnology start-up firms.

There should also be new mechanisms to help channel private-sector funds into backing and exploiting EU research. The panel adds that procedures for consulting with industry are "too narrow", with over-emphasis on high-level managers. The EU should consult more with middle management industrial scientists, and users and managers of small companies, the panel says.

The panel is critical of several aspects of the management of the biotechnology programme over the period studied.

The amount of time taken to process proposals after evaluation is "unacceptably long", the panel's report says.

It recommends a "radical review" of procedures to reduce burdens on European Commission staff and to cut delays. Any new system should operate to clear, published performance targets.

Professor Georghiou says that several of these recommendations are already being implemented.

Overall, the panel concludes that the EU's effort in the field has been highly cost-effective, having an impact far greater than its expenditure would predict when compared with the total effort by member states nationally. A major achievement has been the genome sequencing of yeast.

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