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Brussels, 11th April 2007

EU puts emphasis on innovation in the field of biotechnology

The European Commission wants to put a special focus on innovation, research, market development and the debate with society on ethical issues in the field of biotechnology. In a mid-term review of the Strategy on Life Sciences and Biotechnology 2002 – 2010, presented today by President Barroso and Commissioners Verheugen and Potocnik, a refocus of actions has been proposed to promote a competitive and sustainable European knowledge based Bio-Economy. Competitiveness can be ensured by the promotion of research and market development, innovation programmes, societal debates, sustainable development of agriculture and better implementation of legislation. Life sciences and biotechnology offer the prospects of new and renewable bio resources, lower energy and water consumption, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and reduced dependence on petroleum. They also play a growing role in the discovery and development of new medicines, advanced therapies, diagnostics and vaccines. Biotechnology as a scientific technique has existed for more than 5000 years. It was first used in foodstuffs, such as bread, cheese, wine and beer. Modern applications of biotechnology include the production of enzymes, used in very practical day to day products like washing powder, or the creation of bio-plastics, which degrade considerably quicker than conventional plastics, thereby reducing waste. Biotechnology is also used to develop new life-saving medicines and medical devices. New applications are being developed all the time and Europe should be at the forefront of these developments.

Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry policy, said: “Biotechnology is an important means to promote growth, jobs and competitiveness in the EU. The use of biotechnology is however not without controversy and the enhanced use of biotechnology needs to be accompanied by a broad societal debate about the potential risks and benefits of biotechnology including its ethical dimension.”

Commissioner Janez Potočnik, responsible for research and development, said: "Life sciences and biotechnologies are playing a vital role for the competitiveness of our industry but I see it also playing an important role in facing challenges such as the perils of oil dependence, global warming, food security and population health. The FP7 has been designed to address these challenges and to support the development of a European Knowledge Based Bio-Economy, which among others will play a crucial role for achieving the EU goal of reaching the minimum level of 10% bio fuels for vehicle fuel by 2020.”

The Commission’s Joint Research Centre has just published the study “Bio4EU”, which provides evidence of the wide impact of biotechnologies on Europe’s industries.

The situation of the biotechnology industry in the EU, an important economical sector employing about 96.500 people, merits more public support. Despite many successful European biotech start-ups, the companies tend to grow slowly and depend on external finance for their research and development. Sufficient amounts of risk capital are often difficult to raise and the European patent system makes it expensive to file and defend patents, especially for SME's. In addition, the investment in life sciences and biotechnology research is accelerating worldwide and new competitors are emerging in countries such as China, Brazil, and India.

For the refocusing of the Action Plan, the Commission proposes to put a specific emphasis on five interdependent biotech-specific priority actions:

  • Promote research and market development for bio-based products and improve the uptake of new technologies including generation of knowledge under the 7th Research Framework Programme; establishment of public-private partnership to mobilise research funding; explore lead market initiatives for eco-efficient bio-based products.
  • Foster competitiveness by facilitating knowledge transfer and innovation from the science base to industry, including development of best practices in licensing of genetic resources; improving links between research organisations and industry; facilitating the patenting system for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME's); and considering incentives for Young Innovative Companies.
  • Encourage informed societal debates on the benefits and risk of life sciences and biotechnology.
  • Ensure a sustainable contribution of modern biotechnology to agriculture and use the potential of plant science for energy and environment applications, in particular to replace of chemical processes and fossil fuels.
  • Improve the implementation of the legislation and its impact on competitiveness. Unnecessary administrative burdens on research and industry should be identified and removed. Regulation should encourage, not hinder, innovation. Policy coordination should be improved, especially on cross-cutting issues and on newly emerging issues.

More information:

See MEMO/07/130

Website DG ENTR

Websites DG JRC:

Website SG

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