Report offers tips for a successful biotechnology sector
Money and size alone are not enough to foster the development of a strong biotechnology sector, according to a new report from the European Commission. Knowledge acquisition, technology transfer, coordination, an economy-friendly climate and an entrepreneurial tradition are at least as important.
The report is the product of the BioPolis initiative, which started in 2004 with the goal of comparing and contrasting national biotechnology policies across Europe. An earlier report on the same subject covered 17 western European countries; this time the researchers looked at all 27 Member States as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland and the candidate countries Croatia and Turkey.
Data collected during the study includes biotechnology research and development (R&D) spending by public bodies; policy measures designed to foster the sector; the number of scientific publications and their citation rates; the number of patents applied for and the number of skilled staff working in the non-profit sector.
The result is a unique overview of public biotechnology research, says Project Manager Bernhard Zechendorf of the European Commission's Research Directorate General. 'It doesn't exist anywhere else,' he told CORDIS News.
So did the researchers find big changes since the last report? 'They found that not much has changed in fact,' commented Mr Zechendorf. 'It was a bit surprising!' In short, the countries which were doing well at the time of the first report are still doing well now. The researchers identified three 'clusters' of countries within the performance rankings of the older Member States and associated countries.
Top of the class are Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland. Although they do not spend as much on biotechnology research as their larger neighbours, they more than make up for it with their smart policies and good coordination between government departments. According to Mr Zechendorf, these countries' small size means their administrations are smaller, which allows for decisions to be taken faster and more easily.
In the second cluster comes a group of countries whose performance is similar to the European average. This group includes Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, the UK and Norway. Finally, the researchers identified a 'trailing' group, consisting of Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Spain, whose performance falls well below the European average.
Many countries' performance is held back by poor coordination between government departments and different levels of government. 'As our results show that policy coordination 'pays', it is highly recommended that national governments close the 'coordination gap',' the report states. 'This involves coordination of simultaneous policy actions addressing the core set of innovation policies such as science, technology and education, as well as a redirection of policy actions that pursue other primary objectives such as public health and regional development.'
Another key recommendation from the report concerns the importance of promoting both basic research and the development and commercialisation of products and services.
'Nations wishing to sustain or improve their commercial performance in biotechnology will not be successful if they focus their supporting activities only on functions of the innovation system which are directly related to commercialisation,' the report warns. 'Most highly performing countries gave equal emphasis to basic and applied research or had some stronger focus on supporting basic research.'
On the new Member States and candidate countries, the report notes that these are 'mainly latecomers to the development and exploitation of biotechnology'. So how can they catch up with their neighbours?
'Maybe first learn from the mistakes the others have made - it's obvious!' comments Mr Zechendorf. 'Also think well what you can do with your very limited financial and staff means, and focus on certain points where you have strength in your country and develop them, together with help from other countries.'
The report points out that the top-performing countries offer a good example of how to develop competence in niche areas. For example, Norway has applied biotechnology to its strong marine research sector, while Denmark has programmes to improve the use of biotechnology in food research. These countries have also made full use of the opportunities offered by international cooperation, Mr Zechendorf pointed out.
For more information and to download the report, please visit:
For more information on biotechnology research under FP7, go to:
Data Source Provider: European Commission report and CORDIS News interview with Project Manager
Document Reference: Based on the European Commission's 'BioPolis' report and CORDIS News interview with the Project Manager
Subject Index: Biotechnology; Coordination, Cooperation; Innovation, Technology Transfer; Policies; Scientific Research