BioPolis Final report
Biotechnology industry has grown and developed over the last twenty years to become finally a mature business, although not devoid of innate problems. Governments have recognised since long that biotechnology industry can make a considerable contribution to the national economy, not at least through its multiplier effect.
Establishing, growing, and preserving such a specialised industry is not such an easy affair. It needs a favourable political and regulatory climate in which it can thrive. Fostering such a climate demands for a sound, well-defined policy guided by expert advice and supported by a sufficiently performing education system that has to deliver the skilled manpower needed.
Apparently, no easy miracle recipe exists to build up and maintain a biotechnology sector successful in the long run. Nevertheless, some basic conditions must be fulfilled. One of these conditions is the knowledge base, upon which every country has to build research and development, production and services. Such a knowledge base includes, besides publications and patents, the basic statistical data reflecting the national situation of the biotechnology sector in any given country.
Apparent facts are not always widely accepted. In fact, only few European countries have developed a good statistical basis on which they can build a successful biotechnology policy. Often enough, there is no complete overview of all publicly-funded activities on the national level, let alone the regional ones. To obtain the full picture, all on-going biotech-relevant actions directed by ministries, agencies and public research institutes have to be pulled together, analysed and assessed. The picture emerging then needs to be compared to former activities in order to show the dynamics of the national biotechnology development.
And this is still not all. Each government wants to know, of course, where its national achievement is placed in the international context, and whether its efforts might lead to the goals defined by it beforehand, or probably not. But how can you compare yourself to your competitors if you have no common standards to measure biotechnology-relevant inputs and outputs? This major obstacle discouraged many European governments to actually compare themselves with their neighbours. Habitually, the only yardstick used is the US performance, considered to be the Polar star guiding the biotechnology navigator on his risky course through rough waters.
Considering this rather unsatisfactory situation, the European Commission and, in parallel, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have undertaken major actions to improve this situation. Since 2000, the OECD has mandated a working group to develop a common definition of biotechnology and a harmonised methodology to measure the impact of the biotechnology industry. A collection of a considerable number of surveys carried out by using these tools is now available from the OECD . A second working group is now trying to establish similar tools to measure public biotechnology R&D activities.
The European Commission already had funded a previous study to collect data on public biotechnology R&D in 17 European countries, covering the period 1994-1998, and published
in 1999-2000 . It became quickly apparent that such a unique data collection action would be of limited use. Thus, a second study (BIOPOLIS) was funded to up-date the first collection, but using an enlarged approach, including now 32 European countries (27 EU members; the two candidate countries Croatia and Turkey; Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland). It was also decided to enrich the study by an analysis of the political performances of the countries covered by a former study , thus offering policy-makers a basis for comparison. Also recommendations were added dealing with the obvious, or hidden, weaknesses and strengths of the various policies in connection with biotechnology.
The BIOPOLIS study has been carried out by three teams located in the Netherlands (TNO Delft, coordinator), Germany (Fraunhofer-Institut Karlsruhe) and the United Kingdom (University of Sussex Brighton). After 26 months, the teams presented proudly their results in the present form: an analytical report (on paper) and 32 national reports (on CD).
I am pleased to announce this important study and want to congratulate the teams for their dedication, perseverance and competence applied to a work that, I can say, already is a milestone in European biotechnology policy. Among the many potential users of the BIOPOLIS reports, policy-advisors will certainly be the most eager ones to use the data and findings. May they be aware of the fact that this study, too, will not remain useful for a long time but become obsolete rather quickly. The rich database it contains needs to be up-dated regularly, preferentially on the national level, and by following the rules drafted by the OECD Working Group on Public Biotechnology R&D in order to guarantee comparability.
The goal of the project BIOPOLIS has been to gather all available data on public biotechnology R&D funding and policy performance in 32 European countries. From these data was drawn a realistic picture for each country, corresponding to the period 2002-2005. The three contracting teams covered the 27 EU Member States and the accession candidates Croatia and Turkey, as well as Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland. The contractors analysed the data in view of assessing the national biotechnology policies and compared, based on earlier studies, the biotechnology policy performances of 15 Member States over the period 1994-2005. They also formulated general recommendations.