Government ministers in the European Union have given a strong endorsement to efforts by the European Commission to instil new momentum in the biotechnology sector, as it faces new competition from both established and emerging markets.

A recent meeting of the Competitiveness Council welcomed the Commission’s communication on the mid-term review of the Strategy on Life Sciences and Biotechnology, voicing agreement with the “broad lines of its analysis.” The Council also stressed the role of the public sector in particular in driving biotechnology-related innovation.

The communication on the mid-term review redrew the Commission’s strategic priorities in biotechnology and the life sciences to encourage market development, knowledge transfer to industry, more consistent implementation of legislation and better uptake of new technologies. At the same time, it pointed up the need for societal debate on the benefits and risks of those technologies.

The Competitiveness Council specifically expressed support for the Commission’s proposals to:

- Harmonise the collection of data and statistics to monitor the economic, social and environmental impact of biotechnology and the life sciences.

- Develop schemes promoting bio-based applications, such as encouraging the establishment of integrated pilot plants to demonstrate the potential of these applications and facilitate their market uptake.

- Foster the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular by facilitating knowledge transfer between the science base and industry. This includes considering specific incentives for Young Innovative Companies, improving access to finance, promoting the use of public funds to leverage more private co-financing for research and innovation, and supporting the integration of biotechnology clusters and regional networks.

As the Council pointed out, the European biotechnology industry “consists mostly of SMEs and needs favourable framework conditions as well as highly skilled human resources to improve its growth and innovation capabilities.”

- Improve the implementation of legislation and policy co-ordination, especially on cross-cutting issues. The Commission and the member states should “reinforce the existing networks to monitor and ensure a coherent implementation of the [biotechnology] Strategy and address regulatory obstacles to competitiveness”, it commented.

The European Association for BioIndustries, EuropaBio, reiterated its concern that the Commission’s refocused strategy should be implemented in the member states without cherry-picking to assuage national interests. “It is in the hands of the member states to make the European biotechnology strategy work, and it is important that they work together in a co-ordinated way to achieve policy coherence,” said EuropaBio’s secretary general, Johan Vanhemelrijck.