AustriaAustria

Spotlight on new EU Members

10.07.2004

Vienna - “Cautious optimism, but still a long way to go” - this was the common theme of three life science experts from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary at the welcoming symposium “Spotlight on Life Sciences in Central Europe” in Vienna. The event was organized for these new EU member states by Life Science Austria Vienna Region. Ernö Duda, founder and owner of Hungary's successful biotech company Solvo Biotechnology Inc. and chairman of the Hungarian Biotechnology Association, named his country's biggest obstacle to enhanced growth in the biotech sector the “lack of capital and managerial expertise”. Yet more important than lacking capital is the absence of managerial expertise amongst scientists. “I can still count the scientists in Hungary that hold an additional degree in law or an MBA with the fingers of one hand”. A friend of his in Hungary who “is an outstanding researcher, trained in the UK and the USA working in the field of central nervous disease - a multibillion dollar business” never thought about filing a patent to protect or commercialize his research results.
Low awareness of researchers towards commercialization of their scientific discoveries was a point raised by Jiri Vanecek, Czech Academy of Sciences, and Jan Turna, Comenius University, Bratislava. However, becoming a member of the EU earlier this year paved the way for harmonized intellectual property standards in all three countries. Duda and Vanecek agreed on the high level of university education in their countries. Especially Hungarian scientists have an impressive record of papers in high impact journals. However, all complained that too many of them leave their home countries in pursuit of better opportunities in the USA. “To get just five of the brightest of these scientists back to Hungary would boost the sector enormously. But that would also mean for the government a stronger commitment to provide incentives to lure these people back to Hungary,” said Duda.
Despite notoriously low government spending for the biotech sector all three countries have developed fields of expertise. Vanecek referred to the pioneering work of the Dr. Antonin Holy, the first to synthesize several nucleotide derivatives for the treatment of AIDS and hepatitis B, currently marketed by US biotech giant Gilead. Both in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia industries with low added value, including classical fermentation and manufacturers of generics dominate.
One of Slovakia's success stories is Biotika AS, which soon emerged as a leading producer of the essential amino acid L-Lysine after the founding in 1953. Yet “frequent change in government attitudes towards biotechnology is still a big obstacle and so far the government has paid only lip service to support small and medium enterprises,” Turna said. But despite much criticism all three countries do have examples of successful biotechs like Slovakia's Danubeclone SRO, which focuses on the production of monoclonal antibodies, Czech Apronics developing bioactive recombinant proteins, and Hungarian ComGenex Inc., specialised on ways to speed up drug discovery. Eventually Turna found conciliating words when he stressed his country's “appropriate research in biotechnology and significant interest of young people to study and work in the field.”
Author/Contact
Dr. Martin Spatz, Life Science Austria Vienna
Region, Vienna, eMail: spatz@lifescienceaustria.at

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