National platform to boost industrial biotechnology
Brno – Czech biotechnologists and EU industry experts have worked out an action plan to improve the development of industrial biotechnology in the Czech Republic. The recommendations are based on three SWOT analyses (R&D, Innovation, and Policy) that monitor the current development stage of industrial biotechnology worked out at a two day roundtable that brought together Czech biotech experts with representatives from EuropaBio, SusChem, the EU-tech platform for sustainable chemistry, and the European Commission in Brno.
Enabling better tech transfer
“The Czech Republic had a great past in traditional biotechnology – in fermentation, continuous culture, or biotransformations. And it pioneered antibiotic production,” summarised Dr. Peter Sebo, biotechnologist at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. “But currently, there are several bottlenecks that hamper the development of modern biotechnology.” Only four out of 42 modern biotech companies (Lonza, Baxter, Comtipor, ExBio) located in the Czech Republic are currently active in industrial biotech. Sebo estimates the industry in the Czech Republic as a whole employs about 2,000 staff and has turnover of roughly EUR200m per year, but added that there is limited R&D in advanced biotech, almost no biotech IP and thus no venture capital available. Nevertheless, he remained optimistic about the future. An Institute of Biotechnology was founded this January, while a biotech and biomed research centre called BIOCEV, which by 2012 will provide labs for 450 researchers and 150 students, is being built up in Prague. Last but not least, the government has established long term funding schemes for biotechnology. “Currently we have more funding than biotech people,” said Sebo.
On a national scale, the experts called for a specific funding program for white biotech that links national participants from industry and research, as well as for the launch of an awareness campaign for communicating the advantages of White Biotech to politicians and the public. They also recommended improving technology transfer from research to industry, and educational programs to address the lack of managerial skills among researchers. Finally, they concluded that the construction of an open production plant would give Czech biotech companies the opportunity to test large-scale production without having to build costly production facilities on their own.
At the European level, they asked for a harmonisation of IP rights, additional funding for basic research projects, less bureaucracy, and the establishment of a European seed funding programme.
“The meeting has helped to better inform the Commission about industrial biotech, and map the possibility of further financial support tailored to the Czech specific situation,” said Michal Kostka, Deputy Director of the South Moravian Innovation Centre. The round table was the first in a series of meetings in which SusChem will be assessing White Biotech activities in eight Eastern EU member states.