Polish Biotech Federation Founded
The Polish Federation of Biotechnology (PFB) has been established during the 2nd Congress of Biotechnology, in June 2003 in Lodz. Polish biotechnology has significant potential but also a lot of difficulties ahead of it. The establishment of a national gene law, the system of protection of intellectual property rights, high levels of education and good levels of basic science and general logistic facilities are the key steps for future development. The PFB will follow the activities of European Federation of Biotechnology.
In Poland biotechnology is one of the topics that is strongly present in current political, market and public debates. Like in the European Union and other Central European states, we have to recognise several fundamentally different aspects of modern biotechnology, which in public perception is treated the same as genetic engineering: i.e. the economic and scientific aspects of it and the public's attitudes towards it. Unfortunately, we are currently observing much more tension based on dogma and superficial knowledge than on hard scientific facts.
Compared with the development of biotechnology in the United States and the European Union we are faced with significant structual differences. This regards the transfer of innovative technology from the laboratory to the industry and co-operations between academia and the industry. As regards the legislation system and public's perception of biotechnology the situation in Poland is the same as anywhere else. The future development of Polish biotechnology requires an organisation that is providing a common platform for industry, academia, the public and state administration. The Polish Federation of Biotechnology has been established to fulfil this role.
Biotechnology in Poland
As already mentioned the situation of biotechnology in Poland is highly similar to that in other Central European countries and - to a significant extent - also to the development of biotechnology in European Union countries. The progress is focused on applications in agriculture and the food industry, the environment, medicine, including pharmacy and to new diagnostic tools.
For the public however, key issues related to biotechnology remain legislation, including labelling, food safety, cloning and patenting of life, which strictly-speaking is not biotechnology, risk management, and finally the state's administration and supervision of the sector's industrial and scientific activities (see fig. 1-4). The high level of basic science and a good educational system with plenty of excellent students are solid foundations for the future development of the biotechnology industry in Poland.
Poland represents a market of 38 million people offering an excellent geographical location for further expansion to the East. The Polish legislation system covering biotechnology - the so called “gene law” - seems like a national copy of the European directives and fulfils all the prerequisites of the major international conventions, including Biosafety Protocol of Cartagena, Biodiversity Convention, TRIPs, and the intellectual property rights (patenting) system. Polish biotechnology is characterised by high levels of education in the natural sciences and a large number of well-educated young people at the level of master degree and Ph.D. with strong motivations for further career in industry or academia. The main centres of biotechnology are academic cities like Warsaw, Poznan, Lódz, Gdansk, Wroclaw. In all these cities, the logistic facilities necessary to develop innovative industry are already in place.
The current general economic climate and the still poorly-developed industry do not allow for the intensive development of a modern and innovative technology. In many cases, patents block the development of domestic technologies due to the lack of knowledge of the regulations covering intellectual property rights in the academic world. And a transfer of new technologies from universities to the industry and direct industry-academia co-operation practically do not exist.
The current number of biotech companies is unknown. We are currently observing a domination of large international and multinational companies on the domestic market in pharmacy, chemistry, agriculture and food industry. In most cases, these multinationals are not interested in the development of domestic innovations and new technologies - their main emphases are lying on the marketing of commodities.
Another significant factor is brain drain: substantial numbers of young researches emigrate to Northern America and other countries. The Polish government supports the development of innovative technologies, for example in the field of renewable energies i.e. biomass, biofuels, etc., and the production of modern drugs, i.e. hormones. There are new organisational actions, assistance of local authorities, education and promotions. However, the availability of financing, public grants, and low-interest loans to start-up small- and medium-sized enterprises remains highly limited.
focus & development
In total, about 40 experiments with genetically-modified plants have been carried out in Poland over the last 5 years - most of them by multinational companies. The number of experiments decreased sharply due to new and stricter legislation. Presently, there is no commercial cultivation of genetically modified crops. The number of experiments in open field in 2003 was reduced to two. It is worth to mention that the Polish people, like other Europeans, are consumers of GM products that are imported from abroad, but not produced domestically. It is of significant economic importance that money is spent without investing and without creating new jobs. A lot of attention is paid to research into new vaccines, particularly edible vaccines, drugs, i.e. mostly hormones like gensuline, human-like cellulose produced by bacteria, and environmental protection and remediation using modified microorganisms.
Research into genetically-modified organisms is monitored by respective commissions, like a bioethical - in the case of animals and human research - and a GMO one - in the case of genetically-modified organisms. They are composed of experts, state authorities and members of non-governmental organisation.
As the only country in Central Europe Poland has systematically conducted surveys on public perception of biotechnology. Since 1998 there have been five of them. The interviews were conducted similarly to those for the Eurobarometer, i.e. face-to-face, on a representative sample of more that 1,000 persons above 15 years of age. The following aspects have been examined: general knowledge, acceptance, social expectations, reaction to genetically-modified food, environmental protection, role of legislation, and trust. The data characterising public perception are more similar to those of the United States than to Eurobarometer surveys with one striking difference: according to the January 2003 survey, the percentage of people sceptical to the positive effects of biotechnology increased by 20 %. At the same time in all European countries, except for Italy, an increase of trust had been observed. The huge majority of investigated persons (close to 90%) indicated the necessity of legislation and state supervision of modern bio-technology and legislation of EU as principal reference in developing national laws. The number of people wishing to wider public debate is continuously growing, from 47% in 1999 to almost 60% in 2003. The highest support was that for medical applications of new generations of vaccines and drugs, at over 80%. Cloning was not accepted at all. The number of answers “difficult to say” is continuously growing. However, the knowledge of basic facts, e.g. the eating of genes, or the presence of genes in tomatoes etc., indicates a good education of the polled individuals. Now a majority of Poles is sceptical about genetically-modified food and this number has increased in the last few years, to around 60%. It is interesting to note that still some 70% of society support research on genetically-modified food. Important facts support and heat the public debate concerning biotechnology, for example: a national legislation system and cloning.
Polish Federation of
The Polish Federation of Biotechnology (PFB) has been established during the 2nd national Congress of Biotechnology in the city of Lodz, in June 2003. The Board and temporary president Prof. Tomasz Twardowski have been elected. The Federation is presently in statu nascendi, however several activities are going on, will continue or are in perspective plans. The most important tasks are the following: to establish and maintain the networks with international organisations, particularly with the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB). It is worth to mention that our status is a national copy of EFB and our tasks and goals are practically the same. The membership of PFB is open to anybody who is enthusiastic in the development of modern biotechnology, as an innovative technology dedicated to the goodness of human kind. Formulation of a platform with the industry both domestically and internationally is one of the top priorities. We are looking forward to the exchange of people, particularly young scientists, to foster collaboration between academia and industry, both locally and internationally. Promotion of safe, sustainable and beneficial uses of modern biotechnology based on scientific knowledge will lead to the improvement of the quality of life. Organisation of scientific sessions, e.g. national congresses and workshops, publication of a journal and brochures, education, communication with the society, disseminating facts about biotechnology and co-operation with journalists will be the top priorities. We expect that our activities will give a chance of profit for all interested parties.
Trajectories to the future
Polish market and Polish potential in biotechnology are important factors in Europe. Poland's membership in the European Union, as of May 2004, is of great importance and biotechnology is included in this system. Biotechnologists expect to benefit from brand new concepts and ideas in the future. Furthermore, we have already noticed positive outcome of the introduced technologies in medicines, environment, agriculture. The modern science, particularly biology, has already changed several aspects of our live. The quality of life is the most important factor in the development of biotechnology. We have no chance to escape from the effects and influence of life sciences. However, we have to keep it under control. Polish Federation of Biotechnology will serve people.
Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry Polish Academy of Sciences, and Institute of Technical Biochemistry, Technical University Lódz
IChB PAN, ul. Noskowskiego 12
61704 Poznan, Poland
Tel.: +48-61-8528-503 ex. 133, 134