Politics / Law

Heard in Brussels – A brave new world for 2020?

04.11.2010

Brussels – The European Commission has finally published its long-awaited ‘2020 Flagship Initiative’ to build an ‘Innovation Union’. The report examines at where Europe is now and sets targets for the upcoming decade. Let's take a look at what impact it will have on biotech. The report starts with a frank admission of where Europe’s weaknesses lie and what member states and the European Commission must achieve. It is refreshingly open, recognising that strength of university research is not enough to compete globally on an economic level, and that the whole value chain needs improving.
The good news is that SMEs, SMEs, SMEs seem to be order of the day – with the recognition that Europe’s SMEs still face many hurdles delivering on their economic potential. It's clear that we won’t build a European Genzyme with the current structure. So what does the Commission intend to do in this ‘Son of Lisbon’? Ten years is not all that long, and bearing in mind that 2010 is nearly over, we had better get on with it!
European Innovation Partnerships are the first activity out of the bloc, with a focus on active and health ageing – that's good news for biotechnology here. Coordinating national investment, fast tracking regulation and more critical mass in procurement are very attractive and have long been called for. But can Europe really overcome national differences to help European technology get to market?
A nice touch is the launch of an independent university ranking system. It's a laudable goal, as long as it's truly independent and not based on the opinions of the universities themselves about their general brilliance. Another self-assessment exercise that excuses weak technology scouting, maturation and transfer will not be welcomed by those involved in commercial biotech. Research funding of course gets a mention, and companies can take heart from the increasing momentum towards SME-driven projects. FP7 Health has already made a good start here with two-stage proposals, and there is much more to be done. There's plenty of evidence of the importance of SMEs in funding research, and we look forward to a scale-up of existing efforts.
Private investment also comes under scrutiny, with a slightly optimistic statement about the current success of additional tools for biotech SMEs. Plans to open up cross-border investment are welcome, but Europe needs to extend support to earlier-stage SMEs to make it more favourable for US investment as well.
The elusive EU patent has been given a deadline of 2014, when the first of those wondrous documents will be issued. So dear reader – can we expect the fighting over words in Spanish/Calatan/French/Outer Mongolian to be resolved soon?
So there you have it. All in all, a well-intentioned framework for the next 9 years. We say ‘let’s do it’ and ‘get tough European Commission’. But turning ideas into actions requires a strong hand with an eye on the 2020 prize rather than the opinions of tomorrow.

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