Italy Emerges on Real Strength
“Existing Italian companies are founded on real scientific and entrepreneurial strength - the lack of resources makes selection, and selects real strength”, said Leonardo Vingiani, Director from the Italian Biotech Industry Association (ASSOBIOTEC) during an interview with EuropeanBiotechnologyNews (see next page) about the emerging Italian biotech sector. In fact Italy has turned the disadvantage of lack of venture capital and government funding support into a motor to create strong and stable biotech companies, which are growing rather slower compared to other European companies, but in a more solid way.
Italy did not fully participate in the recent international boom in biotechnology - untill now. Public and private funding was poor while competitors saw their national initiatives create a considerable biotech industry. At the beginning of the new century Italy's industry invested 0.6% of the country's GDP into R&D. During the 1990s the headcount of Italian R&D dropped to 76,000; half the number of that of France and a third of the German workforce. But recently, all responsible institutions seem to take charge of a change.
Public funding of life sciences research is being channeled through the National Research Council's Target Project on Biotechnology (CNR) and amounts to about Euro40 million annually. It is divided among 360 research groups. Thus most of the Italian life science research institutes depend on funding by the EU. However, the CNR has resulted in 1,500 publications and 15 patents and it has helped to spin off some biotech start-ups. After having missed the first wave of genomics, Italy's government decided to embark on the second functional genomics phase by supporting the Ipergen programme with Euro25 million up to Euro100 million. CNR covers expenses of five research programmes in biology, biotechnology, gene therapy, plant biotechnology and genetic engineering over five years with a total amount of Euro564 million.
Italy's biotech industry comprises a total of about 90 companies. Other statistics count more than 200 companies, but 150 of them are so called ‚established' companies - existed before the advent of biotechnology and adopted its methods. Consequently, about 70 small companies have emerged added to about ten biotech spin-offs from larger pharmaceutical companies. Financial support has been recently mobilized by the National Agency for Economic Development which provided about Euro30 million for biotech startup through its Startech programme. Moreover, Italy's legislation has removed a lot of obstacles hampering the formation of start-ups. Nevertheless there are still voices claiming for more support.
Italian Institute for Foreign Trade
Nature Biotechnology, (19) 516 (2001)
Wall Street Journal Europe
Istat - Istituto Nazionale di Statistica
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu