Good Ranking, But Still Far Away
The biotechnology market suffers from the consequences of global investors' caution after the down-fall of the so-called “dotcoms”. The young emerging biotech companies in Spain are now dealing with bigger difficulties than the elder companies in UK or Germany when these started in the nineties. EuroBiotechNews had the opportunity to talk with ASEBIO's Secretary General Dr. Francisco Bas Maestre about how he sees the development of the Spanish biotech sector in the European context.
Which particularities and highlights has the Spanish biotech sector in comparison with those in other European countries?
The sector is faced with its consolidation and is more than ever under a “natural selection” evolution. Only those SMEs able to establish alliances between themselves or able to join a bigger company (life science sector) will stand selective pressure conferred by the financial requirements, the vulnerability to the legal and political context and by high competitiveness.
The extraordinary increment of highly innovative biotechs (more than 100 in the whole country) in the last three years is leading us to a better ranking among the European biotechs scenes but we are still far away from the German or British model.
How could the Spanish biotech sector benefit from the European biotechnology?
Unfortunately, the two main obstacles to growth of the sector, namely the absence of an integrated European system of intellectual property and the lack of instruments for funding of biotechnology companies, continue without a solution in spite of being adequately highlighted by the European Commission.
How does ASEBIO support the Spanish biotechnology sector?
ASEBIO is made up of a 75 Spanish biotech companies, public and private institutions which are all active in the promotion of biotechnology. Among the association's aims is fomenting the market, improving the legal and institutional framework, give backing to entrepeneurs and start-up companies and help in the communication of biotechnology issues to the public. ASEBIO is made up of companies of all sectors: Health, Environment, Agriculture, Food, Distribution, etc. Among its founding members are the most prestigious universities and research centers.
What kind of governmental or private support can get would-be entrepreneurs for a start-up in Spain?
There is a lack of both entrepreneurs and public schemes to give support to that very scarce entrepreneurial talent. Plans to set up biotechnology companies similar to those preceding the success of other European biotechnology regions such as UK, France and Germany need to get started urgently.
Moreover, the improvement of access to seed capital funding and the activity of venture capital firms specialized in biotechnology has not been complemented by the additional financial tools that spearhead the growth and maturity of companies already established. Some public sources of capital are particularly worthless for companies in this sector with all the red tape and associated endorsements and pledges needed. On the other hand, some regional governments have launched ambitious initiatives in order to support biotechnology (Biobask-10 in the Basque Country), or more focused actions as the Barcelona' s Scientific Park Bioincubator and Bioemprenda scheme in Valencia. Additionally Madrid have declared biotechnology as a sector with strategic priority in its R&D plan.
What is going to happen now the government has changed regarding the support of stem cell research?
Apparently, the new government is very interested in the support of stem cell research and business. But at this moment it is too early to conclude about this issue. ASEBIO has been working for the promotion of stem cell research since 1999 and the Association has been involved with and very close to the Parliament in the creation of a legal framework that could allow Spain to be a leader in this area.
How is the public understanding of the biotech innovations in the field of human health, food and agriculture?
According to the fourth Eurobarometer, Spain considers the application of biotech useful, morally acceptable and promising.
Additionally, the BBVA Report on social perception of biotechnology reveals that most Spaniards think that biotechnology will improve their quality of life in the next 25 years and also explores two aspects of biotechnological development that have different criteria for social acceptance:
- Research with stem cells involves the moral or ethical dimension of every in-
dividual, and these moral criteria of re-
ligious inspiration have become key to understanding the current attitudes in Europe and Spain.
- The appreciation of plant and food bio-
technology is currently focused on the perception of risks and benefits. In a Eu-
ropean context, the Spanish come second to being in favour of these applications.
Where do you see the Spanish biotechnology sector in 10 years?
The Spanish biotechnology sector has to take advantage of potential of knowledge and human resources generated by universities and public research centers in order to maximize the business ideas developed by the bioentreprenurial group whose attitude has the additional merit of facing the cultural inertia that has traditionally “penalized” industrial applications of the scientific knowledge.
Being optimistic we would like to see in 10 years a biotech sector supported by:
- A national strategic biotechnology plan that takes into account the co-ordination between all decision-making groups at national, regional and local level and a broader institutional support (following models such as Canada, Ireland, Chile,
- A “Biobusiness” status for biotechnology R&D-intensive companies that com- prises of a zero tax rate during the first
three years of business, exemption from
social contributions, and elimination of
the endorsement prerequisite on grant
- Creation of a consultative body (Japa- nese model) to assess the Government Presidency on biotechnology issues.
- Creation of a secondary stock market and mixed investment funds for seed capital.
- A three-fold increase of public invest-
ment in biotechnology.
- Development of 10 bioincubators
- More support for internationalization (chamber of commerce, diplomatic net- work, international meetings and fairs).
- Incentives for investment in biotechnol-
ogy to the groups in the chemical, phar-
maceutical and food sectors.
- A national plan for the education and communication of biotechnology that gives training to bioentrepreneurs and informs citizens.
- A programme to attract managers with in- ternational experience in biotechnology.