Politics / Law

Big plans for biotech in coming term

01.02.2010

Europe is to receive a new Super Commissioner for biotech, as well as the largest budget for research the bloc has ever granted. Even before the start of hearings considering the 26 Commission nominees that began in mid-January, José Manuel Barroso sent clear signals that biotechnology will be made a priority during his five-year term. When he presented his future team in late November, the Commission President concentrated nearly all of the important competencies for biotech in a single person and institution. John Dalli from Malta will lead a strong Directorate General for ‘Health and Consumers’ that is to have additional responsibilities for pharma and vaccines, agri-biotech and cloning. Along with Dalli, two other Commissioners could give significant support to the field. The EU’s first Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard (Denmark) remarked during the EP hearings that she wants to step up EU emission reduction targets from 20% to 30% by using green and low carbon technologies – promising news for industrial biotechnology. And the new Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geo­ghegan-Quinn from Ireland, has called for breaking up bureaucratic logjams surrounding the use of EUR86bn from the European Structural Funds for innovation that she wants to earmark for research and tech transfer within the next Framework Programme, which begins in 2014.

Barroso foresees Dalli taking over responsibilities for the European Medicines Agency (EMA). As chief of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), he will additionally be in charge of overview for all market authorisations in agribiotech, cloning or assessing new technology. The new commissioner will also take the helm at the EU’s Plant Variety Office and the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), and will assume competencies for consumer protection from the Environment Directorate-General, together with those for the Executive Agency for Health and Consumers (EAHC). The reshuffling appears to have resulted from the conflicts that arose between up to 5 Commissioners in Barroso’s last team in the areas of GMOs, cloning and other new technologies.

Positive EP hearing

In his European Parliament hearing, Dalli made it clear that he will seek to push the stalled pharma package, saying he wants to move forward quickly with non-controversial areas like pharmacovigilance and counterfeit medicines. But he was more reserved concerning direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs (see EuroBiotechNews 11-12/2009) by the pharmaceutical industry, saying “we have to bring more patient perspective in the proposal.”
“The underlying theme of my work will be Patients First,” he said, but underlined that this “did not exclude a strong commitment that the pharma industry remain competitive.” He also wants to focus on prevention, which could be good news for the dia­gnostics industry if plans include predictive diagnostics tests. In agribiotech, Dalli indirectly backed the EFSA by saying that science must be the basis for assessments of new technologies. To cope with attacks on the agency, which made headlines after a member of its GMO panel moved to an agribiotoech company, he has proposed regular reviews of independence in various agencies. In the ongoing debate on foods from cloned animals, he said: “I hope that within a year we can come up with a report on how to tackle the cloning issue.”
Confirmation of the new Commission is expected after the hearings are wrapped up in February.

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