Editorial

John Dalli – the new face of EU biotech

01.02.2010

The new EU Commissioner-Delegate for Health and Consumer Policy made his case to the European Parliament in January, and has now been granted a revamped portfolio of previously distinct health-related organisations and programmes. So what impact could John Dalli have on biotechnology in Europe?

The new Commissioner has a strong economic and financial background, and more recently social policy responsibility in Malta. So it was not a huge surprise that his presentation to the Parliament focused on patient and consumer-driven approaches. And since biotech in Europe is still struggling to make money out of its research, Dalli’s strong statement for demand-driven health technologies was also a welcome sign, indicating he will focus strongly on funding to maturation. Until now, Europe’s localised, piecemeal approach to technology scouting and funding has produced many lemming companies – following one another over the cliff of underfunding and bankruptcy.
His presentation also placed heavy emphasis on pharma, and fed hopes that Dalli might be the one to help smooth the rocky path that is the EMEA approval process. More worrisome was that he didn’t mention the biotech SMEs that fuel the pharma pipeline. Perhaps a temporary omission from a man new to the job, but SMEs are the champions of early stage technologies.
In health care, the new Commissioner came out clearly in favour of prevention as opposed to therapy, which seems to promise significant potential for earlier diagnosis and monitoring technologies. Dalli has a background in economics and finance history. He knows how much illness costs, and wants investment in prevention now to save in the long term. But can he persuade policymakers at European and national levels to open their pockets to pay for goals that will not be measured in a single electoral cycle?
He also addressed food safety and nutrition in detail, and the new Commissioner is convinced that food needs to play a bigger role in disease prevention. Whether those words will translate into actions and the creation of a biotech-driven food sector remains to be seen.
His cautious party line on cloning, GMOs and nanotechnology was no surprise. There’s little doubt that Europe will continue its careful course in all three areas. Stem cells were not mentioned in the same breath as those technologies, indicating they could be gaining more widespread acceptance. The Commissioner’s assertion that all decisions will be based on scientific advice was certainly welcome, but has not stopped politically-motivated agendas in the past. It will probably remain business as usual when it comes to hot-potato topics.
To summarise: John Dalli appears to have clear opinions on what should drive healthcare development, as well as on the importance of preventing illness tied to economic and innovation development. The big question is – can he follow through with targeted policy? Maybe. Just don’t expect miracles.B

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