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Kurt Zatloukal: New framework for global research collaboration
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Kurt Zatloukal: New framework for global research collaboration

23.04.2012 - The increase in lifestyle and ageing-associated diseases that has paralleled a rise in drug development costs – along with the financial constraints of the global economy – is putting enormous pressure on the sustainability of healthcare systems.

These challenges can only be addressed by innovations for improved prevention and treatment of diseases that are based on scientific evidence. Biobanks are a key resource for delivering such solutions, as they provide access to human biological samples linked with detailed information on diseases and lifestyle. These resources are essential for a more mechanism-based understanding of diseases as a prerequisite for the further development of personalised medicine. After all, access to high-quality human samples is vital when it comes to supporting the development of molecular diagnostics, particularly companion diagnostics. Furthermore, to aid in better understanding gene-lifestyle interactions, large population-based cohort studies that contain information on lifestyle will help deliver a scientific basis for evidence-based disease prevention.

In order to address these needs, several European countries have made major investments in favour of biobanks. However, the challenges of providing sustainable healthcare are global rather than national issues. The need for action coordinated at the global scale is therefore obvious for many reasons. First, addressing the same problem in multiple non-coordinated approaches is neither efficient nor financially justified. Second, non-coordinated actions result in unnecessary duplication and – even worse – in non-compatible solutions that would undermine competitiveness in global biotech and the pharmaceutical industry.

The planning team of the European research infrastructure for biobanking and biomolecular resources (BBMRI) has developed the concept of a global network of expert centres to achieve global harmonisation in biobanking and bio­sample analysis. One rationale for the expert centres was to improve access to biobanks for industry and to avoid scenarios of sample commercialisation, which is illegal in Europe. Expert centres could be established as public-­private-partnerships that perform the analysis of biological samples using the latest technologies, and according to internationally harmonised procedures. Pre-competitive data generated in expert centres can be used by industry for product development, and will be made available to the public following procedures developed for the Innovative Medicines Initiative. Expert centres could also be established as public entities outside Europe to transform biological samples into high-quality data and information. This would avoid the need for transnational sample shipment in international research collaboration, thereby providing a new cooperation solution with countries that have legal restrictions on sample export. In addition, sample analysis in the country of origin would exert a strong positive stimulus on generating local know-how and regional development. However, such a global network of expert centres can only work if pre-analytical and analytical procedures are thoroughly standardised, and if expert centres share common reference material and regularly participate in proficiency testing. The first voluntary activities for testing the feasibility of the concept, with a focus on genomics, metabolomics and molecular pathology technologies, are currently in development.

Kurt Zatloukal

Kurt Zatloukal is Professor of Pathology at the Medical University of Graz, Austria. From 2008-2011 he coordinated the preparatory phase of the European research infrastructure for biobanking and biomolecular resources (BBMRI). Currently he is involved in several FP7 projects that focus on standardisation of molecular biosample analysis and is Director of the Christian Doppler Laboratory for biospecimen research and biobanking technologies.

http://www.european-biotechnology-news.com/people/editorial/2012/kurt-zatloukal.html

16.06.2016 Biologics have transformed treatment for life-threatening diseases and benefited millions of patients - but remain out of reach for too many other patients around the world. Ten years after the first biosimilar medicine was approved, competition from these products has driven increased access and healthcare system savings.

Sandoz

Biosimilar medicines have the potential to foster unprecedented access to several vital biologics – used to treat serious diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and cancer - coming off patent by the end of the decade. Recent studies show considerable variations in policy across the EU, translating into heterogeneous uptake of biosimilars in EU Member States. To foster greater equity in access to these life-changing therapies, three key enablers are needed: trust in biosimilars, sustainable market policies, and predictable legal and regulatory environments.

We continue to see concerns being raised about biosimilars among patients and health professionals, even though these products have generated over 400 million patient days of safe clinical experience over the last ten years. Building trust in biosimilar medicines will require active dialogue, and regulators play a key role in conveying the scientific principles that support the medicines review and authorisation process. It is critical that these principles are consistently translated into national policy and positions of professional and patient societies.

Biosimilar development and manufacturing require significant investment. A sustainable and well-functioning biosimilar market must allow for sufficient competition among manufacturers to achieve a price-volume combination that enables both access and continuous investment in R&D. Experience in the EU points to a need for access policies that include procurement as one component of a broader scheme, in which tangible benefits are considered for all stakeholders.

The EU's legal and regulatory frameworks have been validated through ten years of clinical experience with 20 biosimilar products. Now, other countries have developed biosimilar pathways and products are becoming available. It is important that EU regulators actively engage in international dialogue so that the evolution of the regulatory science and frameworks for biosimilar medicines is based on real world evidence and provides companies with a reasonable level of certainty and predictability.

The Biosimilar Medicines Group is actively engaged in supporting the sector to deliver on its promise through education and scientific exchange. The Group collaborates with regulators, HCPs, patients, payers and policy makers to ensure that the coming wave of patent expiries leads to dramatic increases in patient access and improved healthcare system sustainability.

Carol Lynch

Carol Lynch is the Global Head of Biopharmaceuticals at Sandoz and Chair of the Biosimilar Medicines Group, a Medicines for Europe sector group. With more than 25 years of global pharmaceutical and generics industry experience, she leads a 3,000+ person organisation focused on the development, manufacturing and commercialisation of biosimilars. Prior to joining Sandoz, Lynch held several global and country-level Commercial and Development leadership positions in Novartis Pharmaceuticals.

10.03.2016 Plant breeding innovation is an impressive story to tell. A hundred and fifty years ago, Gregor Mendel discovered the basic principles of inheritance of traits. His laws were widely ignored and only in the 1920s, finally recognised as the fundament of population genetics. So it has only been a good 100 years that we have properly understood how to improve crops no longer randomly but in a targeted manner.

European Seeds Asscociation

A hundred years ago, the world population hadn't reached the two billion mark. Today, it has more than tripled and is heading straight for eight billion by 2020. In parallel, Europe's agricultural workforce has shrunk from around 50% of the total population to less then 3% today.

The term of "first green revolution" describes this incredible modernisation of farming. While this success is based on multiple factors, their relative shares of impact, e.g. of mechanisation, fertilisation, crop protection and plant breeding have changed over time. Recent studies see the share of breeding between 60% and more than 80%, depending on the plant species. In short, it is brains and genes that drive agricultural yields and farm productivity today. In the future, these two will have a new, powerful ally: big data. Speed, throughput and analysis of information transforms crop production towards the new era of 'precision farming'. Producing more with less is perfectly in line with overarching policy objectives of assuring food security at affordable prices, improving environmental protection and using resources in a sustainable manner.

The good news is that plant breeding is continuously developing new innovative technologies that help to back up this new green revolution. 'Precision breeding' allows breeders to target specific parts in the genome and achieve individual breeding goals much faster. From site-directed mutagenesis to CRISPR/CAS9 (just voted 'technol- ogy of the year'!), there are many exciting new techniques that hold great potential to speed up innovation in the coming decades.

There is more good news. Most of these techniques may be used in basically all breeding programmes, from large scale row crops to local and minor species. They are rather simple and low cost technologies, making them available to companies of all sizes worldwide. Still, there is one element that may still hold us back in releasing the innovative potential of these technologies. If we strangle them by high-cost authorisation requirements, paralysing uncertainty of political decision making and heavy paper trails of traceability and labelling requirements, we will not reap the benefits of our scientific progress and technological advance. It needs smart rules for smart breeding to fully capitalise on the benefits precision breeding will bring to precision farming and our societies.


Dr. Garlich von Essen

Dr. Garlich von Essen, has been Secretary General of the European Seeds Association (ESA) since 2004. The agronomist and econonomist started his professional career in the European Commission's DG Agriculture, graduated in administrative and political sciences, and worked in the European Parliament before joining the European seed industry.

20.11.2015 European citizens are living longer than ever before and this trend is further continuing due to unprecedented medical advances and improved standards of living. By 2020, more than a quarter of Europeans will be over the age of 60.

 Roche

It is obvious that these structural changes in our society will have a dramatic impact on European healthcare systems. Along with the aging population, they are facing increasing issues due to a growing number of severe illnesses such as cancer and chronic diseases, Alzheimer's or diabetes.

As part of Horizon 2020, the largest EU programme for research and innovation ever, a new project called "EIT Health" was started at the end of last year by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The consortium consists of more than 140 partners from leading businesses, research centres and universities from across 14 EU countries. Endowed with nearly €500m of EU funding between 2014 and 2020 and a total project volume of €2bn, EIT Health aims to promote entrepreneurship and innovation for healthy living and active ageing with the final goal to improve the quality of life and healthcare across Europe.

I am proud that we were able to find this critical mass of partners from industry, research and higher education. Together we will have the power to respond to the growing challenges to our healthcare systems and we will be able to diminish fragmentation of healthcare systems in Europe.

In the past few months we have been working hard to build the structural fundament for the European headquarters of EIT Health in Munich and the six co-location centres in Mannheim/Heidelberg (Germany), London (UK/Ireland), Stockholm (Scandinavia), Barcelona (Spain), Paris (France), and Rotterdam (Benelux). EIT Health also includes several regional clusters consisting of network partners in Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, and Wales to help leveraging diversity and driving innovation in emerging countries. Sylvie Bove, the new CEO started at EIT Health in September. With her multinational background, broad expertise and well-established network, Sylvie is perfectly suited to this task.

Now that the legal structure is complete, EIT Health is fully operational. I am very much looking forward to being part of this large and dynamic network, helping to translate creative research projects into ready-to-market products and services. The multidisciplinary approach of EIT Health will open doors to new collaborations, new developments, and finally to better care for citizens. EIT Health will be a key element in advancing innovation in Europe's healthcare systems!

Dr. Ursula Redeker

was nominated managing director and spokesperson of the executive board of Roche Diagnostics GmbH, Mannheim, in 2014. Until August 2015, she was coordinator and ad interim CEO of the European EIT Health consortium. She is now a member of the EIT Health supervisory committee. Dr. Redeker is a senior leader in the healthcare industry with more than 25 years of experience (biotech and global corporations) and over 10 years in senior leadership roles.

22.09.2015 Antibiotic resistance is widespread. Its global human and economic burden is tremendous and constantly increasing. Despite the recognised and growing need for new antibiotics, most large pharmaceutical companies today have dropped antibacterial drug discovery programmes.

Ursula Theuretzbacher

One reason is that it is scientifically challenging to discover new antibiotics that are active against the antibiotic-resistant bacterial species of current clinical concern. However, a major challenge is diminishing economic incentives compared to other medical fields such as hepatitis C or cancer. Increased global calls to reduce use of antibiotics, to counter the selection and spread of resistant bacteria, the cost of meeting regulatory requirements and the low prices of antibiotics compared to other therapy fields, are strong deterrents to new antibacterial drug R&D. New economic models that create incentives for the discovery of new antibiotics and delink the return on investment from volume of sales are long overdue.

DRIVE-AB (Driving Reinvestment in R&D and Responsible Antibiotic Use) is a public-private consortium funded by the EU Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) with in-kind support from EFPIA partners (European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations). It is one of several recent initiatives searching for sustainable solutions that stimulate innovation and responsible use, while ensuring global access to novel antibiotics. Other major governmental and international initiatives include the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, commissioned by the UK Prime Minister, the European Commission’s Action Plan against antimicrobial resistance, the WHO Global action plan on antimicrobial resistance, and the US government’s National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. These initiatives are all calling for a strengthening of the antibiotic discovery pipelines as an important investment in the future and a critical part of the action plans against bacterial resistance to current antibiotics. All of them agree that stewardship needs to be an integral part of the activities. Although a dramatic increase of prices is commonly seen as a solution to incentivise discovery and restrain inappropriate use, access to these drugs, especially in low-and middle-income countries where resistance is more prevalent, must be an important consideration. 

The last year has seen the development of concrete action plans for implementation and much greater political involvement at the highest level. The call for a global innovation fund to boost drug discovery and basic research at universities and small innovative companies is gaining increasing support. However, the critical challenges facing all of the proposed solutions are how to combine innovation, conservation, access, and sustainable funding on a worldwide scale. More work needs to be done to model different solutions to these challenges – a central aim of DRIVE-AB. The political drive for action in Europe, North America and Australia is intensifying and it remains to be seen if this can be translated into funding agreements and global action.

Dr. Ursula Theuretzbacher

founded the Center for Anti-Infective Agents (CEFAIA) in Vienna in 1988 to contribute to anti-infective research, training, and to provide scientific services to medical and research institutions, governments and regulatory authorities, as well as biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in the field of anti-infective drug R&D and usage. Currently, she is involved in large international initiatives to fight antimicrobial resistance.

11.06.2015 Modern biotechnology has already helped many patients and we need to continue research and development because many diseases cannot be cured yet. However, inappropriate use of technology has serious side effects for patients and society. That is why strict rules – if possible at cross-national level – are necessary.

Peter Liese

Until recently, there had been consensus that intervention in the human germ line is not acceptable. Where EU Law is applicable, we have fixed this limitation, for example in the Clinical Trials Directive. The technology cannot be patented under the Patent Directive and its support under Horizon 2020 is not possible. Also, the much bigger Council of Europe (including e.g. Russia and Turkey as well as the 28 EU member states), has banned germ line intervention in its Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.

Why is an intervention in the human germ line unacceptable? Any medical intervention is linked to a risk. Intervening in the human germ line is of particular high risk and, most importantly, there is not only a risk for the baby created but also for all future generations. We definitely do not know enough about the complex interaction of genes and their different functions to manage this risk. 

A very important principle of medical ethics is informed consent. No baby created by germ line intervention can give its
consent and of course future generations cannot, either. To develop the technology it is necessary to manipulate and destroy hundreds or even thousands of human embryos. Babies created by germ line intervention are in fact experiments themselves. To allow intervention in the human germ line it would be necessary to set a limit and to define a normal human being. Even though with today’s technology, influencing human intelligence is not possible, but of course everybody knows intelligence is partly determined by our genes. It is a question of medical definition to call a human being mentally handicapped. Depending on how one defines the threshold more or less people are underperformers What kind of limit would allow intervening in the human germ line? Similar examples can be found e.g. in the size of people. 

For whom all the ethical arguments are not convincing – I think they are but there may be some stakeholders for which they are not – I would like to add an argument that
Edward Lanphier, chairman of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine in the USA, and CEO of Sangamo Biosciences, alongside with other high ranking representatives of science and biotechnology used in an article for Nature: “We are concerned that a public outcry about such an ethical breach could hinder a promising area of therapeutic development...” I am sure there would be a great public outcry and the scientific community is well advised to concentrate on the huge amount of alternative approaches that are not ethically controversial. 

Dr. Peter Liese

For more than ten years Liese (50) worked as a physician before he was elected a Member of the European Parliament in 1994 for the Christian Democrats (European People’s Party, EPP). He is a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), where he has also been coordinator of the EPP Group since 2009. In addition, he is deputy member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Peter Liese has been board member of the CDU since 2012.

05.03.2015 Immune therapies have rapidly gained the attention of the medical community as a new hope for cancer treatment. Arguably, the intersection of immunology and oncology represents one of the most promising approaches, which may have a significant impact for patients with cancer today.

Dr. David Reese, Amgen

Not only have some of these treatments shown potential in helping the patient's body fight the disease in a targeted way, but many of the side effects may be less severe than those associated with some other therapeutic approaches. However, as only 30% of tumors are infiltrated with T cells, the immune system's most potent weapons, it is crucial for researchers to find ways to induce T-cell immunity in patients in order to broaden the number of responders to the currently available cancer immune therapies. One promising strategy is to circumvent the tumor's immune escape tactics by directly targeting active T cells to tumors, hence triggering cell death.

In December, Amgen's first-in-class bispecific T cell engager (BiTE®) blinatumomab was given US FDA approval for the treatment of patients with Philadelphia chromosome-negative (Ph-) relapsed or refractory B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blinatumomab, which is currently under review by European regulatory authorities, directs T cells to blood cancer cells carrying the CD19 antigen. BITEs as a platform technology offers an option to trigger T cell responses against a multitude of tumors carrying different antigens.

Alternatively, chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) T-cell immunotherapies offer the potential to reprogram a patient's T cells and transform them into cancer-fighting agents. When combined with certain targets, CAR-Ts could create a new promising therapeutic approach to fight cancer. Results obtained so far are promising, with a high number of long-lasting response rates, which may offer new options for patients. Focusing on multiple pathways and combination therapies, Amgen is working with a partner to develop the next generation of CAR-T cell therapies.

Oncolytic immunotherapies are another novel treatment paradigm, in which a virus is modified to replicate efficiently in tumors - but not in normal tissue - and to trigger a systemic anti-tumor response by inducing necrotic tumor cell death. Based on Phase 3 data, Amgen has filed for approval of its oncolytic immunotherapy talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) in the US and Europe for metastatic melanoma.

Researchers are also investigating the most effective and safe combinations of immunotherapeutic agents. A patient and biology first approach, where one first explores the complex molecular pathways of disease before determining the medicine or modality, may deliver optimal efficacy and safety for the patient and will drive progress in the promising immunotherapy research area

Dr. David Reese

is senior vice president, Translational Sciences, responsible for Medical Sciences, Comparative Biology and Safety Sciences, and Pharmacokinetics and Drug Metabolism at Amgen. Prior to joining Amgen in 2005, he was director of Clinical Research for the Breast Cancer International Research Group (BCIRG) and a co-founder, president and chief medical officer of Translational Oncology Research International (TORI), a not-for-profit academic clinical research organization.

09.12.2014 In the last few years, the regulatory landscape overseeing manufacturing process validation has faced major overhauls in two ICH (International Conference on Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Registration of Pharmaceuticals for Human Use) regions.

Dr. Markus Goese, Roche Pharma Global Technical Operations

After publication of the US-FDA Process Validation Guideline in 2011, the EMA’s Biologics Working Party earlier this year published a draft Guideline on Process Validation for the manufacture of biotechderived active substances. The agency's Quality Working Party has also released its guideline on process validation, which focuses on finished dosage forms for new chemical entities, and stated that the principles also apply to biologic products. Finally, the EMA’s GMP/GDP Inspectors Working Group recently published its revised Annex 15 of the EU GMP Guidelines for Medicinal Products. As previously outlined in ICH Q7, Q8 and Q11, all of these guidelines contain provisions on validation activities within the context of a product's life-cycle. Activities can be pursued either in a “traditional” development setting, using an enhanced/QbD approach, or a mixture of both. Interestingly, the 2013 EMA BWP workshop on process validation revealed that the “mixed” approach appears to be current best practice for many biotech companies.

 One question that is increasingly debated, however, is when exactly a manufacturing process can be regarded as “validated” from a statutory point of view – especially in light of the recently launched “breakthrough”– and “adaptive licensing” FDA and EMA initiatives aimed at bringing life-saving new drugs to patients in an accelerated manner. In a dynamic global environment, it seems obvious that our industry should use every opportunity to discuss the current challenges facing process validation with relevant representatives from the EMA and FDA.

 We should all be striving for a convergence of regulatory guidance in this area. Even more importantly, we need frequent exchange on daily practices from industry experts, reviewers and inspectors “living” guidelines essential to our business. Open dialogue is the best way to tackle issues like the debate over “ongoing” vs. “continued process verification”, or the question of where in the regulatory dossier information can be placed solely for the purpose of transparency, yet not subjected to change control. Frankly, obstacles are often due more to terminology than a fundamental difference in approach. ICH Q12 topic on life-cycle management is more good news: the three focal areas of Q12 will be the regulatory dossier, the Pharmaceutical Quality System (PQS) and enabling tools such as post-approval change management protocols (PACMPs). Process validation is a prominent activity due to benefit significantly from a clarification of what constitutes regulatory binding and non-binding information in a submission, how exactly the PQS can act as a link to the daily GMP routine, and how PACMPs can be a support. So let's continue the constructive dialogue. The patients deserve it.

Markus Goese

currently acts as the EMA Liaison at Roche Pharma Global Technical Operations. He is also the Chair of the EBE BioManufacturing Working Group. The EBE (European Biopharmaceutical Enterprises) works to support a regulatory and financial environment that encourages the development of novel biopharmaceutical products. Within the organisation, the BioManufacturing Working group provides a forum for industry experts to develop best practices and to interact with regulators on all CMC and quality issues.

14.10.2014 “External innovation” is one of the pharmaceutical industry’s solutions for overcoming patent cliffs and gaps in innovation. It’s based on the insight that the majority of innovations in this sector do not have their origin in Big Pharma, but come from academia and small biotech companies.

Prof. Dr. Jochen Maas, General Manager of R&D at Sanofi in Germany

Big Pharma can adopt one of two approaches to this discovery. First, it can collaborate with academic institutions to address mainly the early part of the pharmaceutical value chain. Or second, it can conclude licensing deals with small or medium-sized biotech companies or even competitors.

Licensing activities are per se independent from the value chain phase. They occur during both late phase research and at other stages of development. The choice of a partner is primarily driven by scientific and strategic considerations. But even if independent of time and place around the globe – and we’re all aware that R&D is global, and doesn’t recognise frontiers – experience shows us that those collaborations and deals that are implemented on a European level happen fastest. 

One basic need for collaborations and licensing agreements is mutual trust. It’s a prerequisite for all kinds of collaborations and co-operations that can be generated by common project teams moving projects forward – by exchanging team members right from the beginning of a licensing agreement, working in the partner company, and if possible, even in common laboratories at the same bench. There is no better way to generate trust. And for simple logistical reasons, European companies find it easier to realise their goals within Europe, rather than across continents.

In any case, win/win situations have to be created if licensing activities are to be successful. In this context it has to be taken into account that business models – particularly between small biotech companies and Big Pharma – can be very different. While Big Pharma’s final objective is to hit the market with a product as rapidly as possible, a small biotech’s priority might be to sell a project to Big Pharma. The implications are obvious. Big Pharma conducts specific studies mandatory for market entry considerably earlier in the R&D process, while Small Biotech wants to postpone such studies to a later phase. Expectations for the two licensing partners can therefore be different, and have to be aligned from the beginning, as do the financial details of the licensing agreements, including exit scenarios. The era of big up-front payments appears to be over. Milestone-driven payments are the future approach. And other legal and patent conditions also have to be taken into account, even if a project is still far from market access. Potential modifications of indications should be forecast and included in contracts if licensing activities in the sector are to increase significantly. 

Jochen Maas

is the  General Manager of R&D at Sanofi in Germany, where he is a member of the Global R&D Management Board, the German Management Board and head of the German Hub R&D organisation. Maas has a wide range of experience in all phases of the R&D value chain, including pharmacokinetics, preclinical and clinical development. The biologist and veterinarian who holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine lectures as a professor at the Giessen-Friedberg University of Applied Sciences.

12.06.2014 Research and innovation models are changing dramatically. The emergence of platforms such as advanced therapeutics is accelerating a change from innovation within big centres and universities to smaller, decentralised and more focused units.

Roberto Gradnik, President of Europen Biopharmaceutical Enterprises, EBE

Innovation is always highest where there is freedom to be creative. An EBE member company CEO whom I know put it very succinctly: “The moment my CSO knows what’s going on in the lab, we are no longer creating new innovation.” The biopharmaceutical ecosystem has grown infinitely more diverse, with a wide variety of participants contributing to nearly every aspect of development. Networks and collaborative research establishments were originally seen as a supplement to innovation, but now they have begun generating more core innovation, and are viewed as essential. Considering the fact that most European healthcare biotech companies in the fragmented European innovation landscape are SMEs (70% of the 2,000 healthcare biotech companies in Europe have less than 50 employees), we now desperately need efficient networks of innovators from science, business and public institutions to facilitate funding and enablement. There has been a paradigm shift in attitudes towards generating innovation, and this means that all stakeholders need to begin working together much more closely – all the way from the lab to the shelves of pharmacies.

The ultimate drivers in this scenario, of course, are the return on investment and the return on health. We have seen a high return on the funding and time committed to networks that have a specific focus, with the understanding that innovation now no longer necessarily comes from our own laboratories.

A critical point is that both partners in a partnership have to benefit. Networks help to foster mutual trust, particularly where historically there has been a mutual mistrust, a situation largely born of differences in operational cultures. But the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) and its successful continuation have demonstrated that these cultural gaps can also be overcome for the greater benefit of patients. Needless to say, partnerships need to demonstrate win-win, and public authorities can help encourage that. Partnerships can work to create a platform of mutual trust and benefit, just as the IMI forges programmes that foster innovation with reduced politics, creating a foundation for increased trust to flourish.

To support all of these aspects, EBE recently launched a partnership with the European Biotechnology Network (EBN) to facilitate EBE member companies’ access to diverse networks and funding opportunities across Europe. This move is aimed at helping them to build partnerships out of their comfort zone, and deliver disruptive innovation in the future. I am delighted with this collaboration, not least because it truly demonstrates the delivery power of efficient networking.

As we move forward through 2014, the two networks will bring their members together through the auspices of Horizon 2020, the IMI, and many other funding opportunities, allowing them to discover common goals around which they can combine their specialist technology platforms. From SMEs to large companies to universities – the lure of creating exciting science and business is the perfect catalyst for partnership. And as barriers between sectors and organisations fall, the results can only be positive for participants and Europe as a whole.

Roberto Gradnik

is the Chief Executive Officer of Stallergenes, and has also been the President of the European Biopharmaceuticals Enterprises (EBE) since January 2012. From 2004-2010 he served as President of the Italian biotech industry association Assobiotec. Trained as a physician, Gradnik has more than 25 years of experience in the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology sectors. Prior to his current post, he held senior positions at BASF subsidiary Knoll Group and Serono/Merck Serono.


27.05.2014 During the Swiss Biotech Day in Zurich, the Swiss Biotech Report 2014 highlighted the most important innovation drivers in the country’s industry and summarised the sector’s most relevant topics.

Domenico Alexakis, CEO, Swiss Biotech Association

And the report's breadth highlighted a key fact. Although most citizens remain largely unaware of the impact biotech is having on our lives outside of healthcare, the field is now central to a very wide range of sectors - from environmental protection to the food industry.

Innovation drivers and financing were of course major issues at the Swiss Biotech Day. However, the hottest topic of all was the country's recent referendum vote on mass immigration. The Swiss constitution will now have to be revised to include a statement reflecting that the country wants to control the flow of immigrants. The EU decision to suspend Switzerland from Horizon 2020 as a direct consequence of the vote certainly gave rise to plenty of discussion. Current policies, however, will remain in place for the next three years, which at least creates security in planning. Now this time period has to be used wisely to find the best possible solutions for the future. Preserving the innovative power of this research-intensive sector is vital to keeping the industry's engine running - both inside and outside the country. To achieve that, the sector needs access to the most important research networks and skilled specialists with the best possible training. The mass immigration vote creates additional hurdles that threaten to slow down the momentum of the biotech sector. However, both the Swiss federation and its cantons understand that the Life Sciences are of utmost importance, and policymakers are expected to continue to give priority to the sector.

Some commentaries suggest that Switzerland is now against a foreign work force. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For generations, Switzerland's economic success has been built on fruitful academic and industrial exchange with people from all over the world. In a recent publication, the director of the leading think-tank Avenir Suisse compared the country's immigration statistics from 2007-2012 with its neighbours. Per capita over those six years, Switzerland welcomed nearly three times as many immigrants as Austria, twice as many as Italy, and around nine times more than France or Germany. Based on its relative size, the Confederetia Helvetica therefore does very well indeed. But emotionally it is a fact: smaller countries feel that big immigration numbers dilute feelings of national identification.

Whilst direct democracy has led to many sound decisions in the past, the current situation is proving to be a challenging consensual process. Progressive forces want to find a balanced solution. The process itself is necessary and mandatory, but it doesn't have to heed the voices demanding 'immediate' decisions that are often based on personal motives and views. Because the country needs to innovate, I am confident Switzerland's liberal conditions will continue to hold true in the future. Not many industry sectors are as well connected globally as biotechnology. Relationship-building spans continents, and different cultures and the ways they mingle are certainly more fruitful than the path of isolation. It is therefore of utmost importance for Switzerland to quickly regain its status in Horizon 2020, continuing the overwhelmingly positive work begun in the EU's 7th Framework Programme.

Domenico Alexakis

is the CEO of the Swiss Biotech Association. He joined the organisation in 2003, and performs his duties in a part-time mandate. Alexakis was the co-founder of Swiss Biotech™, a brand programme that supports the positioning of biotechnology globally with changing partners. The entrepreneur holds operational mandates for other institutions, and also manages projects for clients in the fields of Innovation, Business Development and Economic Development. Before setting up his company Bridge Plus AG, Alexakis worked for Dow Chemical in various marketing departments. He holds degrees in communications and marketing.


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