Tech-transfer: time to send a wake-up call
10.04.2014 - There’s no question that Europe’s biotech sector produces high-quality science. We have world-class research organisations and start-ups, as witnessed by the number of alliances with Big Pharma and the number of products being registered.
And let's not forget that the European biotech industry has more pipeline products than the Big Five pharma companies (Novartis, Roche, Pfizer, Sanofi and Merck ) put together! Nevertheless, the pathway from invention to innovation - from scientific and/or technological progress to a marketed product - remains stubbornly blocked in Europe.
Why? The answer is simply that following an initial idea and proof-of-concept, developing and marketing an invention (whether biotechnological or anything else) requires significant financial resources. European innovation in general is hamstrung by one fundamental problem: a lack of access to adequate funding. The recent financial crisis broke an upward trend in European equity investment in high-tech, and the continent's capital risk sector now needs rebuilding. In addition, the stock markets have broken down (with the notable exception of France, which has become the European leader in terms of IPOs). In some countries, the ecosystem of analysts/brokers/lawyers/auditors has simply disappeared.
Some efforts, on the other hand, are beginning to pay off, as witnessed by the emergence of a whole ecosystem of maturing life science companies. France Biotech is continuing to help its recently incorporated members to improve their practices and benefit from their elders’ experience. We are also intensifying efforts to bring members into contact with Big Pharma companies in Europe and worldwide, and promote sustainable funding in our sector.
But a lack of funding is our Achilles’ heel. Unlike otherwise similar North American companies in this field, that makes us easy prey. Unless a European biotech company tries to gain a foothold in North America to raise funds, it soon becomes vulnerable. Its know-how and intellectual property can be bought by third parties, who go on to develop the latter in-house.
Asia has also entered the game, but Europe does not always play by the same rules there. Japan and South Korea use their regulatory agencies as tools for business competitiveness (in the field of cell therapy, for example). The same can hardly be said of the European Medicines Agency. China is investing massively in infrastructure and know-how, but we still have very few links with our Chinese counterparts. Even countries like Singapore and Taiwan are showing themselves to be very dynamic. And there are plenty of other examples.
The European Union has (at last!) become aware of this situation. However, its initiatives are not scaled to meet the challenges we face! Our innovative, value-added industry deserves much better. Access to European Union funding programmes is still laborious, and restricts inter-company collaborations. The key success factor in our industry is speed. So are we moving fast enough?
As entrepreneurs and representatives of industry bodies, it is up to us to put these arguments on the table and gear up for June’s European elections. I call on you all to send out the same, shared message: “Wake up, Europe!”
is the co-founder, Vice President and CEO of Erytech Pharma. Before setting up the company, he was a Senior Consultant in Strategy and Development at KPMG in Lyon (France) where he was in charge of the Health Division. Goineau was chosen as the new President of the biotechnology association France Biotech in February. He has a DEA (post-graduate degree) in Management Science and a Master's degree in Pharmaceutical Industry Management from the IAE (School of Business Management) in Lyon.