A couple of outraged philisophical questions
15.02.2012 - Europe likes to make life hard, creating situations where an idea must struggle mightily before it can achieve success, even when there is amore straightforward route (just look at the euro). Of course, in the world of biotechnology, this maxim can be applied pretty much everywhere (as we are masochistsin this trade), but the focus of my musings today are the topics of GMOs and embryonic stem cells.
Both have received hundreds of millions of euros from the public purse, yet continue to deliver a big fat zero to the European economy due to sloth and indecision on the part of those that control their fates.
In the case of GMOs, it has long been obvious that Europe was never going to bean economic generator for its research.The question for Europe is - why did we continue to invest public money in GMO technologies targeted at the field if wewere never going to get it back? Europe is now so far behind the rest of the world in food-crop GM technology that a euro spent is a euro wasted. We should have had the strength to either counteract anti-GMO claims immediately (too late now) or call the political bluff and say "stop the research funding for field-based GMOs." But instead, Europe did what Europealways does, creeping down the middlepath, trying to offend nobody while building a sub-optimal R&D base with no exploitation.
You might be asking yourself what has triggered this contemplation from somebody who usually supports biotech in all it's many forms. It was the closure of BASF Plant Science, at a German research base that has been open since 1914. This was no closure on an epic scale, just 140 jobs, but it tells you that the life has bled slowly from commercial research in Europe until the company finally just called it a day and went off to live in America. So Europe - spend your money on building a biotech sector that delivers a benefit you can measure, don't wait for it to die quietly while you fanny about appeasing politicians who are chasing re-election.
That brings me to the 2011 embryonic stem cell ruling - you must have heard me rolling my eyes from the other side of Brussels when that was announced. Welldone Europe! Once again we have taken a technology where the EU had a leg upand killed its commercial potential. This time it wasn't even due to a public outcry. European citizens generally like the idea of stem cells - they can see the possible benefits and understand in general what they do. But if the ruling isn't overturned, you might as well cancel the funding. If Europe cannot benefit economically, then there is no point in funding the science.There isn't enough money to fund biotech where the door is closed to a return. The sector has spent decades persuading people to part with large sums of cash for high-risk technology, and it cannot justify its existence if the gate to clinic and market has been shut.