BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - European biotechnology companies are being outpaced by their U.S. competitors in research investments and in the scale of their operations, according to a new study from the European Union.

The figures, published by the EU's statistical service, suggested that the 57 highest-spending EU companies in terms of biotechnology research and development spent, on average, €21 million (US$30 million) in 2005.

Of those companies, 28 are situated in the UK, with seven in Sweden, and six in Germany.

In terms of European investments in R&D, the UK also leads, accounting for 44 percent of the total, followed by Denmark with 17 percent and Sweden with 12 percent.

But while the average expenditure in Europe in 2005 was $160 million per company, U.S. companies spent close to eight times more.

"This gap in biotechnology R&D investment between the EU and U.S. companies is unlikely to narrow in the near future because R&D funding in biotechnology is growing faster in the United States than in Europe," the study said.

The data assembled also showed that in 2003 Denmark was world leader in biotechnology patent applications to the European Patent Office, measured per capita. With more than 30 applications per million inhabitants, it produced nearly six times the EU average. It was followed by Iceland and Israel. Germany ranked first in Europe in absolute figures.

With 2,576 biotechnology patent applications submitted to the EPO, the EU ranked second worldwide in 2003, after the U.S. (with 3,331) and ahead of Japan (with 1,035 applications). In Europe, Germany occupied first place with 901 applications, followed by the UK with 416 applications and by France with 370.

In many countries, patent activity in biotechnology has been slowing down over recent years, the study said, with only Italy, Austria, Japan and some countries with very few patent applications showing accelerated activity.

In a ranking by biotechnology R&D intensity (a ratio of the expenditure in a sector compared with the value added in the same sector), Iceland was the clear leader in 2003, followed by Denmark and Switzerland.

Across Europe, health is the main application field for biotechnology in most countries, often involving nearly half of all biotechnologically active firms, the study claimed. In Germany two out of three biotech firms are working in the health care field - a situation broadly comparable to the U.S. and China.

European biotechnology-active firms are generally less active in agro-food applications than in other parts of the world (just 4 percent in Denmark and 6 percent in Switzerland), and the same is true for industrial-environmental applications of biotechnology, with the notable exceptions of Poland and Finland.

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