BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Measured in terms of scientific and commercialization performance, Europe's leading countries for biotechnology are Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, according to a new study of 30 European countries.

A second group, including Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, Germany, France and the UK, perform at the median level for Europe. Way below that median level are Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg.

Widely differing national growth patterns for biotechnology in Europe are a consequence primarily of government policy, rather than of historical, geographical, economic or demographic factors, said the report. The BioPolis study, financed by the European Union and published at the end of July, concluded that policy coordination is a key determinant of success, and recommended all national governments close what it describes as a frequent "coordination gap."

Many European countries are failing to build on early "first-generation" innovation policies, which successfully boosted the research and education system, the business system, framework conditions, infrastructure and intermediaries. "However, the systems approach of the second generation seems to have neglected the role of the government and . . . the policy system," BioPolis observed.

Countries with convergent innovation systems - with close interactions among all actors and coordinated decision-making processes - perform better, the study said. Most countries with a weak biotech performance suffer from fragmented policy-making, it said, and the deficiencies are most marked in the new member states of the EU in central and eastern Europe.

Coordination should take place, the report noted, "not only between national departments, but also between national and regional governments and international institutions. This involves coordination of simultaneous policy actions addressing the core set of innovation policies such as science, technology and education, as well as a redirection of policy actions that pursue other primary objectives such as public health and regional development."

Countries in western Europe have shown a significant increase in regional government participation in biotechnology policy-making, particularly in countries where the regions have responsibility for supporting university research and economic development - notably Germany, Belgium and Spain, and in some regions of the UK, and more recently in Austria, France and Italy. Regional authorities tend to focus their efforts on research commercialization and support to smaller firms.

Because of "the complex nature of biotechnology innovation processes," an up-to-date information base is essential to successful policy-making, and it should draw on nongovernment biotechnology actors too - particularly from the scientific community, industry and consumer and patient groups.

In an allusion to the continuing difficulties of public acceptance that confront biotechnology in Europe, the report added that it also will help "to mitigate potentially damaging conflicts within the policy network, contribute to the development of shared understanding and eventually foster policy learning."

The study also queries the frequent comparison between the biotech industry's performance in Europe and in the U.S. In the U.S., BioPolis pointed out, biotechnology excellence is concentrated in just a few regions - the Boston area, North Carolina and Southern and Northern California. "It seems questionable to compare Europe as a whole with the United States as a whole. Such regional units in the United States might be better suited for comparative analysis of performance in biotechnology with individual European countries than the United States as a whole," it suggested.