BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - European Union ministers have given their formal backing to a reinforced strategy in support of European biotechnology, to the delight of industry executives.

The industry ministers of the 27 member states endorsed a mid-term policy review of the EU's 2001 life science and biotechnology strategy, which stresses the need for Europe to take full advantage of biotechnology. The review insists on refocusing the strategy to lighten biotech regulation and ease access to capital.

"It is in the hands of the member states to make the European biotechnology strategy work, and it is very important that they work together in a coordinated way to achieve policy coherence," said Johan Vanhemelrijck, secretary general of EuropaBio.

The biotech industry considers the refocused actions an important step toward building the bio-economy, but it is insistent that member states should not be allowed to pick and choose which aspects of the strategy they will or will not implement.

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the UK BioIndustry Association, said that until now there has been a lack of implementation of the EU biotech strategy by some of the member states, and she underlined the fact that EU ministers now have collectively endorsed the strategy.

The formal conclusions reached by ministers at their meeting in Brussels welcome the positive results of the initiatives taken so far to support the biotechnology sector, which ministers agreed forms an essential part of the broader efforts to develop Europe's knowledge-based economy.

"Biotechnology is crucial to the discovery and development of diagnostics, medicines, vaccines and advanced therapies that are of considerable benefit to the quality of life of citizens in Europe, to the competitiveness of European health care sector, and to address global health issues," noted the conclusion. It also has huge potential "for eco-efficient innovation, in particular in the food and nutrition, feed, chemical, paper and pulp, textile, and energy sectors," the report added. Europe must deal with "the economic, societal and environmental issues involved" in promoting biotechnology

Concrete measures to emerge included plans for a harmonized cost-effective collection of relevant data and statistics to monitor the impact of life sciences and biotechnology, so as to promote informed debate and better cooperation, the establishment of integrated pilot plants to demonstrate the potential of bio-energy applications and help their uptake on the market, new incentives for start-ups and improved intellectual property protection.

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