BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European biotechnology industry last week seized another opportunity to praise its potential for helping solve Europe’s energy problems.

No sooner had European Union leaders concluded their summit in Brussels on March 23 than EuropaBio issued a statement welcoming the commitment "to address Europe’s energy challenges and respond to the dependency on oil and gas from fossil fuels."

"Biotechnology-led innovations can greatly help Europe," the lobby group said, claiming a key role for biomass as a renewable energy source in meeting energy challenges and emission targets, and even in generating new farm incomes. "This example of industrial biotechnology is an important building block of a bio-based economy where biomass is used to create a wide range of energy efficient bioproducts," said Johan Vanhemelrijck, secretary general of EuropaBio. If the EU is able to deliver effective enabling rules for the sector, agriculture and biotechnology will be able to make a major economic contribution to Europe "which will be a major factor in the development of a sustainable industrial base," he said.

The agreement that stimulated EuropaBio’s statement was reached by heads of government of all 25 EU member states, and sets a target of 8 percent for the biofuel share of total EU energy consumption by 2015. It also urges adequate research and development support, at national and EU levels, for energy efficiency, sustainable energies and low-emission technologies.

EuropaBio also seized on separate promises by EU leaders to ease red tape and improve access to finance for smaller companies - without which, it warned, the biotech gap with the U.S. will widen. It urged the EU to go further, by creating a Europe-wide scheme for tax exemptions for young research-based companies.

"That would trigger more funding into bioscience companies that are heavily investing in the research needed to produce the new enabling technologies, which can help reduce environmental burdens and increase the competitiveness of our economies," Vanhemelrijck said.

2005 Dip In European Biotech Medicines Applications

Fewer marketing authorization applications for new human-use medicines were received in 2005 by the European Medicines Agency, it said March 21. The agency had predicted that it would handle 52 applications through its centralized procedure for biotechnology and high-technology medicines, but only 43 filings were made - down from the 51 in 2004, but up from 39 in 2003.

Authorization applications for designated orphan medicines remained strong last year, with 15 applications received, and there was an increase in the number of applications for designation as an orphan, at 118 (compared to 108 in 2004 and 87 in 2003). Requests from applicants for scientific advice and protocol assistance for new medicines were up sharply to 194, compared to just 122 in 2004.

The agency is forecasting a resumption of the upward trend for new biotech and high-technology drugs, with 62 initial marketing authorization applications expected for 2006, including applications for similar biological and generic medicinal products, and 79 for 2007. It is budgeting €123 million (US$147 million) in 2006 and €144 million in 2007, to reflect the forecast increase in number of applications and new workload in 2007. It expects fees from applicants to cover 75 percent of the budget.