BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European biotechnology sector last week launched a European Union-backed platform combining its strengths with the chemical industry.

"Today we recognize that there are several life science revolutions taking place and that biotechnology has an important contribution to make to a sustainable and competitive chemical industry," said Johan Vanhemelrijck, secretary general of EuropaBio, at the ceremonial kickoff. "The 1,500 new biotech companies that base their research in life sciences are creating a new knowledge-based bioeconomy."

The European Technology Platform on Sustainable Chemistry aims to generate long-standing public-private partnerships to increase investment in research and innovation, and to boost European competitiveness in the sector. Europe holds 28 percent of the international chemical production market. Europe's trade in chemicals has grown from €14 billion in 1990 to €42 billion in 2002, with some 25,000 enterprises employing 1.7 million people. But its proportion of global trade has dropped by 4 percent over the past decade. So the industry, research centers, the financial world and regulatory authorities came together to agree on a research agenda, with a focus on industrial biotechnology.

"Research is the primary source of innovation in the knowledge-intensive chemical industry and is driving the sector forward," said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, who said the challenge for the European chemical industry is "to improve the transformation of laboratory ideas into new sustainable products and services to boost EU competitiveness." He sees the platform as a way to overcome barriers to innovation and encourage industry investment in research.

Using a bioprocess to produce antibiotics has resulted in a 65 percent reduction in materials and energy use at a 50 percent cost saving. In the case of vitamin B2, an eight-step chemical process can be reduced to a one-step fermentation process, saving 40 percent on costs and reducing environmental impact by the same amount.

"This technology is helping to improve the quality of life in a sustainable society. We are just seeing the beginning of the positive impact of improved life science knowledge," Vanhemelrijck said. "The biotechnology industry is also using biomass to produce bio-energy, bio-plastics, bio-textiles, which means it also has the potential to become a new client for agriculture."

EFPIA: Drug Biotech Needs Nurturing

A core group of research directors of leading pharmaceutical companies in Europe have agreed on a framework for future cooperative research aimed at developing new medicines. Under the sponsorship of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), the European heads of research of a dozen leading pharmaceutical companies last week appointed Jonathan Knowles chairman.

"The biotech revolution means that our understanding of how the human body works, at its most fundamental molecular level, is increasing at an incredible rate," Knowles said. "And this is opening up whole new avenues of treatment that we could only dream of 10 years ago. The question is how can we make the most of this knowledge by turning it into really effective treatments for European patients. There are significant scientific challenges ahead, and we believe that these can best be solved through partnerships with all health care stakeholders, including patient groups."

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