BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European industry was quick to applaud when European research ministers adopted a new strategy for biotechnology at their meeting in Brussels on Nov. 26. The strategy, drafted by European Union officials only days before, contains a 30-point action plan for the development of a competitive biotechnology industry in Europe.

In particular, ministers endorsed the view that "the successful development of a competitive biotechnology sector in the EU requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach covering all major areas of application of biotechnology." The right sort of regulatory framework "should prevent unnecessary administrative burdens, in particular on small and medium-sized enterprises," the ministers said.

The political declaration contained concrete commitments, too. Before mid-2003, the EU should assess future requirements in biotechnology-related skills, as well as boost professional development related to biotechnology and training in the management and legal skills needed by entrepreneurial companies. During 2003, the EU also should focus on how to promote technology transfer more effectively. Before the end of 2004, member states also will have to report on how they have improved the financial climate for biotechnology investment.

Other aspects of the plan include creating a European "biotechnology portal" by the end of 2003, designed to improve the spread of knowledge. Renewed efforts also will be made, starting next year, to generate "comprehensive, structured and focused dialogue and information exchange, including all stakeholders," and to boost support for research into related socio-economic and ethical issues, "including criteria for assessing the cost and benefit of using biotechnology." The underlying intention is to help dispel anxieties that biotechnology at times still generates in Europe.

The decision was welcomed by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations and its specialized Emerging Biopharmaceutical Enterprises group.

"The high potential of biotechnology in healthcare has been rightfully identified as a key sector for science, economic growth and Europe's competitiveness," said Brian Ager, EFPIA director general.

And EuropaBio said the decision was "a welcome signal." Building a knowledge-based economy with biotechnology as a key area is crucial to Europe's future economic growth and quality of life, commented Feike Sijbesma, its chairman.