HANNOVER, Germany ¿ More than 1,000 exhibitors stood ready in their booths Tuesday as the international biotechnology trade fair Biotechnica 2001 opened here under the theme, ¿From Business to Success.¿

The trade fair officially was opened by Undersecretary Wolf-Michael Catenhusen of the German Research Ministry as the German biotechnology industry looked back on a very successful year. ¿[German biotech companies] have extended their top position in Europe,¿ he said, adding that the industry grossed revenues totaling DM1.5 billion (US$7 billion) in 2000. The number of employees increased by 31 percent.

Fine figures, for sure, but Friedrich von Bohlen, CEO of Heidelberg-based LION bioscience AG, added some perspective.

¿Our position is not as good as we think,¿ he said. ¿Germany [in biotechnology] currently cannot compete with the United States. Biotechnology in Germany will grow further, but this growth will not be steady,¿ he said, adding that he expects mergers and some company failures to trim the field.

¿Germany in the last four years has definitely improved, but there is more room for improvement in the global competition,¿ von Bohlen said.

European biotechnology is 10 years behind the U.S., Catenhusen told BioWorld International. To catch up, quality and performance must be improved. ¿We have to continue creating incentive conditions for biotech companies, for example, by supporting cooperations [between industry and academia],¿ he said, adding that there is also much improvement needed in increasing value from academia¿s intellectual property.

The number of exhibitors at the trade fair rose 32 percent compared to Biotechnica 1999. About one-third of the exhibitors came from abroad. The number of foreign exhibitors increased by 54 percent. The list of nations with exhibitors is headed by the UK with 56 exhibitors, followed by Switzerland (40) and the U.S. (36). The figures also reveal increased participation by Central and Eastern European companies, organizer Deutsche Messe AG said. The number of exhibitors from this region rose from 25 in 1999 to 38 in 2001. Twenty-nine exhibitors came from Russia.

Biotechnica this year has a major focus on basic biotechnology including bioengineering, equipment, bioinformatics and services. The trade fair also focuses on fields of application including food, nutrition, agriculture, drugs, medicine and the environment.

A scientific conference, ¿The Second Transdisciplinary Conference on Principles and Perspectives in Regenerative Medicine,¿ is scheduled to have two sessions. Special partnering and investment events also are planned. The trade fair runs through Nov. 9.