By Nuala Moran

BioWorld International Correspondent

SAN DIEGO ¿ Governments around the world have recognized the importance of biotechnology, and are offering incentives and honing policies to promote development of their industry and attract inward investment. As a result, there is a form of global beauty contest to offer the highest grants, best tax breaks and most up-to-date infrastructure.

But the way forward globally is not to compete, but to collaborate. That was the consensus of a panel of representatives from Australia, Korea, Israel, the UK, Germany and India, who discussed the status of biotechnology and government policy in their countries. The view was summed up by Gerald Moeller, stating the case for biotechnology in Germany, who said, ¿Let¿s cooperate and not compete. We have so much to gain from the industry, and we will all have a great future.¿

Wan-Kyoo Cho, president of the Bioindustry Association of Korea, said that although with 62 companies the sector is still small in Korea, there is strong government support and investment is beginning to come in from industry. ¿We are working with other countries and their biotech institutions. We are not as big as other countries, but we believe we have very strong capabilities and can reach our goals. Competition through collaboration is the most important thing.¿

Vivek Singhal, founder and president of the All India Biotech Association, said biotechnology in that country is picking up fast. Fifty research institutes are in the process of switching their focus to biotech, he said, and the government is giving preference to the industry, with strong central planning and a large number of benefits. ¿We do need a lot of support and collaboration from developed companies to help to develop our industry and we are looking for it,¿ he said.

India has a vast resource of manpower, with 2,000 microbiologists unemployed at the moment. In the past few years, 2,000 microbiologists have retrained to join India¿s burgeoning information technology (IT) and software industries. Singhal said the strength of IT means India has the opportunity to become a leader in bioinformatics and also could offer facilities for conducting clinical trials. ¿India can contribute a lot to biotechnology,¿ he said. ¿In a few years time, the industry will emerge in the same way as it has in software and IT.¿

Carmel Vernia, chief scientist in the Ministry of Industry and Trade in Israel, said the government is actively promoting biotechnology and there is a strong venture capital base with more than 100 companies. However, their current focus is on IT, and the ministry is now trying to shift their attention to biotech. ¿We think we can duplicate our success in IT in biotechnology,¿ Vernia said.

The government is about to issue requests for tender for private companies to set up bioincubators, and Vernia said, ¿We want foreign investors to bid.¿ It also is involved in setting up GMP laboratories and factories, and is strengthening funding for preseed research.

Meanwhile, in Australia there is an ¿extraordinary commitment¿ from federal and state governments to promote development of biotechnology, said Peter Andrews, director of the University of Queensland center for drug design and development. There are more than 350 delegates from Australia at BIO 2001, and four of Australia¿s seven states sent top politicians to the conference.

In addition to the favorable political climate, there is a major opportunity for investors because of the mismatch between the quality of research and the low level of investment to date. ¿There is an awful lot of low-hanging fruit and I would like to suggest you get a look at it,¿ Andrews said.

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