BRUSSELS, Belgium ¿ A pan-European network of 13 national bioindustry associations is working to strengthen cooperation between smaller biotechnology firms and academic researchers across all sectors ¿ health, medical devices, agro-food, diagnostics, environment and bioinformatics.

The close contacts this network has with smaller firms and spin-offs in the biotechnology sector will allow it to assess and anticipate their needs so they can take full advantage of European Union research programs. At present, it is a common complaint from executives in smaller firms that they find it difficult to keep up with the complexities of EU research-funding opportunities, and to find the management time to handle the often-onerous bureaucratic procedures for winning grants.

In response, the European Commission is now starting a joint project with the network of national associations and with the European umbrella organization for the sector, EuropaBio, to simplify access and standardize procedures. The first task will be to build links into a major EU research program on the quality of life and management of living resources, and into a program aimed at improving human potential, which includes a series of Marie Curie industry fellowships.

But the project also aims to give smaller firms advice and guidance on subjects such as gene therapy, patent applications and management of post-doctoral staff, and to help firms take part in cooperative research and market-oriented programs with academia and other companies. It will assist companies in finding research partners across Europe.

As EuropaBio points out, in the biotech sector in Europe, 83 percent of companies have fewer than 250 employees, and 71 percent have fewer than 150. Very small companies with up to 10 employees represent 37 percent of the total. These firms need industrial and financial partners when starting up or developing their technologies in new areas.

¿International cooperation is very important for multidisciplinary, rapidly developing biotech companies,¿ EuropaBio said. ¿This applies in particular to smaller firms, whose competitive position depends strongly on their capacity to rely on international cooperation with other enterprises and research centers.¿

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