LONDON - The UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) has a new chief executive, Crispin Kirkman.

As he took up the reins on Monday, Kirkman told BioWorld International he expected the BIA to achieve a more prominent position, particularly in informing issues such as genetically modified food, cloning and bioethics. "I want to be more proactive in public debates.

"I wouldn't say it was a case of doing something we are not doing, but doing things with greater effort," he said. "Public affairs is something we have got to do in spades, and we have got to do it well, for all our members and for all science industries."

This means the association will become more political. "This will be in the sense of having a voice in the negotiations of decisions that affect the public, not political in the cynical sense," Kirkman said. "We need to be completely open, and people need to see where we are coming from and where we relate inside the industry."

Kirkman joins the BIA following a career in National Health Service (NHS) administration, most recently as chief executive of Berkshire Health Authority.

Negative publicity around genetically modified (GM) crops has led the BIA to consider limiting its membership to companies involved in human and animal health. Kirkman said his appointment from the NHS should not be seen as implying that the BIA was adopting a health-only stance. "My background is irrelevant to what the BIA does; that depends on the board."

Following a review of the association's activities, the BIA board decided Friday that it would continue to represent agricultural and environmental biotechnology companies. In doing so it will focus on health applications and implications of their activities. This will, for example, involve rebutting claims that GM foods are dangerous.

"We know there is no evidence that GM foods are bad for health, however, the eco side [of the anti-GM debate] is closer to the interests of other [industry trade body] organizations," he said.

Kirkman also wants to see the BIA expanding the range of services it provides, both to improve service to members and to increase income to allow the BIA to expand its public affairs role. One idea is to create an Internet portal for the industry, providing a procurement service, knowledge management and information sharing for members, and informing public debate. "One of the particularly powerful things about the industry is the high level of collaboration," Kirkman said.

Plans are in hand for Kirkman to make a fact-finding visit to the BIA's U.S. counterpart, the Biotechnology Industry Organization. In particular he is interested in how to reduce the BIA's dependence on member's subscriptions by selling more services. Last month Carl Feldbaum, president of BIO, visited London to talk to the BIA board about BIO's activities. At the time Feldbaum said, "I want to forge a closer relationship. Our organizations do have a lot in common."