BRUSSELS, Belgium - The principal European pharmaceutical industry association is planning to set up a new grouping of biotechnology companies.

At its annual meeting in Venice, Italy, on June 21-23, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations will hold a special session setting out why it is forming the group, and what it can offer. EFPIA Director General Brain Ager will spell out the aim of the "Emerging Biopharmaceutical Enterprises," as it is to be known.

The idea behind this new specialized group is to provide pooled or centralized business services for coping with the regulatory and other administrative and political challenges facing biotechnology companies in Europe, particularly the smaller companies. EFPIA, which has a score of national pharmaceutical industry associations and about 50 major pharmaceutical companies in its membership, already runs similar specialized groups for vaccine manufacturers. Industry sources say it is intended to be complementary to the EuropaBio group, which represents the biotechnology industry generally at the European level.

The concept already has backing from some companies and key European biotechnology figures, and from the European Commission. The working session will hear from Ernesto Bertarelli, of Ares Serono, on what biopharmaceutical enterprises expect. Erik Tambuyzer, of Genzyme Corp., who is a leading member of the EuropaBio grouping, will explain how the new group could serve the needs of the new biopharmaceutical enterprises. Kurt Vandenberghe, a top adviser to European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, will discuss how to improve the business environment for emerging biopharmaceutical enterprises. Other EU officials will illustrate the involvement of the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund in the health sector.

One-fifth of the new medicines launched on the world market today are biotechnology-derived, according to EFPIA. It forecasts that within 10 years, half of all new medicines will be biotech-derived, and biotechnology will be used at one stage or another during the development of practically all medicines. Its latest figures give the turnover of the 1,000 companies in the biopharmaceutical sector in Europe as EUR2.72 billion (US$2.56 billion), with EUR1.9 billion spent on R&D, and employment of 39,000.