DUBLIN, Ireland ¿ An advisory panel on health and life sciences has called on the Irish government to commit to a consolidated biotechnology research program worth IEP70 million (US$95 million) annually, to stimulate the development of the indigenous sector and to attract inward investment.

The group is one of eight sector-specific panels that contributed to a national technology foresight study conducted by the Irish Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, which advises the government on science policy.

Biotechnology researchers in Ireland could immediately make use of IEP30 million in support, but it will take over five years to build a research base capable of consuming the higher level of funding. ¿At the moment, the biotechnology infrastructure would not be capable of operating at the level at which it should be,¿ said David McConnell, head of genetics at Trinity College Dublin and chairman of the health and life sciences panel.

Current funding, which is distributed across disparate programs, is running at between IEP5 million and IEP10 million, McConnell said. ¿That money is spread like an oil drop on the Pacific Ocean,¿ he added.

According to the panel¿s report, Ireland needs to ramp up its biotechnology-based activities, both to exploit future economic opportunity and to protect its existing industrial base. ¿Our economy is strikingly a biological economy,¿ McConnell said, because of its high dependency on agriculture, food processing, pharmaceuticals manufacturing, fisheries and forestry.

A second foresight panel, which considered the pharmaceutical and chemical sectors, called on the government to ¿encourage the FDA to set up an office in Ireland and to be a strategic partner with the Irish Medicines Board in the development of rapid-response regulation.¿ The group wants to ensure that Ireland is the ¿most favorable location in the world in which to meet the properly stringent national and international regulatory requirements¿ for manufacturing. n