By Ludger Wess

Special To BioWorld Today

AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands ¿ A panel of representatives from various companies found the biotechnology industry in Europe steadily consolidating and maturing, despite differences between the U.S. and Europe with regard to public attitudes ¿ and even the attitudes of the industry ¿ toward genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Among the panel members was George Hersbach, president and CEO of Pharming Group NV, of Leiden, the Netherlands, which produces health-care products from the milk of transgenic animals.

Due to a ban on the use of transgenic animals by the Dutch government, Pharming canceled these operations in the Netherlands, but continued them elsewhere.

¿Although it is very good that the European Union patent directive is now in place, its implementation is still postponed in some European countries,¿ Hersbach said.

The panel convened at the 7th annual European Life Sciences conference here. Participants agreed that, notwithstanding the disadvantages of operating in Europe ¿ where controversy rages over GMOs in food products ¿ biotechnology firms there are likely to continue to be involved in some of the most significant deals taking place.

Large pharmaceutical companies have had mixed experiences in closing deals with biotechnology partners. Small companies, in particular, often ran into difficulties understanding the needs of big pharmaceutical companies, said Koenraad Wiedhaup, group director of Akzo Nobel¿s pharmaceutical operations in Arnhem, the Netherlands, who is responsible for strategic planning.

Smaller Deals Offer Some Advantages

For those with larger ambitions, dealing with a number of different partners led to conflicts over intellectual property rights and to problems distributing royalties among the partners, Wiedhaup said, noting that such difficulties ¿can squeeze all the juice out of the deals.¿

Wiedhaup said Akzo would prefer collaborating with partners that provide full service, but alliances that grow too big can lose the advantages of being agile and smart.

¿With so many technology platform companies on the market, it is difficult for big companies to judge the competitive advantages and technological value,¿ he said. ¿For a big company, my advice is: Do not go too much for the technological hype, or your scientists might get tangled up in getting the technology running, rather than thinking about products.¿

Martin Beuck, international technology manager for biotechnology in the collaboration between Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., and Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer AG, said arranging too many deals is unwise, because of the time and energy they consume. Millennium and Bayer signed a $465 million genomics deal last year. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 24, 1998, p. 1.)

¿Setting up the Millennium deal took 10 months,¿ Beuck said. ¿Certainly, we will have more deals, but not in this order of magnitude.¿

Willingness to exchange information and accessibility of data are critical in such agreements, he added.

He cited bioinformatics ¿ as it is used in genomics and in handling and sharing data ¿ as a key tool in the future, along with biochips and therapeutic vaccines. The European meeting concluded Tuesday. n