BRUSSELS, Belgium - For years, analysts of Europe's biotechnology sector have been arguing that one of Europe's major disadvantages is lack of support from the finance sector.
In mid-May, a systematic step was taken to try to remedy the deficiency. More than 30 European Union biotech companies came together with leading figures from the European finance and investment community, and with scientists and policy makers, at the first conference of the Biotechnology and Finance Forum, in Brussels.
The list of participants read like a roll call of Continental Europe's start-up biotech innovators. Among the companies represented were Biovector Therapeutics from France; CeNes from the U.K.; Elan Corp. from Ireland; Exiqon and Phyteria Sybion from Denmark; Intercell Health Care from Austria; MediGene from Germany; PanGenetics and Pharming BV from the Netherlands; Tibotec/Virco from Belgium; and Urquima from Spain.
There were fewer firms from the U.K. because opportunities for finding investment in the U.K.'s more developed investment-oriented culture are better than on the Continent.
The investment community was represented by such figures as European Association of Securities Dealers; Jacques Putzeys, CEO of Easdaq; and Serge Raicher, secretary general of the European Venture Capital Association.
Werner Wolf, of Techno Venture Management (TVM), emphasized the importance of selecting the right financial partner, on the basis of quality of people, its business model, its strategic alliances, the volume of financing and the scope for transfer of expertise.
John Peberdy, professor at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Nottingham, in the U.K., urged a new approach in the education of young scientists on biotechnology programs, to take account of business realities.
Borge Diderichsen, of Novo Nordisk A/S, in Denmark, drew attention to the need to bring well-trained biotech experts together with business. “By bringing industry and academia together, great science may become big business,“ he said.
The meeting came out of an initiative from Edith Cresson, the European commissioner responsible for science and research. She backed the conference as a way of helping innovative companies tap into the financing they need during the first phases of their development.
In her opening remarks she told the attendees, “Only an increase in the research effort in favor of biotechnology will enable entrepreneurs to profit from the numerous initiatives taken by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the member states in order to encourage venture capital. It is the convergence between intellectual capital and financial capital which will generate the jobs of tomorrow.“
Forum Promotes Entrepreneurial Culture
The Biotechnology and Finance Forum is a permanent body that has been created by the European Commission and the European Association of Securities Dealers, with a management board drawn from the biotechnology sector and from the finance sector. Representing biotechnology are Gunnar Brink, of Bio Tul Instruments, in Germany; Victor Cockroft, of Juvantia Pharma, in Finland; and Philippe de Taxis du Pot, from the European Commission. From the finance community are Leon de Jerez, of Standard Life, in the U.K.; Anne-Sophie Gordon, of Arthur Andersen in France; and Helmut Schnchsler, from TVM, in Germany.
The forum's creation and the holding of this first conference demonstrated how far the European Union is moving toward embracing the merits of an entrepreneurial culture.
The European Commission's biotechnology division head, Etienne Magnien, told the meeting, “An entrepreneurial spirit in biotechnology is communicable once it has proven successful anywhere in Europe. And for any young talent, the reward for the acquisition of management skills in a risk-taking culture is going to be measured not just in millions of dollars, but in a great deal of personal satisfaction for having led the course of progress.“ *