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Thursday, February 25, 2010

R&D in Europe, 02. 2010 - biopharma cries out

Today:
  1. Sweden claims breakthrough on EU patent impasse
  2. Venture capital drought hurting biopharma SMEs
  3. Experts urge radical shake-up of EU innovation policy
  4. EU chief scientist tipped for 'TV role'
  5. Europe 'could cut emissions by 40%'
Quote of the day:Cute. Unfeasible but cute. At least not the way they describe it - "use public transport, eat less meat" - come on! You can't tell anyone what to eat, just to decrease his/her emissions. That's nonsense. But I think that it's absolutely realistic to reach for such cuts, because the technology changes every year and now that the trend is towards more efficient appliances, the producers will do just that - make them efficient. And that's half of the battle.

Sweden claims breakthrough on EU patent impasse

4 December 2009

Business groups hailed a landmark political deal in Brussels on Friday (4 December), as EU industry ministers agreed a package of measures which could pave the way for a European Community patent. However, there are concerns that the thorny issue of translation costs has merely been set aside and will be dealt with separately.

Sweden, which holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency, pulled off a major political coup by securing unanimous backing for its plan to establish a single EU patent and a European patent court.

The deal should help slash the cost of protecting new innovations in Europe, something small businesses have been particularly vexed by in recent years.

The cost of filing and protecting patents in Europe is substantially higher than in the US and Japan, and business organisations have consistently complained about the fragmented and inconsistent decisions handed down by European courts.

The plans for a single patent court will make litigation cheaper and more predictable, diplomatic sources said. The court will include local and central chambers under a common European appeal court. In the initial stages, companies will be able to continue to use national courts, allowing confidence in the new system to build up gradually.

A common understanding has also been reached on renewal fees and the cooperation between patent offices.

Another perennial bugbear for innovative businesses has been the high cost of translating patents into all European languages. This has been a major factor in making it more expensive to protect new technologies in Europe.

The new agreement stopped short of resolving this issue, deciding instead that a proposed new patent regulation should be accompanied by a separate regulation on translation arrangements. source

My comment: I'm not sure if this deserves commenting sine it's so old. But I'm getting tired of this epic battle for the European patents. I mean, what's so complicated to do. It's not like little countries file a lot of patents. The issue should be solved among the biggest members, in a way that won't harm the interests of the little countries and that's it. Because, if we have to be honest, most companies currently file their patents in USA, because of the ease of the process. In this case, Europe has nothing to lose (or at least so it appears). In which case, anything we do, will be better than the current situation. And probably the easiest way to do it with a single default language of patent applications - English, with the option to translate the patent to all other languages after the patent is granted. That seems fair to me and when you file in the USA, you use English anyway. And what's more, let's be realistic - most of those patents go for corporation. So, their cries for cutting red-tape are simply ridiculous.

Venture capital drought hurting biopharma SMEs

3 December 2009

Europe's biopharmaceutical sector is under severe pressure due to the reluctance of investors to gamble on high-risk drug development projects, according to a new report sponsored by the EU.

Research-intensive companies have been hardest hit since the financial crisis began, with venture capitalises shying away from niche biopharma firms that can spend up to 15 years working for a breakthrough that might spawn new medicines.

The report, presented at a meeting of policymakers, industry leaders and financiers in Brussels this week (1 December), calls for a new European Biopharmaceutical Innovation Fund to keep the sector afloat.

SMEs across Europe have suffered from the liquidity crisis due to difficulties securing working capital and the ongoing challenge of late payments. However, the impact of decreasing venture capital funding will not be felt for a decade.

The study says investors are now looking for lower risk/reward ratios at a time when 40% of SMEs in the biopharma industry say they will need access to capital within the next 12 months.

It recommends offering tax concessions and developing co-investment mechanisms at EU and national level to stimulate investment. Identifying and disseminating best practice in technology transfer and commercialisation could also help boost the sector, according to the report.

Quicker approval for new medicines developed by young companies could also help accelerate the timeframe for business angels to get a return on their investment.

source

My comment: I'm not entirely sure, what exactly SMEs have to do with pharmaceutics. I mean, how much new drugs are developed by small companies, statistically? And I don't include the "new" companies, since there's nothing easier for a big company than to set up a new one. So, the question isn't so much about SMEs and how affected they would be. This word becomes like a mantra, but in the case, I believe they use it incorrectly. It's all about big companies here, even if they call about venture capital and so on. Maybe I'm wrong, I'm very far away from this sector, but I simply cannot imagine a small company developing a new drug for 15 years using venture capital. Maybe they were some such cases, but it all seems too unrealistic. So, let's ask in that case, what the hell means "quicker approval" for new companies. Isn't approval somehow related to the safety and efficiency of the new drug. Because I'm under such impression. Since when we sacrifice our health for better commercialization of a product? Obviously we do it, already, but it shouldn't be like that. If you want to help research, then help independent research at universities and institutes. I have no idea when this became a dirty idea. We can't follow USA on every step, we have to set our own path and follow it. I hope we do it with science, at least.

Experts urge radical shake-up of EU innovation policy

9 December 2009

Five panels of experts have issued a joint policy paper demanding major changes to Europe's innovation policy just weeks before the EU's first commissioner for research and innovation is due to take office.

Members of five advisory groups are urging the EU to "radically improve" long-term planning as part of a major rethink of the way it organises research and innovation. At a seminar in the European Parliament, hosted by Science|Business, experts highlighted five key areas where there is consensus on how to overhaul R&D infrastructure.

They want EU funding programmes steered towards research focused on the "great social challenges" Europe is facing, including climate change, alternative energy, healthcare for an ageing population, security and cohesion policy.

New networks, institutions and policies for "open innovation" will also be required, along with greater efforts to encourage mobility of researchers and introduce an EU-wide patent system.

The expert panels - four of which were originally appointed by the EU executive, with the other an independent group - say governments must step up investment in higher education, research and innovation, especially in times of fiscal austerity.

More joined-up thinking and coordination between research programmes, and between Brussels and national governments, will be needed to streamline the bureaucratic funding system, the groups said.

Finally, the consensus statement calls for open competition in European programmes in order to raise standards across the Union.

Progress is already promised in several of the areas highlighted by the five expert panels – all of which have published their advice separately prior to joining forces this week. source

My comment: Yeah, like we don't know that, already. Money is the key, and the money are in the governments. I somehow start hating the so called priorities, because people do include them in their projects, but in superficial way. So, they get the money, do the research they wanted to do, and just add the keyword for beauty. This won't make sense on the long run and some of the priorities are really really important. So maybe this part of the system should be changed too, like by creating excellence institutes dedicated to certain priority around Europe. That might not only coordinate, but also stimulate the work on the priorities, not around them. And of course, you can't limit science only to those priorities, because there is much more to gain from other fields. There must be balance between "current priorities" and "fundamental priorities". I don't say there isn't such balance, I think there is, but I think currently this balance is more a side-effect from the size and diversity of Europe, than a goal.

EU chief scientist tipped for 'TV role'

9 December 2009

Leading figures in European science policymaking are at odds over whether the proposed Chief Scientific Advisor should be an in-house advisor to the president of the EU executive, or an independent frontman for science.

John Wood, who chairs the European Research Area Board (ERAB) – which proposed the creation of a Chief Scientific Advisor – sees the role as a public advocate on scientific issues.

He says the advisor should be independent-minded and feel free to give evidence-based advice. It should be a person who can go on television during times of crisis, such as a pandemic, and help communicate on scientific matters in a way that engages the public and allays fears.

"The Chief Scientist for Europe should be someone who speaks for science – someone who goes on TV during a crisis," he said.

This follows the model of UK scientific advisors, who have been known to lock horns with government agencies on matters of science policy. The US takes a similar approach, with President Barack Obama appointing a panel of high-calibre advisors from a range of disciplines. The head of the team is based in the US president's executive office.

However, there appears to be a major gulf between this Anglo-Saxon model and what might be envisaged by Brussels. High-level science policymakers in the EU institutions view the role less as an independent voice of science, and more as a scientifically-savvy confidante of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

Portuguese MEP Maria da Graça Carvalho, formerly an advisor on scientific and innovation issues to Barroso, said the president was putting knowledge at the centre of the EU's agenda and the Chief Scientific Advisor would play a role in this.

She compared the proposed role of a scientific advisor with that of a political advisor, saying the new position would be given to someone who can offer evidence-based policies on scientific issues ranging from health to climate change.

Announcing his plan to create the new position, Barroso himself said the advisor would have the power "to deliver proactive, scientific advice throughout all stages of policy development and delivery".

Whether this turns out to be closer to Carvalho's expectations or Wood's definition remains to be seen. source

My comment: I would also like to see this advisor to speak for the science and to fight for it, on any ground possible, but that's just the romantic me. But science in Europe definitely needs a defendant, so I hope I won't be too disappointed.

Europe 'could cut emissions by 40%'

2 December 2009

The EU could double its 2020 target for cutting greenhouse gases at a daily cost of €2 per person, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), a research group, said yesterday (1 December).

Slashing emissions 40% below 1990 levels in 2020 and 90% by 2050 would be possible with radical changes to how Europeans use energy, a new study showed. This would be technically feasible without international offsetting schemes or resorting to carbon capture and storage (CCS), it said.

The researchers mapped out a pathway that foresees a quick phase-out of fossil fuels, combined with a major shift to renewable energy. It would make up 22% of the energy mix in 2020 and 71% in 2050.

Energy efficiency would improve massively, according to the study's outline: in 2020, Europe would use around 22% less energy than in 2010, and 70% less in 2050.

The study was released ahead of the start of the Copenhagen climate negotiations, with the EU having said it will raise its 20% carbon reduction target to 30% if other developed countries make comparable pledges. Whether the EU is ready to take such a step will now depend on the US and China (EurActiv 24/11/09).

The changes must be accompanied by a less materialistic society, where major lifestyle changes would lead Europeans to embrace public transport and eat less meat, the authors argue.

They paint a picture whereby journeys made by car would be reduced from 75% in 2005 to 69% in 2020. High-speed rail would replace intra-European flights. Moreover, big developments in the transport sector would include an increased share of electrified cars from 2020 onwards, with virtually all vehicles running on electricity in 2050.

The study estimates that Europe would have to pay around €2 trillion over the next decade to realise this scenario, equivalent to about 2% of Europe's GDP over the same period. But the authors say this is a small price to pay for equitable growth in the future, because it would only require temporarily holding back any GDP growth for one year. source

My comment: Cute. Unfeasible but cute. At least not the way they describe it - "use public transport, eat less meat" - come on! You can't tell anyone what to eat, just to decrease his/her emissions. That's nonsense. But I think that it's absolutely realistic to reach for such cuts, because the technology changes every year and now that the trend is towards more efficient appliances, the producers will do just that - make them efficient. And that's half of the battle. The other half is for insulating the homes, which will be harder, but in colder countries, that happens naturally, because of the cold. It happens even in Bulgaria, which isn't generally very cold. But the electricity bills go higher and higher, so people do anything possible to be "green" and warm. And with the new, idiotic rules for air traveling, I think many people will rather use other ways to travel. I mean - being stripped and touched - thank you, but NO! So, I'm really optimistic about those emissions, as long as there is political will, they will happen. We just have to be persistent on this. And meat won't matter :)

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