EuropaBio: Working to Create the Right Environment for Biotech to Thrive in Europe




Episode Loading...




PharmaTelevision requires Javascript enabled and Adobe Flash Player to watch our programmes. If you do not have Flash installed, you can download it for free from the Adobe Flash homepage.

Improve your Internet experience and start watching exciting new video content.

Video title: EuropaBio: Working to Create the Right Environment for Biotech to Thrive in Europe
Released on: July 22, 2008. © PharmaVentures Ltd
Share/save this page:
Email
Bookmark
Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Follow us:
RSS
Twitter
  • Summary
  • Transcript
  • Participants
  • Company
In this interview, filmed at the recent BIO conference in San Diego, Fintan Walton speaks with the newly appointed Secretary General for EuropaBio, Dr. Willy De Greef. He explains how EuropaBio, located in Brussels, works with biotechnology and European institutions as an advocate for the industry to help shape the policies and environments necessary for the industry to thrive. Some current issues that EuropaBio is working on include intellectual property issues and the complexities of the Europan patent procedure. Dr. De Greef believes that Europe is a “work in progress” in creating environments in which biotech industries can prosper and in fostering relationships between start-up companies and the venture capitalist community. He feels most companies fall when trying to work their way through the complex European regulatory maze and EuropaBio hopes to work with the European Commission to minimize this. Looking forward to the future, Dr. De Greef states that European institutions must work to take advatange of the raw material they have in their fanastic research base and to continue to foster their thriving life science community.
Role of EuropaBio.
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaVentures Business Review here live in San Diego, California. On this show I have Willy De Greef, who is Secretary General of EuropaBio. Welcome to the show.
Willy De Greef:
Thank you.
Fintan Walton:
Willy, EuropaBio obviously by it's name is an organization that is that plays an incredibly important role for the biotechnology industry in Europe you are based in Brussels, so what is the role of EuropaBio?
Willy De Greef:
Well EuropaBio defines itself by two words we deal with biotechnology, we do not deal with all aspects of the medical and healthcare provision, we deal with those aspects where biotechnology intervenes and we deal with the European institutions and those two words really define the subject area on which we are active.
Fintan Walton:
So the European Commission is an important body through which you obviously play an important role?
Willy De Greef:
Yes. And but all the other institutions as well as you know policy in Europe is made in delegates sometimes balances between the commission, the council of the member states in the European parliament. And it is our job to explain to those institutions how the European biotech industry grows, what are the conditions that it needs in order to thrive and so that it can actually give body to the practical implementation of some European policies on healthcare.
Fintan Walton:
So one of its primary aims then is efficacy on behalf of the biotechnology industry?
Willy De Greef:
It is certainly advocacy explaining what the biotech industry is, what it can deliver in terms of implementing healthcare policies, yes and assisting the institutions in shaping the policy environment for that.
Ways of balancing issues at national and european level and types of member organisations.
Fintan Walton:
So clearly Europe is made up of many nations and so you have the national issues, you've got the European level the EU or the EC issues, how do you balance that?
Willy De Greef:
With some difficulties certainly it's not easy, Europe is a complex endeavour. And we are trying to work out away into that, we work mostly EuropaBio itself work mostly through the European institutions in Brussels but we have a very strong National Associations Council which for us creates the link between activities at the level of Brussels and activities at the level of the 27 capitals.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. So when it comes to your membership and who are your members? Where are they based and obviously the types of organizations that you have?
Willy De Greef:
We have mainly two types of members, we have a number of corporate members who are directly members of EuropaBio and that's about 80 plus of them. And then we have over a 1000 members who are mostly SMEs who come to EuropaBio through their National Biotech Industry Association and who are represented through those associations.
The key issues for EuropaBio.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. So for an organization like yours you've recently taken on the role as Secretary General at EuropaBio, when you got your desk at the beginning of your job what were the main key issues that EuropaBio were facing or facing now?
Willy De Greef:
I think the most fundamental issue is to feed back to the institutions, the implications of the different policy options they take regarding healthcare, talking about pharma but also regarding agriculture, food and industrial biotech because EuropaBio of course represents not only the biotech companies in the medical and the healthcare sector but also those that are active in industrial and agricultural and food biotechnology.
Fintan Walton:
So when it comes to this policy decisions that there these institutions are taking or trying to take out of those which ones are the more important ones?
Willy De Greef:
Well the one that immediately is of interest to all the companies in this field is everything related to intellectual property rights. We still have an enormous number of challenges in Europe related to the creation of the community, patent European patent, we are no were near to being done there so that automatically is a huge task. The other one is how do we implement the European ideal of creating a knowledge based, economy based on SMEs. And how do we marry that to the constant tendency in Europe to over regulate. SMEs and over regulations are two things that work against each other. And one of our sometimes not so pleasant task is this to explain to the European policy machine that if you want to create a thriving SME sector whether it's in biotech or anywhere else, if you are gonna burden that sector the huge amounts of sometimes conflicting or contradicting regulation then you are actually killing the bird that you are trying to hatch.
Fintan Walton:
But do, does Europe have a competitive economy one that enables those SMEs to thrive? In your view do you think Europe has achieved that or not or is there still further hurdles?
Willy De Greef:
Let's call it a working progress.
Fintan Walton:
Right, right.
Willy De Greef:
And to tell you, would we like to see it different? Yes a lot especially on the regulatory front we are no where near to where we would like to be. I hear a lot of tales of well when I am very new in the area from particularly the medical SMEs they say we got this enormous amount of innovating potential in the European Union and so much of it dies between the stage of technological break through and proof of concept on one hand and a stage where you find your way through the regulatory morass and eventually make it to the patient, that second bit we need to do a lot more work on those deal situations.
Fintan Walton:
Right. So this the risk factors that biotechnology companies and pharmaceutical companies have to take in getting their products ultimately registered?
Willy De Greef:
Well most people tend to think of risks in biotechnology and in pharmacy as one financial risk, yeah it takes a lot of money, time risk and business risk, but really the single biggest hurdle on which companies stumble and fall between the bright idea and getting into the hospital or the patient is really through the regulatory raise that is where a lot of them fall. And there is an enormous amount that we could do in terms of changing policy with out in anyway even suggesting that we would reduce the justifiably very high levels of safety and security for the citizens.
Fintan Walton:
But in the end that's making sure that companies can identify the winners earlier and how the EMEA can work with those companies to help them do that presumably?
Willy De Greef:
Absolutely, yeah I come from a big multinational I've worked for Novartis and I've worked for Syngenta when Novartis was [PharmaDeals ID = 5132]split up. And one of the things what this management do in companies like that we fail fast. We have 100's, 1000's of very bright people coming up with great ideas the task of management is to read out the losers and keep doing this. And on the regulatory side who will be winners or losers is to a large extent determined by policy.
Efficacy of EuropaBio in financing and venture capital availibility in europe.
Fintan Walton:
Right. Now when it comes to backing winners, one of the things winners needs is money and to get to the finish post that leads us into discussion around financing and venture capital availability in Europe and comparing that to particularly to the United States and so forth. What can EuropaBio do at an efficacy level, at a European level particularly with the European commission and with the council of Europe to possibly improve that?
Willy De Greef:
And I am very happy for that question because it's something I've identified for myself as one of the areas where I want to put more emphasis it's working together between the biotech industry and the venture capital community to figure out how we can link in up better, I think I am not telling anything new or shocking by saying that compared to the United States we have some way to go.
Fintan Walton:
Sure.
Willy De Greef:
But that you can turn that around and say there is a huge opportunity to improve that. And so building up the links with the venture capital community and then together go to the institutions with positive proposals saying if you do this, this and this then we can deliver better into the European healthcare policies that like sounds like a very good target for me.
Goals of european policy.
Fintan Walton:
Right. Well it's important because one of the key things for venture capitalists and others who take those risks along side the biotechnology companies is to ensure that the, the tax regimes and so forth within each of the countries are favorable obviously when you are dealing at European level that's difficult because taxation tends to be at a national level, but are there influences that can take place to insure that there is a greater uniformity of treatment of those individuals or those organizations who are prepared to take the risk to back the essential biotechnology that Europe needs?
Willy De Greef:
Absolutely. It's clear that very often the established or the presented goal of European policy is to simplify things for the economic actors [ph] by substituting one decision level for 27, unfortunately in practice it often comes out 28 decision levels instead of 27 that's a working progress that's not particularly for high-tech. That's something that the institutions struggle with and I think we can deliver a very positive contribution by going to them and say if you do it this way it's not going to help us, if you do it that way it is. One of the things that I strongly believe in that I want change in is that industry has a tendency to only speak when spoken to. If we are serious in our vision and our strategies we should know which type of policy or investment environment would allow us to deliver on what we've promised to do and we have to be proactively out spoken about that and then I certainly want to contribute to that.
Fintan Walton:
Well I think that most people will probably agree with you on that particularly in our industry. And just going forward and looking at the continued issues we have real differences across Europe in the types of companies, because you've got you know on one hand now we've got these new Eastern European countries have got more generics based products coming into the market, there are most established generics based companies whilst in countries like in the UK, Germany, Switzerland are the emerging biotechnology companies. And to be fair there are some excellent biotechnology companies who've done extremely well, so looking at Europe and the mosaic that Europe is how can we make sure that Europe has a solution to fit all those various components of the various of the mosaic itself?
Willy De Greef:
It's the first thing we need to do is to explain to policy makers why we need the mosaic. It's sort of it's become a sort of common wisdom in the industry that the next blockbuster drug is not going to be made in the labs of one of the top five companies. It's somewhere five scientist stuck with some venture capital those are the ones who are doing it, we need that mosaic and for the institutions to understand what they can do to make sure that all these different sizes of companies at different levels or at different stages in the R&D ladder that they are all there that they find a way to work that they can focus on their work rather than having to continuously look over their back whether they are in the regulatory system, whether in the policy system that is what we that is a message that we have to bring to the institutions, it's not an easy one because we work in a field of technology that everybody benefits from but very few people understand.
The challenges of future.
Fintan Walton:
Yeah, that is one of the biggest challenges. But looking going into the future there is two parts to a future, one is the optimistic view and the one that's which is more where the big challenges are, so looking forward into the future now and looking at the on the optimistic side what do you see as the good aspects coming forward and what are the big challenges for you?
Willy De Greef:
What we have with us is still a fantastic research base. We keep training brilliant scientists getting them out of that and that's there I say then in a very employed way that's the raw material on which this industry thrives. And that automatically also puts one of the challenges to me one of the priorities that my board has said to me when I joined EuropaBio was to explain to the institutions how important a thriving public research and education in the life sciences is for the whole of the healthcare industries, following from that the next stage is when these guys spin off their ideas in the small startups what can we do? which policies do we need in place to help that happen? Technology transfer make it easy to get patents. Patents in Europe are complex and expensive. What can the institutions do to create a more easy environment, at that moment the venture capital community in Europe is used to looking into that wealth of raw material so to speak and to thrive to identify winners. And I am sure that they will help us then in identifying the emerging enterprises that will be the big pharma companies of the next decade.
Fintan Walton:
Sure, sure. So one of the challenges then it seems to be this patent issue�
Willy De Greef:
It is a big.
Fintan Walton:
Because if that's not resolved it's not just bad for Europe, it's bad for the world because you are gonna have a very potentially weak or weaker patent system?
Willy De Greef:
That is a really very high profile as this and unfortunately I stepped out of the biotech industry almost 10-years ago to do other things. And I find that we were then already talking about the European patent and I am coming back in now and it's not finished. That is a very major hurdle, I mean Europe wants to talk all the time about creating this knowledge based society, if we agree that knowledge has value then we have to find an honest way to make sure that those people who create knowledge that that value is recognized and that those people can take ownership because that will stimulate more knowledge to be generated. It really is that simple and as trivial as that, but also many policy makers still have a struggle in seeing how they can actually promote this.
Fintan Walton:
Willy De Greef, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show. Thank you very much.
Willy De Greef:
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Willy De Greef
Secretary General
Willy De Greef is a plant biologist with extensive experience in tropical crop breeding (through research management positions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Cameroon) and in technology transfer related to agricultural biotechnology. He has been head of regulatory affairs for two biotechnology leaders, Plant Genetic Systems in the 1980s, and Syngenta Seeds from the late 1990s until 2003. He has been involved in the policy and public debate around agricultural biotechnology (OECD, UNIDO, Biodiversity Convention, Cartagena Biosafety Protocol) and in the development of the regulatory framework since 1986. He has contributed to the development of rational regulatory frameworks for biotechnology for developing countries and in capacity building for biotechnology researchers in the developing world in biosafety assessment and regulatory compliance. Recently he has been head of regulatory affairs and new projects for D1 Oils Plant Science, a biofuel company.
EuropaBio
As the political voice of the biotechnology industry in Europe, EuropaBio's (the European Association for Bioindustries) mission is to promote an innovative and dynamic biotechnology-based industry across the continent. They have 81 corporate and 5 associate members operating worldwide, 6 Bioregions and 25 national biotechnology associations representing some 1800 small and medium sized enterprises. Members of EuropaBio are involved in research, development, testing, manufacturing and commercialization of biotechnology products and processes. Their corporate members have a wide range of activities: human and animal health care, diagnostics, bio-informatics, chemicals, crop protection, agriculture, food and environmental products and services.