The EC's report is the first on its Life Sciences & Biotechnology Strategy, adopted in 2002. Highlights over the last 12 months include the launch of a high level advisory group on Competitiveness in Biotechnology, the completion of an EU regulatory framework for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and initiatives to boost research and increase the number of scientists in the biotech sector.
However, downsides include Member States' lack of agreement on a Community Patent and the ongoing failure of many States to implement agreed legislation to clarify intellectual property rights concerning biotechnology inventions.
The Report points to the EC's continuing support for Life Sciences and Biotechnology research. Under the EU 6th Framework Programme for Research, financial support to research in this area has been boosted by some 20 per cent, and in the first year of the programme more than €810 million was allocated to research in the areas of 'life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health' and 'food quality and safety'.
More than 2700 laboratories and companies, including about 400 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are involved in this funding programme. As human resources and mobility of researchers are key elements in the acquisition and transfer of knowledge, the Commission has also increased the budget for the area of "human resources and mobility" to €1.5 billion.
The financial situation faced by (SMEs) involved in biotechnology is less critical than previously feared, but still needs to be carefully watched for signs of improvement.
The EC has set out actions for 2004 and beyond and considers newly emerging, but potentially controversial issues such as genetic testing and animal biotechnology. One important continuing challenge is ensuring that the strategy is implemented in a coherent way across the Union. To support this, the Commission proposes a more concerted effort between the Commission, member states and the private sector, focusing on areas where responsibilities are less centralised.
"The development of biotechnology policy must retain a prominent place on the EU's political, economic and social agenda. The Commission therefore expects both the Council and the European Parliament to send a clear signal that biotechnology remains a high priority," it concludes.
Copies of the report are available here.