France outlines plans to kickstart biotech

Related tags Life sciences Biotechnology

France's drug industry has started filling in the detail of its
strategic plan to boost the standing of the biotechnology sector,
first unveiled at the end of last month. At the heart of the plans
is a quadrupling of the production capacity for biopharmaceuticals.

The French drug industry organisation LEEM, in conjunction with France Biotech recently issued a report which made a series of recommendations to the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, for the 2005-2015 period in the biotechnology sector to attract inward investment to France.

The move comes shortly after the angst in the build-up of the merger of Sanofi with Aventis - when it looked possible for a while that France would lose its only nationally headquartered pharmaceutical major - and at a time when the LEEM is estimating that the number of pharmaceutical scientists will shrink by 2012.

The new plan calls for the life sciences and nanosciences to be made an absolute priority of R&D and for the establishment of two or three centres of excellence in the life sciences, linking the academic, clinical and private sector research.

France's new national research agency, the ANR, should focus over the next 10 years on the life sciences and nano- and biotechnology, devoting 60 per cent of its budget to these areas with spending of at least €1 billion a year, says the report.

LEEM has now put forward five main proposals under the Biomedicaments 2010 initiative. Firstly, it says France needs two or three 'biopoles - biotechnology centres of excellence - to lend impetus to research in biological therapies. Citing the US Silicon Valley, created around the universities of Stanford and Berkeley and the concentration of risk capital and companies around Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, the FB and LEEM envisage a life sciences centre in the Paris region and one for the nanosciences at Grenoble.

Secondly, tax credits for researchers working on the development and production of biologics should be implemented. Thirdly, a national fund to sustain and support clinical trials of biopharmaceutical products. Fourth, funding for the setting up of new biomanufacturing plants and lastly a national effort aimed at boosting recruitment and training in the biotechnology sector.

The industry group notes that France is Europe's largest drugs producer but has only six biopharmaceuticals plants, and this could have serious consequences for the future of French drug research. Biopharmaceuticals represented over 40 per cent of the new molecules launched onto the global market last year and, according to the Arthur D Little consultancy, up to 137 biopharmaceutical products will be launched by 2010. In order to achieve this, production in the sector will have to quadruple, LEEM says.

The UK has also recognised the need to increase biological production capacity, particularly for smaller companies. It recently started building a national biomanufacturing centre in Liverpool that will help small biotechnology companies fund and produce clinical quantities of their candidate drugs, allowing initial trials without the expense of setting up their own facilities or paying market rates for contract manufacturing.

The establishment of effective national biopharmaceutical production will likely require investment of €250-€300 million per production unit but, the LEEM notes, this would create almost 3,500 jobs in 10 years, half of which would be for highly-qualified scientists.

Annick Schwebig, vice-president of the LEEM biotechnology committee, said France must be made more attractive to capture a share of the growing market for biological drugs, and that production plants are needed to produce batched of candidate drugs for clinical testing.

The France Biotech and LEEM report maintains that 'an immediate and sustained effort' is needed if France is again to be a major player in the biopharmaceutical sphere.

Recovery is possible, says the report, provided these major structural and sectoral

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