26.09.2018 – Professionalisation and the search for partnerships in the biotechnological sector
- The opening day of the 9th International Meeting on Biotechnology, BIOSPAIN 2018, addressed the challenges of agrobiotechnology and innovative investment
- Experts spoke of the need to increase food production while fighting against climate change
- During the ‘Big Pharma Presentations’, representatives of some of the leading companies in the sector set out their projects with the aim of finding collaboration channels
- The session ‘Early stage financing and impact investment in biotechnology’ has provided keys to identifying promising proposals in the first phases of development
Seville, 26 September 2018. Ways of building on advances in biotechnology in food and the fostering of innovation through partnerships between investors and entrepreneurs formed the focus of the sessions on the opening day of the Ninth Edition of the International Meeting on Biotechnology BIOSPAIN 2018, which is being held on 25-27 September in Seville.
The first day of BIOSPAIN 2018 gathered some of the leading experts in biotechnology applied to the agri-food sector at European level during the Agrobiotechnology Forum. This session was led by Soledad de Juan, an agronomist and the presenter of the programme Onda Agraria on the Onda Cero radio station. She raised the challenge of achieving agricultural production that guarantees sustainable food for the entire global population.
Along the same lines, Graham Brookes, an economist who specialises in agro-industry highlighted the challenge represented by “the need to increase food production while fighting against climate change”. Mr Brookes focused his speech on the regulatory aspects with regard to the European Union and said that it is impossible “to achieve environmental sustainability without economic sustainability”.
Mr Brookes also expressed his regret that the new technological changes have now been halted for regulatory reasons and by “20 years of negative information that runs contrary to scientific evidence”.
With regard to society’s fear of these techniques, Jordi García-Mas, from the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG), issued a reminder that crops have always been genetically modified.
Andreu Palou, the Director of the Molecular Biology Laboratory of the University of the Balearic Islands, also spoke about the beliefs held by the general public. He singled out many of the statements made in the food industry about the nutritional properties of what are called functional foods (low in fat, rich in fibre, lacking in calories etc.) are confusing for consumers. Mr Palou therefore called for greater regulation to ensure that these claims are supported by scientific evidence.
In terms of specific experiences to improve crop efficiency, Francisco Egea, Vice-Chancellor for Research of the University of Almeria, based his talk on his region, which is one of the world’s largest horticultural production areas. Mr Egea explained the research work being conducted there to make what is now a very efficient model of greenhouse crops even more so by recovering certain forms of waste from production.
During the session ‘Foodbiotech and bioprocess’, ample attention was paid to this use of biotechnology for human food through examples like the pioneering research being conducted in Andalusia by a consortium of companies and public institutions to apply marine biocomposites to human food. Francisco Javier Fernández-Acero, the General Manager of Transfer and Technological Innovation at the University of Cadiz, made this the subject of his speech in which he explained the latest research being conducted in the microalgae plant of Endesa’s electric power station in Carboneras (Almeria). The research enjoys the support of a variety of public and private entities such as Nealgae, Novatec, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and has the backing of FEDER Funds and the Ministry of Economy.
Finally, Giancarlo Colelli, Professor of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences of the University of Foggia (Italy), spoke about the improvement over recent years in the safety of fruit and vegetables that are provided clean and packaged.
Investment in innovation from the major pharmaceutical companies
The pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, MSD and Novartis took part in the session Big Pharma Presentations, in which they discussed innovation and how it is being fostered. For the first time in BIOSPAIN, the Big Pharmas are seeking collaboration channels with biotech companies for the projects they are currently undertaking.
Antonio Gómez, Head of Business Development in Spain of Johnson & Johnson Innovation (JJI), described his company as “the solution” arrived at by Johnson & Johnson, a hugely diversified company, for centralising and empowering collaboration with researchers. “The main aim of this new company, which was created in 2013, is to collaborate with external innovators”, said Mr Gómez, who spoke of business incubation, advice on R&D and business development among the actions carried out by the company in support of the ecosystem of entrepreneurs. “In summary, we want to be an active partner in the Spanish innovative ecosystem”, he concluded.
Meanwhile, Lilly is researching those innovation approaches that could improve success rates in the discovery of new medicines. María Ángeles Martínez-Grau, Senior Research Advisor at Lilly, stressed the importance of open innovation strategies and how the company’s OIDD (Open Innovation Drug Discovery) programme provides a wide variety of tools for affiliated researchers.
Paul L’Huillier, the Head of MSD’s European Innovation Hub, said that his company has hundreds of clinical trials in progress. With regard to the manner in which MSD fosters this innovation, Mr L’Huillier stressed the importance of strategic partnerships.
Finally, Begoña Carreño, the Worldwide Head of BD&L Respiratory with Novartis, highlighted some of the pharmaceutical company’s achievements in 2017. She said that Novartis received 16 in-principle approvals and six Breakthrough Therapeutic Designations from the FDA.
Investment in innovation
With regard to the attracting of investment for innovation, the other major subject covered on the opening day of BIOSPAIN 2018, this produced various responses to issues raised both from the scientific viewpoint and, more notably, from the world of venture capital.
The session Early stage financing and impact investment in biotechnology, looked at attempts to find an answer to the open question of how, from the viewpoint of the investor profile, to manage inherent risk.
“It is necessary to know which projects to invest in and which not to, which tools can be provided to the company to, on the one hand, hand it all the possible advantages and, at the same time, as investors to obtain a return on this investment”, explained Clara Campàs, the moderator of the session and Partner & co-founder de Asabys Partners.
Thirdly, it should be exitable, i.e. possible to exit the investment at some stage. “A company with the aim of obtaining a turnover and growing for 20 years is not attractive for a venture capital fund. Therefore, it is necessary for this enterprise to be able to leave at some stage so that either another fund takes its place or the company is sold to a larger company”.
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