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II.6  Science, Industry and Knowledge as a Public Good


Chair M.G.K. Menon former President, ICSU; India
Rapporteur: Albert Fischli F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, Switzerland

Session co-ordinator: Albert Fischli F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, Switzerland
Local secretary: ╔. Ehrlich Research Institute for World Economics, Hungary


The pharmaceutical industry and
rapidly expanding molecular-genetic knowledge

Albert Fischli
F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, Switzerland

Pharmaceutical industry is spending about 16 to 19 percent of its sales income for research and development. This strong commitment for innovation is by far the highest in industry. In spite of this fact, own as well as independent calculation show that R&D productivity, brought about by these resources, is not satifying industry’s demand. In order to enable one of the top 15 pharmaceutical companies to grow on its own, just a little bit faster than the pharmaceutical world market, the output of novel products has to be multiplied. In other words, the 1996 average output of 0.66 New Molecular Entities (NMEs) launched on the world market p.a. and per company has to be increased to 3 to 4 NMEs p.a. and per company. Moving towards this goal, on the scientific-technological end substantial assistance is offered by the molecular-genetic knowledge explosion. Discovery and development departments have the opportunity to follow a rational pathway at the molecular level addressing diseases still laking acceptable therapeutic treatment.

Genomics, bioinformatics, functional genomics, fast selection of target proteins, ultra high throughput screening, combinatorial chemistry, robotics, swift selection and evaluation of the lead are the milestones and technologies needed. Today, a lot of these steps are made in synergy with small and medium-sized companies (SMEs). In the upcoming years collaboration of pharmaceutical firms with academia and especially with SMEs will probably gain in importance.

However, in order to allow a steady flux of new products and services through research departments and development pipelines, new knowledge must be available, or in other words must have been created first. Without that, industry will not be able to translate knowledge into products and services. Therefore, funding of basic scientific research has to go on or better has to be increased. It goes without saying, that this is mainly a governmental task today. A strong governmental funding policy is endowing academia with the financial instruments required for education of the next generation of scientists as well as with the opportunity to subsidize more basic scientific research projects. As a consequence, more new knowledge can be created at academic research centers by the well known and successfully operating mechanism, i.e. driven by the passion to understand. In doing so, academy has the possibility to make sure that the two key assets required for industrial innovation, i.e. people and new knowledge, are at the disposal of industry. Without ongoing creation of new knowledge sooner or later innovation of new products and services will mandatorily come to a halt.

For big pharma as well as for SMEs active in the health business it is of utmost importance that governments are maintainig their philosophy to strongly finance, or better to increase subsidies for basic scientific research and education. This is in the very own interest of all of the main stakeholders of innovation, i.e. governments, society, academia and industry.

The revolution in biology: prospects for the future

Paul Berg
Stanford University Medical Centre, USA

The "revolution in biology" has initiated more than a new era for understanding living things. It has initiated research with unprecedented implications respecting our ability to influence living things, including ourselves, in fundamental ways. Today we can deal directly with the fundamental source of the properties that distinguish the living from the non-living. The logic of life, its origin and evolutionary history can now be read in each organism’s genes. Furthermore, many of the conjectures concerning the extraordinary diversity and relatedness of living forms are informed by precise information on the molecular structure, expression and regulation of genes and their encoded proteins.

Today, the molecular-genetic paradigm dominates biological research. It has altered both the way questions are formulated, solutions are sought and biological phenomena are to be understood. Even a brief look at journals in such diverse fields as chemistry, evolutionary biology, paleontology, anthropology, linguistics, psychology, plant science and, surprisingly enough, forensics, information theory and computer science shows the pervasive influence of this new paradigm.

The dramatic and extraordinary progress in biomedical sciences has also spawned a thriving biotechnology industry whose list of products benefiting human health and well being is increasing continually. Hormones, vaccines, therapeutic agents, and diagnostic tools are enhancing medical practice. The production and consumption of genetically engineered food plants are realities. There are more than 1500 biotechnology companies in existence today. By the year 2000, there are expected to be about 2500 such companies in the u.S. Alone, employing ~250,000 people. That growth could be even more explosive as the genome project and its consequent discoveries progress.

Because the course of future research is inherently unpredictable in outcome we can be certain of only one thing: from future research will emerge major new concepts, concepts that will be as unexpected as those that startled the present generation of biologists. A changing perspective is the history of science, and the current hubris is not immune to that imperative. Moreover, we should bear in mind that the successes that have been achieved do not amount to a complete or even a very profound understanding. On the contrary, current ignorance is vaster than current knowledge. Nothing in the man-made world rivals the complexity and diversity of living things. There are in nature remaining to be discovered new questions, raised by the very achievements themselves. And of course, we should be wary: some things that we now think we know may become less clear in the years to come, or even prove to be utterly wrong.

Research and development, innovation and
the knowledge-based economy:

The Canadian experience

Arthur J. Carty
President, National Research Council, Canada

Innovation can be defined as a process that includes both the creation of ideas and the application of those ideas into products and services. Innovation is an interactive process in which people creating knowledge must have an ongoing dialogue with people creating products. All players in the innovation spectrum, from fundamental to applied, must be connected and linked with effective feedback mechanisms. In an innovative, knowledge-based economy, productivity means focusing less on amount produced and more on value. Our capacity to add value to what we produce depends on our ability to access and use knowledge, scientific research and infrastructure that supports innovation in all sectors. In order to innovate, a country must have a number of critical elements in place, such as a strong research base, highly qualified workforce, information infrastructure, support mechanisms for innovative firms and technology transfer processes. These factors will be outlined.

The Canadian situation is different from that of its major trading partners. Government R&D, particularly through Canada┤s National Research Council, plays a unique role by making strategic investments to increase innovation and ultimately economic growth and productivity. The Canadian economy has a large resource sector, many branch plant manufacturers and numerous innovative small business and few large R&D-intensive companies where people involved in medium-to long-term strategic research can interact with those developing products and services. Compared with its trading partners, Canada has very few multi-national enterprises and those that do exist count for 44% of R&D in Canada. And the OECD has pointed out, Canada has an innovation gap. We are able to create ideas and knowledge but less able at transferring that knowledge into the marketplace, developing products and generating applications. NRC has some important programs in place to bridge this gap.

With few R&D intensive companies in Canada, there has been an increasing focus on developing networks and partnerships to enhance our R&D capacities, and to building industrial clusters at a regional level as the basis for a knowledge-based economy. There is a unique role for government and the National Research Council in this regard. Over the past five years, the federal government has made a number of strategic investments in the creation of scientific knowledge and in the innovative capacity of Canadians, and some of this investments will be described.

The electronics industry

Bernt Ericson
Vice-President of Research and Technology, L.M. Ericsson, Sweden

The mechanical and steel industry

Eckhard Rohkamm
Thyssen Industries AG, Germany

Government funding

M.G.K. Menon
former President, ICSU; India


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