Give programs time to mature: Radke

By Tanya Hollis
Tuesday, 09 April, 2002

Calls for the government to initiate further commercialisation programs were premature, according to Commonwealth industry body Biotechnology Australia.

General manager Sandy Radke talked about programs outlined in the four-year, $30.5 million National Biotechnology Strategy released in July 2000.

"There are still increasing calls for commercialisation, but I am not convinced we have let some of the programs we have put into play enough time to work. She said there were not enough indicators at this stage and "some things haven't yet come on stream.

"So whether or not we have solved the problem of how to commercialise our ideas hasn't really been tackled yet."

A major initiative of its National Biotechnology Strategy was the $20 million Biotechnology Innovation Fund (BIF), with the second round of funding for 22 recipients announced this month.

Another key platform of the strategy is the five-year $46.5 million Biotechnology Centre of Excellence, with 11 proposals currently under consideration by an external expert panel.

Biotechnology Australia was set up in 1999, at the same time as the Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, to deal with non-regulatory issues.

The body covers five government departments: industry, tourism and resources; health and ageing; agriculture, fisheries, forestry; education, science and training; and environment and heritage.

It performs a secretariat role for the Commonwealth Biotechnology Ministerial Council and also coordinates the embryonic Commonwealth, State and Territory Biotechnology Liaison Group, as well as the newly announced non-government Australian Biotechnology Advisory Council.

Radke said the biotechnology sector in Australia and overseas was currently experiencing a very exciting period of growth and development.

"Worldwide it is still a small industry, but the sector growth rate in Australia has been quite strong," she said. "There seems to be a lot of investment capital around once a company gets to proof of concept or pre-clinical, but you still need money to get the projects off the ground.

"It's still a little too early to tell whether some of the projects state and federal governments have put into place in this area, one of which is BIF, are working."

Radke said future issues dealt with by Biotechnology Australia were likely to be more specific and less broad ranging, with public awareness and ethical issues high on the priority list.

She said the body would also examine closely the effectiveness of existing schemes.

"Centre of Excellence will be launched soon and BIF will have gone through at least one year so we will be looking to see where else we can make a difference," she said.

"What we don't yet know is whether Australia will have critical mass, good networking and clustering."

Radke said that, in a policy sense, Biotechnology Australia was also attempting to come to grips with international issues, particularly ways of attracting overseas investment.

"More and more biotech is getting very global and you have to look at what is going on out there," she said.

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