Industry Opinion: The Biotechnology Sector can bring Benefit to the Society only via long-term sustainable Investments
By Riin Ehin, Estonian Biotechnology Association
The Estonian biotechnology sector is young and dynamic. When we compare our biotechnology industry with countries like Denmark, Sweden or Finland to name a few who have dedicatedly been developing their biotechnology sector for several decades, we have to admit that we are at the beginning of a long road.
At the same time the Estonian biotechnology sector is growing at a rate of 28 % annually, the added-value of the biotechnology industry is among the highest in Estonian economy and the number of new jobs in the sector is growing exponentially.
First results have already been outlicenced to the global market or are in use in bordering sectors like medical industry, food processing industry, agroculture etc.
Biotechnology is also continually under special attention of the Estonian State: Estonian parliament has approved the Estonian Research and Development and Innovation Strategy 2007-2013 “Knowledge-Based Estonia”, where biotechnology is defined as one of strategic key technologies in supporting R&D and innovation. The Estonian Biotechnology Strategy was put together some years ago as a joint effort of the state, academic research institutions and the industry sector. A State Biotechnology Programe was launched in 2010. In Estonian conditions considerable resources from EU Structural Funds as well as public money have been invested to various biotechnology projects under different funding schemes. All the public allocations have been generously co-funded by industrial investments. In several occasions the private investments to new initiatives have been several times higher than the public ones.
However, as the period from primary invention to a final product ready for the market is usually quite substantial in biotechnology, it is important to have a long term commitment from the investors, be they private or public. Investments to any sector characterized by a long period of return on investment and high risk are always under the threat caused either by economic crisis or the different visions of the politicians currently in power. Or both, in the worst cases.
The most important success factor in any life-sciences related technology development is well-educated, clever and dedicated people. Well-educated, clever people tend to move to the countries or to the sectors where they can have some kind of security to achieve long-term ambitious aims. Together with clever people clever companies also move and change according to the surrounding conditions.
Countries like Estonia, where the biotechnology sector is young and vulnerable to all kinds of negative influence from the surrounding ecosystem, should make a choice – either to choose the way of the Nordic countries who have been investing into different stages of biotechnology R&D even in difficult times and have achieved a sector that brings in up to 10 % of the total export (in case of Denmark) or alternatively the way of some other countries where public intervention mainly depends on the lobby-based political decisions.