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Speeding up industrial exploitation of Europe's biotech research

Posted on 23/04/2019

Two European biotech experts give their views on opportunities for European biotech startups.

The KETBIO Biotech Transfer project has recently published two exclusive interviews with experts from European institutions, discussing opportunities for European biotech startups, and trends and emerging technologies in biotech with a focus on rapid plant breeding.

KETBIO is an  EU-funded coordination action under HORIZON 2020 for key enabling biotechnology research, which aims to raise the European innovation capacity. Biotechnology research is seen as a main driver in the circular economy by offering key tools for different fields, among them biorefining, marine and freshwater technologies, energy and waste conversion, food, feed and textile production, agriculture, health and much more.

Opportunities for European biotech startups

Dr Martin Trinker, Business Development Director at the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib), has shared his thoughts on current opportunities for biotech startups, and whether Europe will be able to maintain its position at the competitive edge in industrial biotechnology.

In a very positive interview he talks about the “startup boom” which has resulted from public investment in incubator centres or campus clusters, enabling European researchers to collaborate with industries and acquire business knowledge and access to investors. As an example of how Europe could lead the way in biotech, Dr Trinker highlights the “European Enzyme Google”  – a worldwide dedicated database that allows the identification of new enzymes for industrial biocatalysis and alternative enzymes for medical applications.

Dr Trinker says:

“Europe needs to keep on investing in innovative eco-systems which are a breeding bed for innovative developments through the collaborations between academic research and businesses.” 

You can read the full KETBIO interview with Dr Martin Trinker here.

Benefits of CRISPR/CAS-edited crops

Prof Holger Puchta, a Biochemist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), has been interviewed about his views on the health benefits of CRISPR/CAS-edited crops and their potential to help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Prof Puchta says:

“The molecular scissors we are using with the CRISPR/CAS technology can rapidly multiply sought-after properties in crops. This speed might be necessary: we need to put the appropriate stress-tolerant cultivars in place before the effects of climate change mount, and the security of world nutrition comes under threat.”

Prof Puchta highlights the opportunities for entrepreneurs and startups to come forward with new ideas and novel applications, giving a specific example of how gene editing could enhance the vitamin content,  fruitiness and heat-tolerance of tomatoes. He suggests that CRISPR/CAS-editing techniques could establish a new, improved variety in only one generation, whereas conventional breeding would take many years to achieve the same results.

However, he also touches upon the EU Court ruling of July 2018, which ruled that organisms obtained by mutagenesis CRISPR plant-breeding technology are genetically modified organisms and thus fall under the GMO Directive. Prof Puchta suggests that this might be mitigated – in the short-term – through strong partnerships between academic institutions and firms outside Europe.

You can read the full KETBIO interview with Prof Holger Puchta here.

About KETBIO

The KETBIO consortium, under the lead of the industry association Dechema, brings together chemical industry specialists, researchers, innovation and technology transfer experts and communication professionals from six countries across Europe. Within the KETBIO project, the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) is responsible for project management.

You can get involved with KETBIO on their platform here, and you can follow them on twitter at @ketbio_biotech.