Solutions for megatrends

Legislation should be forward-looking for all fields of biotechnology.

By Wolfgang Plischke

Opinion by Wolfgang Plischke

North Rhine-Westphalia is already one of Germany's most important industrial biotechnology locations. The generous funding provided by the state government for biotechnological research will be a key factor in enhancing the location's attractiveness in the future.

These biotech innovations create competitive products in an international market and provide job security for the future. The technology also enables solutions for some of the challenges posed by current megatrends including the need to secure the food supply, improving resistance to environmental stress factors, and developing new...

To illustrate the impact that biotechnology has on the development of new therapies, one out of every four new drugs developed today is based on an active substance produced in a "bioreactor" such as bacteria, yeast, or within insect or mammalian cells.

For such high-tech applications, cooperation with scientific institutions in the region is particularly fruitful. Efficient networks and the pooling of mutually beneficial approaches can substantially enhance innovative capacities. Bayer concluded one such cooperative agreement with Cologne University Hospital in early 2008, providing for a higher number of joint clinical studies in oncology, cardiology, and on diseases of the central nervous system. Partnerships of this kind are flagships for the future of North Rhine-Westphalia as a location for innovation.

Amendments to the Genetic Engineering Act are liable to make it impossible for Germany to keep pace.

Another way of promoting the development of innovative biotech products is to integrate biotechnology enterprises from the region into a major company. Bayer Schering Pharma, with products like Kogenate and Betaseron, is one of the 10 leading biologics enterprises in the world. To supplement our in-house biotechnology we acquired Cologne-based Direvo Biotech in the fall of 2008. Direvo's protein engineering platform uses high-throughput technologies for the quick identification and optimization of biological pharmaceuticals. The platform has already played a successful part in picking out a substantial number of proteins that add to Bayer Schering Pharma's preclinical pipeline.

We are also involved in the production of medicines from plants which will become a quick, efficient, and cheap way of supplying proteins required for the treatment of diseases.

In the agricultural sector, green biotechnology is an indispensable new tool. The world population continues to grow exponentially. Forecasts indicate that in 2050 we will have about 30 percent less arable land per capita available for food production than is currently the case. The repercussions are obvious. Accordingly, it is essential to increase crop security and the yield of globally important plants like rice, other grains and soybeans by using modern breeding technologies like hybridization and plant biotechnology. Yet, while the value of red biotechnology for healthcare purposes is acknowledged in German society, plant biotechnology is hampered by current legal provisions and a general lack of acceptance. Further amendments to the Genetic Engineering Act are liable to make it impossible for Germany to keep pace with the United States, India, and China.

However, the outlook for innovations from industrial applications, known as white biotechnology, the situation is more favorable. White biotechnology is gaining enormous significance for the chemical industry, for example in the production of plastics from renewable resources. NRW is already one of Germany's most important industrial biotechnology locations and the new biotech network CLIB2021 will enhance it even further. This network brings together all those actively involved in the NRW biotechnology sector.

For Germany as a whole, the legal parameters will need to be just as forward-looking in future if the products derived from biotech research are to be successfully marketed. This includes a close review of the legal provisions in force with regard to genetic engineering. Appropriate regulations based on scientific foundations will be necessary if modern biotechnology is to be successful.

Wolfgang Plischke is member of the management board of Bayer AG. His responsibilities include innovation, technology, and the environment.

Interested in reading more?

Magaizne Cover

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?