Another pratfall in pursuit of the biotech dream (13/7/2006)

Item 1 reports the latest humiliation in the tragi-comic farce of Scottish Enterprise's infatuation with a biotech future. Item 2 gives the background.

"This notion that you lure biotech to your community to save its economy is laughable," warns the US economist Joseph Cortright, who co-wrote a special report on the subject, "This is a bad-idea virus that has swept through governors, mayors and economic development officials."

1.Europe's biotech 'immigrants' to America
2.Scottish Enterprise - Chasing the Dream!

1.Europe's biotech 'immigrants' to America
By Andrew Pollack The New York Times, July 11 2006 (excerpt only)

LOS ANGELES When the Scottish government injected $9 million into the biotechnology company Cyclacel last October, the country's enterprise minister explained that "there could not be a more important company for Scotland's future."

So how did Cyclacel show its gratitude just two months later? By moving its headquarters to Short Hills, New Jersey, and merging with a publicly traded American company...

In Scotland... Cyclacel's expatriation did raise concerns among that country's biotech boosters. But Scottish Enterprise, the government economic development agency that gave Cyclacel the $9 million, put the best face on the situation. It said that having a Scottish-born company listed on Nasdaq was an endorsement of Scottish biotechnology.

The agency also noted that the company's research was staying in Scotland, as it must do until 2010 under the terms of the agreement for the cash infusion.

But being a good sport has its limits. The $9 million deal had originally called for the possibility of a subsequent infusion of government cash. Last month, Scottish Enterprise canceled that option.

2.Scottish Enterprise - Chasing the Dream

In October 2002 the then Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of Monsanto, Hugh Grant, joined the newly formed international advisory board of Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's main government-funded agency for economic development. Grant's fellow board members included the chief executive of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, and the senior vice-president of Genzyme Corporation, one of the top ten biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

Scottish Enterprise's love affair with biotech began in the 1990s. At the end of that decade it launched a Framework for Action, which committed the Scottish tax payer to injecting nearly $64 million between 2000 and 2004 into the development of 'biotech customers'.

As 'Network Director - Biotechnology' at Scottish Enterprise, Peter Lennox, whose principal previous experience had been in the Food and Drinks (whisky) sector, was charged with the goal of doubling the number of biotech companies in Scotland from 50 to 100.

'Already our Biotechnology industry is world famous for Dolly the Sheep,' Lennox enthused. Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, had come into the world in 1996 at the Roslin Institute, just outside Edinburgh.

In 2000 it was announced that the company behind Dolly, PPL Therapeutics, was to build a drug manufacturing plant in Scotland. Scotland had been chosen, it was said, because of the financial support on offer from Scottish Enterprise which provided guarantees to underwrite PPL's repayment of £13.8m in loans.

For Lennox 'Dolly' was but the icon at the centre of an emerging 'biotech tartan triangle' that could be a major economic driver for Scotland. 'We have many other leading lights,' he claimed, 'who need enthusiastic and well informed young people to bring their talents to the industry in order to both maintain and increase that momentum through the 21st century.'

To help generate those 'enthusiastic and well informed young people' for the biotech sector Scottish Enterprise decided on a highly controversial course of action. In early April 2001 it announced that, 'Your World magazine, an informative and colourfully illustrated publication covering the key current topics of biotechnology, will be introduced to over 600 education establishments throughout Scotland from today, to augment the curriculum literature on life sciences... Produced in the US by the Biotechnology Institute, the magazine has seen great success in America for both education and industry alike.'

To coincide with the announcement, Scottish Enterprise brought together educationalists and industrialists at the Glasgow Science Centre to hear how Scottish Enterprise’s Biotechnology Team had helped formulate teachers’ notes to align the content of seven issues of the magazine to the Scottish school curriculum.

Simon Best, Managing Director of Geron Bio-Med, which like PPL Therapeutics was a commercial off-shoot of the Roslin Institute which produced Dolly the Sheep, spoke at the presentation, noting: 'Scotland is already a globally competitive player in Biotechnology... The education system should be the bedrock of building and maintaining public trust. The publication of 'Your World' is an important step in securing a healthier, wealthier and more sustainable future for Scotland.'

But many thought that the distribution to schools of Your World was a violation of public trust. An article in The Sunday Herald bore the headline, Fury at pro-GM school magazines. The article noted thatYour World was produced in the U.S. by an organisation called the Biotechnology Institute whose funders included Monsanto and Novartis. The President of the Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO) sits on its board. The article noted that, in promoting the magazine, Scottish Enterprise, had failed to mention 'the fact that it has been sponsored by multinational GM companies'.

One issue of Your World was on GM crops. It claimed GM was 'creating better plants' and criticised organic farming. It also su

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