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Bio Technology : July 2009
AusBioFEATURE Industry report: Where biotechnology has been, where it is now and where it’s headed. The biotechnology industry has achieved a great deal in its short and productive history. Since its emergence in the US in the mid to late-eighties, and subsequent establishment of Australian biotechnology in the early to mid-nineties, biotechnology boasts a raft of success stories and a world-class industry. Companies that established in the industry’s earliest days – such as Biota, Cytopia and Pharmaxis – are now mature, well established organisations, with pipelines showing great promise. Australia’s medical discoveries have improved the quality of health for millions of people across the world. These include penicillin, the Cochlear hearing implant, the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, and sleep apnea devices by Resmed. More recently, the development of the anti-viral treatment, Relenza, has come to the fore when it was confirmed that it is one of only two medicines available, effective in treating those affected by the swine flu outbreak. Today there are at least 1,100 companies in the Australian biotechnology sector: 460 covering human therapeutics and diagnostics, plus 636–1,000 medical device companies, as well as ‘cleantech’, industrial companies and those in the agriculture sector. In 2008, 41 US biotechnology patents were granted to companies with at least one Australian inventor cited, with 21 granted to Australian companies.1 The National Institutes of Health awarded more than US$15m to Australian organisations, in 2008, including grants to Biota Scientific Management (US$2.4m as part of an ongoing grant to develop innovative therapeutic and prophylactic applications for biodefense against influenza) and Starpharma Ltd (US$0.6m as part of an ongoing grant for the development of dendrimer and combination microbicides).1 Amongst the success stories, the industry has also had its share of challenges and controversy. Government policy and community debate in complex areas such as GM crops, stem cell research and gene patenting have been, and continue to be contentious in the public domain. In 2008, the first commercial crops of genetically modified (GM) canola were grown in New South Wales and Victoria, producing 11,000 tons from approximately 23,500 acres – and marking more than a decade since the commercial introduction of GM (cotton) crops into Australia. When the moratoria were lifted, it was Victoria which led the way. An estimated 247,000 acres of GM canola will be sown in these two states in 2009. 6 Australasian BioTechnology Volume 19 • Number 2 • July 2009