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Bio Technology : July 2009
AusBioFEATURE AusBiotech has been active and successful in GM crop advocacy, and were responsible for a range of incremental developments, including publications that supported the development of agricultural biotechnology under the appropriate regulatory systems and represent an industrywide approach to lifting the State-based moratoria. GM Crops: Preparing for the Path to Market, was produced in 2005, and followed on from The impact of State-based moratoria on investment, innovation and Australia’s future in biotechnology, in 2004. AusBiotech worked with the media, providing scientifically supported comment on issues surrounding the adoption of GM crops. Australia has a world-class regulatory system for assessing both the environmental, health and food aspects of GM crops. The scientific approach taken by our regulatory agencies – the Office of the Gene Technology Regulatory and Food Standards Australia New Zealand – is supported by AusBiotech and the continuation of such systems will remain. The bioethical debate on stem cell research was also significant for the industry, stimulated by both hope and fear. Opponents advanced arguments similar to the abortion debate around embryonic stems cells, and scientists and disease sufferers alike were excited about the possibilities for future therapies. By 2006, 82% of Australians supported embryonic stem cell research2 . AusBiotech was extremely active and vocal in this issue, campaigning, speaking with the media and writing to members of Parliament – and providing detailed information through a number of opinion editorials in state and national newspapers. But the most recent outrageous event for the industry was the unexpected axing of the Commercial Ready program in the 2008 Federal Budget. Perhaps because it came just before the much-anticipated report on the Federal Government’s innovation review, led by Dr Terry Cutler. The resulting land mark report, Venturous Australia, laid out clearly the industry’s needs, and was expected to help garner public policy support for this valuable industry. The popular grants scheme, provided $200m3 a year to SMEs, aimed at encouraging the creation and growth of Australian companies by fostering R&D, proof-of-concept and early-stage commercialisation. When the axe fell, more than 70 companies4 were left stranded. Add to that, the onset of the global financial crisis, which saw the banks tighten up credit markets, and the stock market meltdown that caused investors to pause, and we had what AusBiotech CEO, Dr Anna Lavelle, described as ‘the perfect storm’. Capital raised by listed biotechs plummeted from $943m in 2007 to $183m in 20084 $18m each) to one in 20085 and IPOs fell from nine in 2007 (raising on average . Volume 19 • Number 2 • July 2009 Australasian BioTechnology 7