Global Biotech Industry Revisits Geneva, Seeks To Build Relationships To Help Shape Policies 14/11/2018 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)A global association representing biotechnology industries last week made a second annual visit to Geneva’s institutions to raise awareness of how the industry works, its needs, and how the association could participate better in policymaking. Dismissing fears of industry unduly influencing public policies, two representatives of the association sat down with Intellectual Property Watch‘s Catherine Saez to explain the importance of biotechnology in solving the problems of the world, and the need to raise awareness of the perspective of the biotechnology sector. ICBA members during their recent Geneva visit Representatives of the United States-based International Council of Biotechnology Associations (ICBA) were back in Geneva, after last year’s visit to gain ground on the city policymaking scene. ICBA is a coalition of national biotechnology trade associations with the aim of promoting “public understanding of, and to advocate for, public policies that support the growth of the innovative biotechnology industries,” according to its website. According to Andrew Casey, chair of ICBA and president and CEO of BIOTECanada, ICBA representatives came to Geneva last year to understand the policymaking in Geneva, (IPW, IP Policies, 4 December 2017). The work of some organisations in Geneva impact ICBA members from the regulatory and the intellectual property standpoint, he said. The second goal of the Geneva visit this year is to develop relationships which will allow ICBA to shape public policies that impact ICBA’s members, and the biotech industry domestically, and also internationally. “We are not hoping to change the world, to ‘boil the ocean’,” he said, but to gain a much better understanding of the Geneva scene and build relationships. Joseph Damond, executive vice president for international affairs at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) in Washington, DC, said some parties they met last week advised ICBA to come to Geneva more often. He said ICBA tried to show how industries are engaged in addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, as ICBA was advised last year that SDGs are a good way of engaging a broad range of agencies and organisations in Geneva because SDGs are such an essential part of their work. According to an ICBA presentation, the biotech industry is engaging in a number of the SDGs, and helps address the world’s problems. For example, on SDG1 (End poverty in all its forms everywhere), biotechnology helps small-holder farmers increase their incomes and reduce their vulnerability to climate change, according to the presentation. On SDG3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages), the presentation says biotechnology plays a critical role, in particular in developing medicines to help people live longer, healthier lives. On SDG 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts), biotechnology innovations are critical components in combating climate change, it says. According to an ICBA visual [pdf], “Embracing biotechnology innovation can lead to breakthroughs,” such as curing once-incurable diseases, improving plant health and thus food security, promoting animal health, and addressing antimicrobial resistance. The three most important agencies in Geneva for ICBA are the World Trade Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, and World Health Organization, as they all have work streams that are very important for the biotech industry, even if there is a certain amount of overlap, which can be confusing, Damond said. Not Enough Attention to Biotech in Geneva? To the question whether proper attention is given to biotechnology in Geneva policymaking, Damond said the perspective of the biotech sector is not well understood in Geneva and there is a real need to have a better understanding. There is however attention paid to issues involving the biotech sector, but not always in a good way, he said, and it is mostly based on ignorance of how the sector actually works. Some new technologies, such as genome editing, cut across several fields and there is a need to have a greater understanding of this cross-cutting nature of some of these platforms of technology, said Damond. That relates to issues of access and benefit sharing, such as in the Nagoya Protocol [pdf] on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity, he said. Digital Sequencing Information: Nagoya Discussion Fateful Answering a question about how digital sequencing of resources is impacting the biotech industry, Matthew O’Mara, vice president, international affairs at BIO, said a high volume of information has been gathered from sequencing genomes and organisms. This knowledge is now being stored in public databases, and is freely accessible all over the world. The conversation taking place in the context of the Nagoya Protocol and digital sequencing information could have a chilling effect on freedom of information that the industry is currently enjoying, he said. The 3rd meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol is taking place from 17-29 November in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, and will explore the implication of digital sequence information on genetic resources. [Note: IP-Watch will be on the ground reporting from the meeting.] The restriction of access to information from public databases could create barriers for developed and developing countries, O’Mara said. Should digital sequence information be considered as genetic resources in itself, it would really chill the free flow of information, he argued. Member countries of the Nagoya Protocol should not be racing to create a new access and benefit-sharing system, he said. No Innovation without IP There is an absolute understanding and appreciation of biotechnology and what it represents across the board for every country, said Casey, but the challenge comes with the relationship with intellectual property, and the lack of appreciation of how innovation comes about. There is this “simplistic view of the world by which we can have all the innovation without any intellectual property being part of it,” he said. ICBA as part of its communication needs to develop greater understanding of the importance of IP. “If you want innovation, you are not getting it without a core foundation of IP,” he said. The biotechnology industry is globalising rapidly, it is mostly composed of small entrepreneurs, and really cuts across North and South, Damond said. Fears about Industry at the Table seen as Noxious The mindset that views industry as a problem is not a solution, when “we are the ones solving the problems,” he said, whether it is fuel, health, agriculture, or environmental solutions. “This is where it is happening in the real world,” he said. “Thinking that the input from industry is inappropriate is actually backwards, and it is the issue,” asserted Damond. The biotech industry has to be part of discussions affecting innovation, he said, adding that the industry is finding it difficult to be part of those discussions at some places in Geneva, and ICBA is working to solve that. Civil society often voices concerns about industry sitting at the policymaking negotiating table. According to Casey, “whenever you create a vacuum in the policymaking process you will have an imbalance in the policy.” When creating policy, institutions whether national or international should consult with all stakeholders and gather all information necessary. “We do not have to agree with the end result but at least they will have the input from everybody who is impacted by the policy,” he said. “I don’t undermine the very important role that some of these organisations play outside of industry,” Casey said. He explained that he came from the Canadian forestry products industry, which became one of the global leaders in environmental practice. “A big part of that is because the environmental groups pushed the industry in that direction,” he said. They said you need to do better, and the industry agreed and sat down with them, “and we came up with a better environmental policy” as a group. “In this case [Geneva policymaking], it is paramount that we get it right,” he said, “because if we don’t, what is going to happen is that we will have an imbalance the other way and you will miss out on some of these great innovations.” The innovation being seen in Canada and elsewhere is not coming from big companies but from individuals and very small companies, he said. “If you start developing policy because you are worried about big industry,” that could destroy the entire ecosystem, he said, and the great ideas that were born in small companies will never come forward. “If you want to address problems and change the world, you have to understand how it works,” Damond said. “I don’t think people understand how fragile innovation is, especially in the biotech area, how risky it is.” The companies that BIO represents are dependent on venture capital to fund their projects, he said. As an industry, BIO acknowledges “there are neglected diseases that are under-invested in and we want to be part of the solution, but keeping us away from the table is not the way” to address the problem. “We know better than anybody else why those diseases are so difficult to address,” he said. For next steps, Damond said ICBA wants to move beyond generalities and start having substantive discussions with Geneva-based organisations, and hopes that more ICBA members will engage in the effort. Image Credits: ICBA Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."Global Biotech Industry Revisits Geneva, Seeks To Build Relationships To Help Shape Policies" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.