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6-Regulation: Argentina gets serious about biotech



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TITLE:  Argentina gets serious about biotech
SOURCE: Nature, UK, by Veronica Guerrero
        http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050912/full/bioent880.html
DATE:   8 Sep 2005

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Argentina gets serious about biotech

New law could provide the long underachieving Argentinean biotech
industry the incentives and funding to finally test its potential.

Despite the fact that Argentina was one of the first countries to approve
the research and planting of genetically modified crops, the country is
known more for its beefsteak and wine industries than its biotech
business. Likewise, although Argentina is arguably the most
entrepreneurial of all Latin American nations, the country has produced
few biotech startups of any consequence. New government initiatives aim
to eliminate this paradox by boosting tax and investment incentives for
biotech startups and lowering hurdles for bioscience research technology
transfer from universities to startups.

Last May, the industry-savvy Minister of Economy, Roberto Lavagna, highly
regarded in the scientific community, moved the plan forward with the
launch of the Strategic Plan for the Development of Agricultural
Biotechnology. Then just weeks ago, Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner
sent to Congress a draft of the Law on the Promotion and Development of
Biotechnology.

This new biotech law will augment Lavagna's crop-science initiative by
placing the development of all biotech products at the center of
Argentina's development efforts. In addition to creating incentives for
large corporations to create partnerships with biotech startups, the law
will provide seed capital and early-stage funding for young biotechs
through the Fund of Economic Stimulus for New Business Enterprises. The
law, which enjoys broad political support, is expected to pass without delay.

Martin Lema, technical coordinator of the government's Biotechnology
Department, a branch of Argentina's Ministry of Economy, states that the
government will place a high priority on nurturing the most promising
biotechs by ensuring that they have sufficient capital and management
support. The unstated goal for the government here is, of course, to
avoid the mistakes that have undermined other nations in recent years in
their quest to stimulate not just biotech startup activity but also a
viable biotech industry.

"We believe that this law will promote a generation of biotech firms and
products in Argentina that are essential to reaching technological self-
sufficiency with advanced crops and then in novel medicines," Lema said.

Creating a sustainable biotech industry that receives proper nurturing
during its early stages of growth is a tall challenge. But, Argentina
appears to be thinking long term. Among other things, the government
views biotech as central to its long-range strategy of creating a more
diversified and self-sufficient economy.

Indeed, among the factors identified as impediments to the growth of a
viable biotech industry, few have loomed larger in Argentina than the
country's longstanding reliance upon foreign firms to produce the
nation's food and drug innovations. The government also appears to be
serious about reversing the tendency of startups spun out of the national
universities to fail for lack of capital, proper management and a sound
business plan.

Marcelo ArgŁelles, president of Bio Sidus SA, one of Argentina's largest
biotech firms, believes this new government emphasis on biotech has been
a long time in coming. In 1990, Bio Sidus produced the country's first
recombinant protein, erythropoietin, and later jumped to celebrity for
its success in cloning transgenic cows for the first time in Latin America.

"In Argentina, scientific research has been developed until now with a
scarce connection to products," says ArgŁelles. Few demands have been
placed upon government and academe to support biotech innovation and
commercialization. "We have had no long-term polices for the sector and a
gradual loss of government funding for research," he said. Government
planning and funding, he said, are the key to building biotech in Argentina.

Existing biotech firms in Argentina like Biogenesis, Sintesis, BioExt and
BioCeres are hoping that once the new biotech law passes they, too, will
see some benefit from it.

The one benefit that comes from neglect is a well-developed set of
survival skills. Lema says that the biotechs in Argentina that have
endured the drought in government funding and private investment have
been forced to survive within their means. As a result, he believes,
these biotechs have become highly cost effective, disciplined and
opportunistic. These and other factors give Argentinean biotech boosters
reason to believe that Argentina can be a regional contender alongside
Brazil in the coming years. Now it's up to the government to prove its
new commitment to biotech.




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