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Europe's closest thing to an Oscar's ceremony for bioscience will take place in early October. The EuropaBio award for the most innovative European Union biotechnology firm is limited to firms with fewer than 250 staff or turnover or balance sheet of less than about $50 million. The aim is to encourage smaller firms in the sector – the ones that could become the GSK or Sanofi of the future.
This year the five contenders on the short-list are from France, the UK, and Italy. From the UK come two companies. E-Therapeutics is a pioneer in ‘network pharmacology,’ which exploits advances in network science and chemical biology in the search for novel treatments for cancer and disorders of the nervous system. UK-based PsiOxus Therapeutics makes use of directed evolution to develop a virus potent enough to kill cancer cells with minimal effects on healthy cells.
Gensight biologics from France focuses on gene therapy-based treatments for degenerative retinal diseases. Nanobiotix, also from France, works on enhancing the efficacy of radiotherapy treatment in cancer with nanoparticles that can directly enter tumour cells through injection or topical application. And EryDel SpA of Italy specialises in innovative drug and diagnostics delivery through human red blood cells, with its own medical device designed to reduce toxicity and side effects.
The winner receives a little over $10,000 – not much in financial terms, but worth more in terms of prestige, profile and contacts. To boost the impact, this year the award will be presented during the first-ever European Biotechnology Week, which will feature will events across Europe celebrating biotechnology in this 60th anniversary of the discovery of the DNA molecule. EuropaBio, the European association for bioindustries, which is organizing the event, says it hopes to spotlight the potential of Europe's smaller biotech firms and to underline to European policymakers the challenges and financial constraints that they labor under.
The UK bio-industry association has leapt to lend support to the event – unsurprisingly, in view of the strong UK presence on the shortlist. "Having two out of the five short-listed companies shows the strength of the UK biotech sector in Europe. It is great to see our member companies getting the recognition they deserve in this prestigious European competition," said the association's chief executive, Steve Bates.
The extravagant praise from a fellow biotech association is warm, and doubtless welcome to the organizers. But it highlights at the same time the absence of wider public or media hysteria over the upcoming ceremony... Which in turn highlights the indifference – when not expressed as downright hostility – that the biotech sector suffers in Europe. The Oscar-like event is a valiant and imaginative attempt to break through that indifference, and for that alone Europabio deserves a 'Bravo.'