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Credit crunch threatens new medicines

October 27, 2008

The global financial crisis could seriously delay the discovery and production of many new life-saving medicines, warns a major international conference today (Monday).

Investment into research for new drugs - which globally runs into the billions - is now seriously at threat as former investors in the drug companies shy away as a result of the economic meltdown.

Professor David Wield, Director of the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Edinburgh-based Innogen Centre, and chair of the 'Genomics and Society: Reinventing Life?' conference, delivered a stark warning prior to the gathering of over 200 experts at conference in London.

Professor Wield said: "Investing in biotech companies is now seen as risk taking, and will not be for the timid. What will happen to investment in biotech research if finance cannot even be found for relatively everyday expenses which are increasingly becoming more of a struggle?

"Drug discovery depends on long-term finance with high risk of failure - and lots of it. Financing of biotechnology companies hit $50bn in 2007. And overall, these biotechs only made profits for the very first time last year, amounting to $1bn on revenues of $59bn."

According to Professor Wield, in addition to the impact on the basic research performed at biotechnology companies, development of medicines by pharmaceutical companies has also been hit by the credit crunch. "Like many other sectors, the pharmaceutical industry has had tough times recently - there is seemingly no way to speed up and improve the drug discovery pipeline, and heavily increased R&D has not increased the number of new drugs."

"As a result, big companies have been laying-off staff and closing down research units, instead looking to biotechnology start-ups for new ideas," he added.

In recognition of the significant long term and immediate challenges faced by the pharmaceutical sector the UK Research Councils are working to help underpin future development of the sector for example to find new ways of enabling effective drug trials that enjoy public confidence; and building new research partnership with the sector.

This impact of the credit crunch on research into new medicines and treatments will be considered at the conference as part of a debate featuring two eminent economics experts, Professor Gary Pisano of Harvard University, and Professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The session will be chaired by BBC business journalist, Simon Gompertz.

With so much of the life sciences already intertwined with our everyday life, further conference sessions will concentrate on whether society is keeping pace with advances in biology. These include issues surrounding the use and safekeeping of our personal biological information, the development of sustainable biofuels, and the creation - for stem cell research - of human-animal hybrids.

Other topics to be discussed range from the ethical impacts of emerging disciplines such as synthetic biology - which attempts to recreate living systems in the laboratory and may one day produce artificial life-forms - to the likely contributions the life sciences will make to global challenges such as food security and climate change.

The gathering is the annual conference of the ESRC's Genomics Network, and it brings together social and natural scientists with policymakers and commentators, from all over the globe. This year it has been organised by the network's Innogen centre, which is based at the University of Edinburgh and the Open University.
-end-
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:

For interviews with Professor Wield or other speakers in advance of the conference please contact Dave Stevens (Tel: 0131 651 4747/ 07967 819277 email dave.stevens@ed.ac.uk)

Media places are limited so if you wish to attend, please contact Lara Crossland (Tel: 0131 650 2842, email lara.crossland@ed.ac.uk)

ESRC PRESS OFFICE:
Kelly Barnett (Tel: 01793 413032 / 07826874166, email: kelly.barnett@esrc.ac.uk)
Danielle Moore (Tel: 01793 413122, email: danielle.moore@esrc.ac.uk)

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. Genomics and Society: Reinventing Life? 9am - 5pm 27 October -28 October
2 Savoy Place, London WC2R 0BL

2. OUTLINE
(The full programme can be downloaded at www.genomicsandsociety.org)

Monday

Welcome from Professor Charlie Jeffery, Chair of the ESRC Strategic Research Board

Keynote lecture by Professor Paul Rabinow, University of California at Berkeley on the implications of synthetic biology - including its potential to create 'artificial life'.

Sessions include:
  • safeguarding DNA databases
  • sustainable biofuel development
  • the use of human-animal hybrids in research
  • life sciences in developing countries
  • innovation in the pharmaceutical industry
  • synthetic biology
  • meet the authors: 'Genomes and What to Make of Them'
  • life sciences and the credit crunch
Tuesday

Keynote lecture from Professor Bartha Maria Knoppers, University of Montreal on the ethics of the use of the human genome.

The Knowledge Exchange - debates on (1) the regulation of stem cell therapies and (2) the importance of life sciences to national economies, job creation and sustainable development within the EU

Genomics Futures Panel - a discussion over the future roles for the life sciences in tackling major issues such as climate change, human diseases and food security.

Closing Keynote lecture from Dr Iain Gillespie, Head of Biotechnology Division, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on how policy can ensure genomics serves society.

3. The ESRC Genomics Network Launched in 2002 to examine the social and economic consequences surrounding the development and use of genomics, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Genomics Network is one of the ESRC's largest social science investments. The Network.consists of: Cesagen (Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics) a Cardiff-Lancaster collaboration led by Professor Ruth Chadwick; Egenis (ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society) headed by Professor John Dupré at Exeter; and Innogen (ESRC Centre for Social and Economic Research on Innovation in Genomics) - collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and the Open University, directed by Professor David Wield; and the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, led by Professor Steve Yearley, Professor of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge at University of Edinburgh. http://www.genomicsnetwork.ac.uk/

4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research which impacts on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2008/09 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

Economic & Social Research Council

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