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Australasian Biotechnology (backfiles)
AusBiotech
ISSN: 1036-7128
Vol. 10, Num. 4, 2000, pp. 4-12
Untitled Document

Australasian Biotechnology, Vol. 10 No. 4, 2000, pp. 4-12

NEWS

Code Number: au00038

MINISTER LAUNCHES NATIONAL BIOTECHNOLOGY STRATEGY

The Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Senator Nick Minchin, launched the National Biotechnology Strategy on 3 July 2000, committing more than $30 million as further support for Australian biotechnology development.

Speaking in Brisbane at the opening of the ABA 2000 conference, Senator Minchin said that the Strategy fulfilled the Government’s 1999 commitment to develop a comprehensive approach to the growth of biotechnology in Australia.

“Australia has developed world class strengths in biotechnology-related medical, agricultural and environmental research,” Senator Minchin said.

“Existing Commonwealth Government support for biotechnology now stands at more than $250 million each year. Through biotechnology we are developing innovative products, building fast-growing enterprises, attracting international investment and creating high-value employment.

“This is evidenced by a recent report by the Australian Research Council and the CSIRO showing Australian biotechnology patents taken out in the US have increased 249% in recent years, more than double the rate of increase of such patents from the rest of the world.

“The most critical barrier to biotechnology development in Australia is the commercialisation gap that exists between research discovery and identified commercial product.

“A key priority of the national strategy is to establish a $20 million Biotechnology Innovation Fund (BIF) that will help bridge this gap. The Government will seek matching funds for the BIF from the private sector and State governments, to provide a pool of funds for proof-of-commercial-concept funding for biotechnology projects, starting next financial year.”

Other priorities of the Strategy include:

  • identifying the requirements and costs of segregating gene technology;
  • promoting public awareness;
  • establishing an environmental risk research program;
  • developing national biotechnology networks; and
  • ensuring market access for Australian agriculture and food biotechnology products.

“This is a living document which will be modified over time, with elements of the Strategy being further developed in collaboration with industry, the research community and the broader community over the next year,” Senator Minchin concluded.­

The strategy was prepared with the advice of the Biotechnology Consultative Group, chaired by Tony Bates, which identified three key issues to be addressed: ensuring the effective regulation of biotechnology research and application; providing balanced information to the public on biotechnology issues; and addressing the gap in early-stage funding and management and the creation of biotech clusters.

Another initiative is the establishment of a high-level Biotechnology Advisory Council to advise on non-regulatory biotechnology issues including research and development, international links, commercial developments, public interest issues and ethical issues.

Other components of the Strategy are grouped under seven headings:

Biotechnology in the Community

  • raise public awareness and engage the community in discussion of regulatory processes, including testing of GM foods and labelling, and assessing and managing risks to human health and the environment;
  • consider ethical issues relating to biotechnology research and applications;
  • address issues for rural communities, including the impact of biotechnology on agriculture and food industries;
  • strengthen Australia’s expertise in medical genomics and biotechnology within the health and medical research sector;
  • develop indicators to measure the public benefits that biotechnology can deliver in sustainability, natural resource management and biodiversity conservation and to publicise these benefits.

Ensuring effective regulation

  • introduce a nationally enforceable system of regulation that safeguards the community and the environment against possible risks, while acknowledging the needs of the biotechnology industry.

Environmental Risk Assessment

  • establish a framework and a methodology for risk assessment; identify priorities for a risk assessment program;
  • work with CSIRO and other agencies to improve basic knowledge and assess environmental risks associated with GMOs;
  • monitor and evaluate risks.

BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE ECONOMY

  • establish a critical mass for biotechnology research, commercialisation and application through the development of clusters, incubators and networks;
  • strengthen intellectual property management;
  • enhance application of biotechnology to industry by providing market information, innovative approaches to farm/industry extension, technology foresight studies, and demonstration projects.

AUSTRALIAN BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE GLOBAL MARKET

  • coordinate the activities of Invest Australia, Biotechnology Australia, State and Territory organisations and industry, promoting capabilities in overseas markets;
  • improve the assessment of developing food markets, establish a committee to monitor trends in GM, non-GM and co-mingled markets;
  • maintain an active role in international forums to ensure decisions do not disadvantage the trading environment for Australian GM agriculture and food products;
  • strengthen international research cooperation.

RESOURCES FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY

  • enhance management skills in the biotechnology sector, attract high quality researchers and experienced leaders, encourage entrepreneurship, and monitor demand and supply of specialist skills;
  • facilitate greater cooperation among research funders and performers to assess and support biotechnology research;
  • encourage continuing research leading to the introduction of biotechnology into agriculture and food production and processing systems, particularly through the rural Research and Development Corporations;
  • develop measures to enhance access to biological resources, including resolution of legal issues on the ownership of Australian biological resources; establish nationally consistent regimes on access.

MAINTAINING MOMENTUM AND COORDINATION

  • coordinate Commonwealth biotechnology-related policies and activities, and maintain cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories.

Biotechnology Australia, in collaboration with its five member departments, will have the key role in implementing and evaluating the National Biotechnology Strategy and in coordinating and managing the government’s non-regulatory biotechnology activities.

For copies of the Strategy contact the Gene Technology Information Service 1800 631 276 or visit the biotechnology website at www.isr.gov.au/ba

GENE TECHNOLOGY BILL TABLED

The Federal Government’s Gene Technology Bill 2000 was passed in the House of Representatives on June 22, and has been referred for inquiry by the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

The Bill establishes the statutory office of the Gene Technology Regulator (GTR), together with three committees: the Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee, the Gene Technology Ethics Committee and the Gene technology Community Consultative Group.

AUSTRALIAN RESEARCHERS WIN ACCESS TO CELERA DATABASES

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has signed an agreement with US-based Celera Genomics, which will allow Australian researchers at publicly- funded institutions to access the full genetic data on human beings, mice and Drosophila (fruit fly).

Under the agreement, researchers will be among the first in the world to have access to Celera’s supercomputer (the second largest in the world) and its extensive database with advanced computer search and structural capacities.

Under the agreement, each participating institution will be required to pay an annual license fee of approximately $6,000. Database products available through the agreement include the Human Gene Index, which contains 1.6 million expressed sequence tags (ESTs), the Human Genome Database, the Drosophila Gene Index, the Drosophila Genome Database, the Mouse Genome Database and the Human Polymorphism Database.

Professor Warwick Anderson, Chair of the Research Committee of the NHMRC said Celera had been “extremely public-spirited in making its valuable data searching and matching capabilities available at minimal public cost”.

The new Chair of the NHMRC, Professor Nick Saunders, said that the ethical, health and research aspects that will flow from an increasing understanding of how the human genome works and interacts with disease will be a major focus of the NHMRC over this triennium.

INSTITUTE WARNS OF SLOW INDUSTRY GROWTH IN QLD

A survey commissioned by the Brisbane Institute has shown that Queensland’s investment in biotechnology is not necessarily going to lead to a rush by biotechnology companies to relocate to the State.

In the survey of chief executives from interstate biotechnology companies, 93.3% said it was “extremely unlikely they would relocate to Brisbane”.

Executive Director of the Brisbane Institute, Professor Peter Botsman, said he was shocked by the results.

INQUIRY BACKS USE OF GMOS

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Regional Services has tabled its report on access by primary producers to gene technology, recommending that gene technology continue to be used, “but only with stringent regulation, constant and cautious monitoring, and public reporting.”

The Committee found that the benefits of using GMOs in agriculture were not yet widely apparent, and some early projections of gains from biotechnology have been ‘overly enthusiastic’, as evidenced by the mixed results of the use of Bt cotton. Further, there were a range of negative environmental and health impacts and unknown risks of GMOs, some of which may not been known for decades or even centuries.

The Committee concluded that applying gene technology to agriculture could benefit farmers, consumers and the Australian environment and economy. However, given the range and diversity of GMOs it was appropriate that each one be considered individually before being used.

It argued that continuing research into specific GMOs and into more general impacts and implications was essential and recommended that Commonwealth funding should be increased for research into the potential benefits and risks (environmental, health, social, economic and ethical) presented by GMOs.

PROJECT TARGETS BIOTECH AWARENESS AND TRAINING

A $1.35 million joint project involving Murdoch University and Curtin University of Technology will aim to raise awareness of food science and biotechnology, boost opportunities for vocational training in schools, increase training in the food industries, promote new technology and advance food science education in rural and remote areas.

SINGAPORE POURS MONEY INTO LIFE SCIENCES

The Singapore Government has made a major commitment to its rapidly growing biotechnology industry, with S$1 billion allocated to the Economic Development Board to encourage top-class private sector R&D investment into Singapore in the areas of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, nutrition and healthcare, and medical devices.

A further S$60 million will be invested over five years to launch the Singapore Genomics Program.

This program will focus on the genomics of ethnic groups in the Asia Pacific region, studying the genetic basis of diseases such as liver cancer, breast cancer and infectious diseases which are significantly different in their incidence in the Asia Pacific, and commercialising new diagnostic methods and treatments.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA INQUIRES INTO BIOTECHNOLOGY

The SA Social Development Committee has been directed to inquiry into the likely social impact of biotechnology on South Australia.

The inquiry will be conducted in two sections - biotechnology and health, and biotechnology and food production.

The Presiding Member, Caroline Schaefer, said the Committee was likely to table two interim reports and a final report which would provide information about major advances, issues and impacts of biotechnology, and would help direct Parliament to areas where legislation and/or regulation was needed, education was required, and to industry sectors that should be supported, as well as areas where caution was indicated.

For further information, contact Robyn Schutte (Secretary to the Committee) on telephone (08) 8237 9416.

BIO21 TO MAKE VICTORIA A WORLD LEADER IN BIOTECH

The Victorian Premier, Mr Steve Bracks, recently launched a major new biotechnology initiative, Bio21, that will create thousands of new jobs and make Victoria an international centre for health research.

Mr Bracks said the first stage of Bio21 was a $400 million biotechnology precinct at Parkville, which would create a world-leading cluster of medical and scientific research institutes working in the booming biotechnology industry.

“Bio21 helps make Victoria the indisputable national leader in biotechnology and links our economy into one of the world’s fastest growing industries for health products and drugs,” Mr Bracks said.

“It will bring together skills and resources to dramatically increase Australia’s contribution to areas such as genetics and cancer research, and turn locally-grown scientific ideas into exports worth millions of dollars a year.

“Bio21 will be a flagship to market Victoria’s biotechnology credentials and will be a cornerstone in the biotechnology strategic plan which the Government will release later this year,” he said.

Bio21 at Parkville will be funded by the University of Melbourne ($50 million), the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research ($4 million), the State Government ($50 million), private investors and developers ($26 million) and philanthropic donations ($34 million).

A commercial arm - Bio21 Commercial - will give local researchers and smaller biotech companies access to financial expertise and international markets and ensure that new discoveries reach their commercial potential and reap the economic rewards.

The Minister for State and Regional Development, Mr John Brumby, said an impressive list of research organizations such as Monash University had agreed to become Bio21 partners.

“Bio21 is exciting because it holds out the real possibility that a cure for diseases like cancer, HIV, Alzheimers or diabetes could be developed here in Victoria,” Mr Brumby said.

Construction of the Parkville project will begin in October 2001 with work commencing on a $108 million facility dedicated to applied biotechnology research.

The project will include an extension of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and construction at the old dental hospital site of a state-of-the-art facility to use computer technology to explore the frontiers of human disease.

At the launch of Bio21, a KPMG study was revealed which found the investment would create:

  • thousands of new jobs annually;
  • investment estimated to be worth $30 million a year;
  • at least 10 new biotech companies annually and potentially many more;
  • millions of dollars worth of highly lucrative smart exports annually; and
  • an improved standing for Australia’s international reputation for innovation.

The University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Gilbert, congratulated the Victorian Government on its support for Bio21.

“To compete successfully on the international stage we need to work together. Bio21 will achieve this. Despite our strong international reputation in biomedical research, Australia has not performed well in its commercial development. It is absolutely essential that we rectify that situation through Bio21,” Professor Gilbert said.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Director, Suzanne Cory, said Bio21 provided some of Victoria’s best minds with the ability to develop new diagnostics and medicines and take them to the clinic.

“And for me, one of the most exciting outcomes is the opportunity to provide new career opportunities for many more of the best young scientists in Australia,” Dr Cory said.

The Professor of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Graham Brown, said Bio21 would provide great outcomes for patients.

“Ideas for new treatments need to be tested, refined and tested from the lab to the hospital. Bio21 completes this cycle,” he said.

For more details, see: www.bio21.org

ANZFA RELEASES SAFETY REPORTS ON GM FOODS

Parliamentary Secretary, Health and Aged Care, Senator Grant Tambling, recently launched a booklet aimed at demystifying the complex safety assessments carried out by the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) on genetically modified (GM) foods.

Speaking at a Parliament House function, Senator Tambling said Australians rarely have any valid basis for questioning the safety of foods on supermarket shelves for human consumption. Every so often, however, community attention is drawn to the safety of foods - usually as a result of a product recall or when an advance like biotechnology is adopted by the industry.

“ANZFA has developed an assessment process equal to the best in the world to check the safety of GM foods and the booklet - GM foods and the consumer- explains this process in plain English,” Senator Tambling said. “No other food agency in the world has been so transparent with its assessment process or as willing to have the basis of its decisions made available for public scrutiny.

“The booklet will be posted on the ANZFA website and could well prompt other countries to adopt the ANZFA safety assessment process for their own regulatory purposes.”

Senator Tambling said ANZFA has a role not only to assess the safety of GM and other foods, but also to ensure that special interest groups and consumers are aware of the integrity of the safety checks.

Also at the Parliament House function, former Federal Health Minister and current Chairman of the ANZFA Board, Michael MacKellar, released safety assessment reports on five GM foods for public comment.

The foods - involving genetically modified corn, cotton, canola and soybean - appear in thousands of processed foods ranging from ice cream to sausage skins, from margarine to mayonnaise.

Mr MacKellar said 17 safety assessment reports on GM foods will be released over the next three months, with ten weeks being provided for interested parties to supply ANZFA with comment supported by evidence. Reports on Bt cotton and Roundup Ready soy have already been released.

“All the scientific data presently before ANZFA indicates that the GM foods under assessment have all the benefits of the corresponding conventional foods and no additional risks,” Mr MacKellar said. “Companies have spent tens of millions of dollars to provide ANZFA with the necessary information for each GM food - it’s not a cheap process.

“No wonder we say that no food in the history of foods has been subjected to such scientific scrutiny.”

Copies of the booklet and the five safety assessment reports are available on the ANZFA website at www.anzfa.gov.au.

SCIENTIST DEFENDS ROLE OF GM CROPS

Genetically modified crops are not a threat to the environment or human health, and have significant consumer benefits, a University of Queensland scientist told delegates at the ABA 2000 Conference in Brisbane.

“GM crops are now grown in 12 different countries with a total area of 40 million hectares (twice the area of Great Britain),” Dr Jimmy Botella said. “But we are still waiting for the threat of environmental disaster to materialise. Data from large-scale commercial fields of GM plants clearly show that there has been a dramatic decrease in the use of insecticides, herbicides and other nasty chemicals.”

Dr Botella is the Director of UQ’s Plant Genetic Engineering Laboratory, which employs 20 scientists working on diverse aspects of plant biology and biotechnology. Its main interest is the improvement of fruits and vegetables such as pineapple, papaya, mango and broccoli by genetic engineering.

Dr Botella said genetically modified (GM) food was the centre of a worldwide debate about its safety for human consumption and the environment.

“Self-proclaimed ecologist groups proclaim that there is a possibility of long-term unforeseen consequences for the human health but the fact remains that after 13 years of consuming GM food there hasn’t been as much as a skin rash caused by this kind of food,” he said.

“So, how natural or unnatural are GM foods? Almost all plant varieties produced during the last centuries are the result of artificial genetic recombination. The natural parentals do not resemble in any way the products that we serve everyday on our table. GM foods are no more natural or unnatural than the rest but can provide the consumer with enhanced quality and nutritional properties that would be extremely difficult to achieve by other less reliable classical (but still artificial) methods.”

Dr Botella said one of the many promising applications of biotechnology was to reduce the wastage experienced in fresh fruits and vegetables after harvest. Twenty to 80 per cent of harvested crops were lost before they reached the consumer.

“In developing countries the losses can reach dramatic proportions and force small farmers to sell sub-optimal produce with the inherent health risk to consumers,” he said.

“Our laboratory is developing fruit varieties with slower rates of ripening that will last considerably longer than regular varieties without the need for refrigeration or the use of artificial chemicals.

“We have cloned and characterised a gene that regulates the production of the plant hormone that controls the rate of ripening in papaya fruits. Through genetic manipulation we are producing transgenic plants in which the gene has been partially silenced therefore increasing the effective life of the fruits.

“The new varieties will produce fruits that will remain longer at the nutritional peak and will also last longer therefore increasing the quality of the fruits and decreasing spoilage.”

PROCESS DEVELOPED TO REMOVE HEAVY METALS

A process to remove heavy metal from industrial liquid waste by using fungi, including that which causes wood degradation and bread mould, has been developed by researchers at Swinburne University of Technology’s Centre for Applied Colloid and BioColloid Science, in Melbourne.

Research Manager - Surface Science at the Centre, Dr Russell Crawford, discussed progress on this environmentally important project at The ABA Conference in Brisbane. Dr Crawford said that industries producing aqueous heavy-metal waste include tannery, alloy manufacture and electroplating industries.

“The heavy metals used in these processes can have a detrimental effect on both human health and the environment,” he said, “Currently methods for their removal often involve precipitation of the metals by the addition of an alkali, or base, which is expensive and results in high pH solutions that can be harmful to aquatic systems. Our research involves the removal of the heavy metals chromium(111), nickel(11) and zinc(11) by absorbing them onto the surface of biological solids of fungal origin. These include the fungi responsible for wood degradation and bread mould. So far we have demonstrated that the addition of these fungal solids to waste metal solutions reduces the pH at which these metals can be removed from solution.”

AUSTRALIA SEEKS LEAD IN PROTEIN MAPPING

CSIRO and Australian hi-tech company, Proteome Systems Limited (PSL) are moving quickly to capitalise on scientific interest in proteins generated by the success of the Human Genome Project.

PSL and CSIRO have signed an agreement to develop opportunities for research collaboration in the cutting-edge fields of proteomics and bioinformatics.

DRAFT RISK ANALYSIS OF THE APPLICATION FOR GENERAL RELEASE OF ROUNDUP READY® COTTON

In November 1999, the Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (IOGTR) received an application from Monsanto Australia Limited for general (commercial) release of Roundup Ready® cotton. Roundup Ready® cotton plants have been genetically modified to be tolerant to the herbicide Roundup® (glyphosate).

Under current arrangements for consideration of applications for general release of GMOs, the decision on general releases of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is made by the Minister for Health and Aged Care.

The IOGTR is now seeking comment on the draft risk analysis from any interested party before finalising its advice to the Minister for Health and Aged Care.

The draft risk analysis, and a fact sheet which summarises the risk analysis, http://www.health.gov.au/tga/genetech.htm

FUNDRAISING APPEAL FOR THE RENOVATION OF THE DOME

The Academy of Science is raising funds for the renovation of the Dome. The Dome is a unique, heritage-listed building, closely identified with the development of science in Australia. Designed by Sir Roy Grounds, it has been a Canberra landmark since its construction in 1958-59. It is the only Australian building to have won two Royal Australian Institute of Architects awards. The copper dome is larger than St Paul’s in London and St Peter’s in Rome.

Information about the fundraising campaign is on the Academy website at www.science.org.au/dome.

NEW WEB SITE AND BOOK FOR AUSTRALIAN FOOD PRODUCERS

Australia’s food producers and exporters received a boost with the launch in Canberra by Federal Agriculture Minister, Warren Truss, of a comprehensive new web site and an innovative new publication to help industry benchmark its performance and find new trade opportunities.

Mr Truss said the new Food Info Australia web site - www.affa.gov.au/ foodinfo - and the Australian Food Statistics 2000 book, will help our food producers maintain and grow their markets both at home and overseas.

The Food Info Australia website is at www.affa.gov.au/foodinfo while the FoodConnect Australia website is at www.foodconnect.com.au

GM FOOD CONCERNS DO NOT REFLECT REALITY

GM food concerns in Australia are not as high as some anti-GMO interest groups or the media often portray them, according to the Manager of Biotechnology Australia’s Public Awareness Program, Mr Craig Cormick.

Recent research conducted for the Commonwealth Government agency Biotechnology Australia has shown that Australian consumers have several higher food concerns than GM food. It also shows they are actively seeking more factual information on GMO issues, and that media stories on GMOs are slowly tending towards more positive coverage - despite the fact they are still perceived to be overwhelmingly negative.

Surveys conducted over the last twelve months show an increase in acceptance of GM products, including GM foods, as the public debate on GMOs moves from being driven by misinformation and hysteria to an increased need for factual-based information.

Mr Cormick also said that many consumers were unhappy with media coverage of the GMO debate, and while the media was nominated as the most common source of information, it was not the preferred source, with most people preferring the internet at over the twice the rate of newspapers.

Mr Cormick said that the research followed up by community discussion around the country, showed that the public were turning away from the polarised arguments of pro and anti-GM lobby groups, and seemed less interested in the sensational, European-based stories, or hysteria-driven comments being made, and were actively looking for new and more trusted sources of information.

In response to public demand Biotechnology Australia has established a website (www.biotechnology.gov.au) and a freecall hotline (1800 631 276) where the public can obtain more factual and balanced information on GMO issues that address the risks and the benefits of the technology.

CSIRO DIABETES RESEARCH

CSIRO scientists are using biotechnology to find out how insulin ‘switches on’ receptors on the surface of cells in the body to allow them to absorb sugar, an important source of energy.

It is part of a broader biotechnology project to understand cell surface receptors, the sites on the cell surface that detect chemical messages such as insulin, insulin-like growth factors and epidermal growth factors. The CSIRO team has spent approximately 10 years on this important project.

According to CSIRO scientist, Dr Colin Ward, the long-term aim is to develop a tablet that mimics insulin and ‘switches on’ the insulin receptor to enable the cells to absorb sugar. Similar information will also indicate how to ‘switch off’ the uncontrolled growth of cells that is characteristic of cancer.

“While the research into these cell-surface receptors still has a long way to go, the implications, especially for persons with type-one diabetes, are enormous. It would provide great lifestyle improvements,” he said.

“It would mean that people with type-one diabetes could take an oral medication rather than having to inject themselves with insulin every day.”

MELBOURNE COUNCIL BACKS BIOTECHNOLOGY REPORT

Networking events, seed funding and international visitors are just some of the recommendations in the Boston Biotechnology Mission Report recently presented to the City of Melbourne.

The report emphasises the urgency required and significant opportunities available for Melbourne to become the ‘Innovation Gateway’ to Victoria.

Compiled from observations and recommendations by the City of Melbourne business delegation which travelled to Boston in March, the report has been presented to the Council and will be passed to the State Government to assist strategy development.

Key suggestions within the report include:

  • developing a ‘bioconnector’ body to stimulate and assist the industry;
  • appointing a ‘biotechnology ambassador’ to be based overseas and assist technology transfer;
  • implementing a global strategic plan to protect intellectual property;
  • increasing networking, education and collaboration between the finance, biotechnology and service sectors through a ‘Forum Series’; and
  • lobbying for ‘soft loan’ and significant financial assistance for seed and incubator funding.

RESEARCHERS ON THE ROAD TO DEVELOPING ‘GREENER’ OIL

Griffith University researchers have found that microorganisms living 2,000 metres below the earth’s crust in oil reservoirs could play an important role in reducing toxic fuel emissions.

Their research may also help oil producers extract more than the current 50% yield from oil wells.

Associate Professor Bharat Patel of Biomolecular and Biomedical Sciences said some of the micro-organisms, which live in temperatures between 30 and 80ºC, could be developed to extract sulphur from crude oil, thereby preventing its release into the atmosphere.

“When some of these micro-organisms are added to the oil, they facilitate the removal of sulphur. It is our hope this research will lead to the development of a cleaner petrol which can be used in existing vehicles.”

BIOTECHNOLOGY BOOKLET A BOOST FOR STUDENTS

A new resource on biotechnology for secondary schools across Australia was launched on 6 July 2000 by the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Senator Nick Minchin.

The Biotechnology Revolution booklet is a joint initiative of Biotechnology Australia, the agency responsible for coordinating the Commonwealth Government’s activities in biotechnology, and the University of Technology, Sydney.

The new biotechnology booklet contains sections on the science of biotechnology, its applications, including cloning and health and medical uses; and the ethics of gene technology. It will be distributed to secondary schools across the nation with the assistance of the Australian Science Teachers Association.

COLORADO USA LABELLING INITIATIVE FAILS

A coalition of protest groups has been unsuccessful in establishing a Colorado law to require food manufacturers to label all foods and beverages created through GM technology, in contrast to the situation recently decided for Australia and New Zealand. They failed to gain sufficient signatures for the bill by 7th August for it to be placed on November’s ballot.

BOOKLETS ON AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY

The Bureau of Rural Sciences has produced two booklets providing information about agricultural biotechnology.

The first, Agricultural Biotechnology: What is happening in Australia in 2000, is based on an internal document, Agricultural Biotechnology: Understanding The Science, produced by the Joint Bureau of Rural Sciences/National Offices Gene Technology Taskforce.

It outlines current applications and potential benefits of biotechnology for the agricultural sector, and the spread of transgenic crops and current field trials around the world.

The second publication is Biotechnology: Questions and Answers, which provides basic information about the use of biotechnology in agriculture and food production.

The documents are available on the internet at www.brs.gov.au/new.html.

PLANT BREEDER’S RIGHTS

A draft of the Plant Breeder’s Rights Amendments Bill 2000 is now available for comment. The purpose of the Bill is to clarify the rights of breeders in certain circumstances where restrictions are imposed; to enhance the access of breeders to the Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR) Scheme ; and to improve the administration of the Act and of the PBR scheme. There are also a number of other amendments. Further information and comments should be forwarded immediately to: bob.blazey@affa.gov.au The home page of PBR can be found at: www.affa.gov.au/agfor/pbr/pbr.html

MELBOURNE TAKES OVER GENE TECH INFORMATION SERVICE

The Gene Technology Information Service (GTIS), trialled in a pilot program by CSIRO on behalf of the Federal Government’s agency, Biotechnology Australia, is to be operated on a permanent basis by the University of Melbourne’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

The purpose of the GTIS is to provide an information service to the public on issues to do with gene technology. Calls to the service will be handled by Sarah Brooker, a Science graduate from James Cook University with a graduate diploma in Science Communication from ANU. The GTIS is the key plank of Biotechnology Australia’s communications strategy, which also includes a brochure on gene technology distributed in supermarkets around Australia and a booklet to be sent to all Australian schools as a resource for teachers. The GTIS can be contacted on 1800 631 276.

VICTORIAN PROTOCOL FOR GM RESEARCH

The Victorian Government has released a protocol for research by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) involving genetic modification. Under the protocol, all NRE research involving GMOs must assess the public benefit including the contribution to the development of more ecologically sustainable agricultural systems and the building and securing public sector science capability for community benefits.

It must not limit market choice through creation of monopolies, create unfair advantage, provide exclusive access to public assets, or have adverse environmental impacts. Prior to any involvement in GMO research, NRE will assess whether the arrangement contributes significant economic, environmental and social benefits to the Victorian community.

A copy of the protocol is available at: www.nre.vic.gov.au, under Science and Research

RESTRUCTURING FOR ADELAIDE UNI

The University of Adelaide has formed a new Department of Molecular Biosciences through the amalgamation of the Departments of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology and Immunology. The Department, is to be headed by Professor Peter Rathjen.

Professor Rathjen said the amalgamation would encourage collaboration between the three constituent departments and help to re-establish South Australia as a major centre for bioscience in Australia. The three departments will be rehoused in a new building next month.

IOGTR MONITORING SYSTEM

The Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (IOGTR) has released an information bulletin outlining an interim system for monitoring compliance by proponents with recommendations of the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee (GMAC) for the conduct of field trials. The system will be used until a legislative basis for regulation of GMOs is established following passage of the Gene Technology Bill 2000.

The IOGTR Information Bulletin, Monitoring compliance with GMAC recommendations for the conduct of field trials, is available from the IOGTR Office on (02) 6270 4318.

PEOPLE

The Queensland Department of Primary Industries has appointed Dr Peter Young to head its strategic biotechnology unit, a part of its new Agency for Food and Fibre Sciences.

Dr Young, whose work includes the development of plant-based oral vaccines for livestock and the development of recombinant vaccines for bovine respiratory disease, has held a senior research position in the Department since 1986. His appointment as Director of the Agency’s Queensland Agricultural Biotechnology Centre follows his role as the Centre’s Deputy Director since 1996.

Adelaide-based biotechnology company BresaGen announced on 26 June appointment of two key senior executives. They are former InterAg senior executive James Anderson and Atul Kacker, who has worked for the past five years at FH Faulding.

International pharmaceutical and health care company, F H Faulding & Co Limited (Faulding) announced on 31 July that is Faulding Pharmaceuticals division has appointed two new senior executives to help direct its oral and injectable pharmaceuticals business.

Robert Sanzen has been appointed as Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing and Dieter Weinand as Vice President, Business Development and Strategic Marketing. They will both report to Frank Condella, the division’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

Adelaide-based gene research company Bionomics Limited is pleased to advise of the appointment on June 9 2000 of Professor Sam Berkovic of the University of Melbourne to its Scientific Advisory Board (SAB).

Professor Berkovic is the Director of the Epilepsy Program at the Austin and Repatriation Medical Centre at the University of Melbourne. He is a clinical neurologist and clinical researcher and his main research interest is the genetics of epilepsy. His research has been recognised internationally by the 1995 Epilepsy Research Recognition Award and the 1998 Lennox Lecture of the American Epilepsy Society. In 1998 he was awarded a personal Chair in Medicine from the University of Melbourne.

THE INNOVATION PATENT SYSTEM

The Patents Amendment (Innovation Patents) Bill 2000 was introduced into Parliament on 29 June 2000. The major objective of the Bill is to introduce the new innovation patent system to replace the current under-used petty patent system. The Bill implements the Government’s response to the Advisory Council on Industrial Property’s report, Review of the Petty Patent System.

The purpose of the innovation patent system is to stimulate innovation in Australian small and medium enterprises SMEs. It would do this by providing Australian businesses with intellectual property rights for their lower-level inventions at present, competitors may be able to copy them. For this reason, a firm making lower-level inventions cannot be certain of capturing the benefits that come from their commercial exploitation. This lowers the incentive to innovate.

Some forty-eight other industrialised countries, including Japan and Germany, have already introduced second-tier patent systems. Experience from overseas suggests that the main users of the system will be small and medium-sized domestic firms. Overseas firms do not tend to be large users of second-tier systems they seek industrial property rights in foreign countries only for the major inventions that can be covered by rights that have the longer-term benefits provided by the standard patent system. The innovation patent should therefore provide better access to intellectual property rights and foster innovation by local SMEs.

The innovation patent will be relatively inexpensive, quick and easy to obtain. It will provide the same scope of protection as the standard patent, however it will require a lower inventive threshold than that required for a standard or a petty patent. An innovation patent will have a maximum patent term of eight years, compared to a twenty-year term for a standard patent.

An innovation patent will be granted after a formalities check and will provide the patent owner with a right that is quick and cheap to obtain, is relatively simple and lasts for a sufficient time to encourage investment in developing and marketing the invention. Businesses using the innovation patent system will benefit from cheaper, simpler processes that provide a granted patent more quickly. They will not have to bear the cost of substantive examination (the costly and time-consuming process in which the invention is assessed against statutory criteria) unless this becomes a commercial necessity.

Although innovation patents will be available for most of the types of invention currently covered by standard patents, they will not be available for plants and animals or biological processes. Innovation patents will be available for processes such as cheese and wine making and the synthesis of industrial compounds using microorganisms.

It is anticipated that the Patents Amendment (Innovation Patents) Bill 2000 will have passage through Parliament during the upcoming Spring Sittings, which commenced on 14 August 2000. (The Bill can be accessed on the Internet at www.aph.gov.au/legis.htm and clicking on Current Bills (by Title).) If you have any comments on the innovation patent system, including the exclusion of plants and animals please send them by 22 August 2000 to Dr Albin Smrdel, Director, Development & Legislation Section, phone (02) 6283 2097, fax (02) 6281 7247 or email asmrdel@ipaustralia.gov.au

VICTORIA PRIZE FOR DONALD METCALF

The Victorian Government has announced this year’s winner of the prestigious Victoria Prize. The annual prize recognises an individual whose scientific discovery or technology innovation has significantly advanced the State’s knowledge base and future economic growth. The prize has been won by Professor Donald Metcalf AC FAA FRS whose life quest to understand how blood cells are generated by the body has benefited over a million patients and stimulated a billion dollar biotechnology industry. Professor Metcalf is internationally recognised as the father of modern haematology. He is the Carden Fellow at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) for Medical Research, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Melbourne. Our congratulations to Professor Metcalf.

At the same ceremony six Victoria Fellowships were announced for emerging leaders in science, technology and engineering. The lucky recipients of these $15,000 travel grants are: Ms Joanna Barry, Dr Leonid Churilov, Dr Christopher Fluke, Dr Michael Halford, Ms Agnes Ho, and Dr Anthony Ladson. Dr Halford (growth factors and communications between cells) and Ms Ho (membranes and large scale protein separation equipment) both work in areas of biotechnology. Our especial congratulations to them.

FAULDING FUNDS NEW CENTRE OF COMPLEMENTARY HEALTH

Pictured, from left to right, are Professor John Hay, Vice-Chancellor of Queensland University; Professor Peter Brooks, Executive Dean, Health Services at the University of Queensland; Dr Ed Tweddell, Faulding Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer; and David Murphy, Faulding Healthcare Chief Executive Officer.

Australia international healthcare company FH Faulding and Co Limited is providing $500,000 to the University of Queensland to establish Australia’s first Centre of Complementary Health Practice within a traditional health science faculty at an Australian University.

The Centre will be located in Brisbane and play a major role in educating the community about the use of complementary medicines.

Faulding is providing the sponsorship over a five-year period, which also includes funding for research activities. Faulding is Australia’s leading provider of complementary medicines, with brands such as Cenovis®, Golden Glow® and Nature’s Own®.

Professor Peter Brooks, Executive Dean of Health Sciences at the University of Queensland, said one of the aims of the Centre would be to investigate many of the social trends associated with complementary medicines.

“The Centre will have the expertise to make a real difference in the way we look at complementary medicines, including the social considerations that drive people to take them.”

According to a 1998 ABS Survey, Australians consume as much traditional medicines, vitamins and mineral supplements as prescription drugs. Australia’s complementary medicine market is estimated to be worth $A600 million annually.

The writer holds shares in F.H.Faulding

INDUSTRY NETWORKING EVENT

29 September 2000, 9.30 - 11.30am, Club Centre, Wharf 7, Darling Harbour, Sydney

WINNING BIOTECH BUSINESS

The Australian Biotechnology Association and Business Club Australia invite you to join them as their guests for this key biotechnology event.

The event is hosted by the Australian Biotechnology Association, Australia’s peak national body representing biotechnology business, and sponsored by the leading Australian biotechnology companies Aoris Nova, Biotech Australia and Gradipore, the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the Federal Government’s agency for promoting biotechnology - Biotechnology Australia, and the New South Wales Government’s Innovation Council.

The visual and spoken program is designed to give guests an overview of the business of biotechnology in Australia. Three distinguished speakers have been invited to make short presentations on bio-business in Australia during the first hour, and there will then be opportunity for guests to meet the speakers and to network with their business colleagues in the sponsoring organisations and with each other.

The program is as follows:

  • Welcome and Introduction to Sponsors - Dr Neil Willetts, Director, Australian Biotechnology Association
  • “Biotechnology Business in Australia” - The Hon. Mark Vaile, Minister for Trade, Australia
  • “Australian Biotechnology Successes” - A distinguished Australian scientist
  • “Case Study: a Successful Australian Biotechnology Company” - Dr Tim Wawn, Gradipore Ltd

Further information about the Australian Biotechnology Association and Business Club Australia can be found at their websites, www.aba.asn.au and www.businessclubaustralia.com.au respectively

Register early to avoid disappointment! You do not have to be a member of the Australian Biotechnology Association or Business Club Australia to register.

You can get to the Club Centre at Darling Harbour by metro light rail or ferry, alighting at Pyrmont Bay; by monorail, alighting at Harbourside; or by a short walk or taxi from the city.

Copyright 2000 - Australiasian Biotechnology


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