SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 9, 2004 (ENS):
The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) Tuesday
announced the launch of BIO Ventures for Global Health
(BVGH), a new nonprofit organization that will enlist
the biotechnology industry in the fight against neglected
diseases. A $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation got the new nonprofit off to a lucrative
The announcement was made at the biotech industry's
annual convention BIO 2004 at the Moscone Convention
Center, with nearly 17,000 people from 59 countries
"BVGH is unique among public-private partnerships
because it is rooted in BIO and it speaks the language
of industry," said Carl Feldbaum, who is stepping
down as BIO's president and is a BVGH board member.
"With access to BIO's full range of tools, resources
and networks, BVGH can provide companies real strategies
to develop products for these underserved markets."
BVGH will work with companies, donors and investors
to bring new vaccines, therapies, diagnostics and delivery
tools to market in developing nations.
"The last time BIO came to San Francisco back
in the spring of '95, we attracted about 2,700 individuals
and generated a few local newspaper articles,"
Feldbaum told delegates in his last speech as president
of the organization.
"Here we are just nine years later, with more than
16,000 in attendance, including hundreds of appointed
and elected local officials, state and provincial officials,
U.S. and international government officials, and more
than 500 journalists."
Feldbaum told delegates that biotechnology now "touches
life at every level."
He said, "We now sleep on cotton sheets, eat our
meals and take our medicines largely created or improved
But that is the problem, not the solution, in the view
of some 500 people, who gathered early Tuesday morning
at the Moscone Center to protest "biotechnology
and the rise of unaccountable corporate power."
They believe that genetic engineering is ruining the
environment, and the food supply.
With plants, puppets, music, street theater, banners,
and civil disobedience the demonstrators attempted to
disrupt the convention and “shut down biotech
Thirty people were arrested for blockading the street
outside the convention by locking themselves together
around organic plants and symbols of an environmentally
Simultaneously, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors
began consideration of a resolution commending the protest
and drawing attention to the “potentially devastating
repercussions of biotechnology on human health and the
“The biotech industry is promoting tobacco science
in both agriculture and medicine,” said Brian
Tokar a biophysicist based at the Institute for Social
Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont. “They’ve
hijacked scientific research in service of their corporate
agendas, dramatically increasing the cost of drug development
and contaminating our food supply with untested, unsafe
genetically engineered foods.”
Inside, retiring BIO president Feldbaum sees genetic
engineering as beneficial. "We must continue to
find new ways to make drug discoveries, new food and
environmental benefits accessible to underserved, minority
and poverty-stricken populations both here in the United
States and abroad," he said.
Singing what he called the "old, lefty" song,
"If I Had a Hammer," Feldbaum compared the
biotechnology industry's clout to "a political
hammer that we did not have when we began this BIO enterprise
together over a decade ago."
"Your hammer is a formidable political instrument,
but don't use it as a sledgehammer," he said. "Strike
whenever the fundamental foundations of innovation are
attacked - through erosion of intellectual property,
by unreasonable regulatory barriers, or by government
States working to attract bioscience companies are
learning that success means specializing in specific
sub-sectors, according to a new study conducted by the
Battelle Memorial Institute and the State Science and
Technology Institute for BIO and released Monday at
The study is the most comprehensive analysis to date
that quantifies the scope and impact of bioscience employment
in all 50 states. It also examines programs in each
state to promote the development of bioscience companies.
Researchers found that today 40 states specifically
target the biosciences for development and all 50 states
have economic development initiatives available to assist
States are specializing. North Dakota is focusing on
bioprocessing in value-added agriculture, while Missouri
is seeking to become a leading center in plant and animal
health. States such as Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota
and Utah are working in the area of medical devices.
Investments have grown, as much as $500 million in Florida,
and experimental approaches, such as tax credits to
encourage investment in private venture capital funds,
have also increased, researchers found.
More than 885,000 people in the United States are employed
in the biosciences. The largest segment of this group
is working in the areas of medical devices and equipment,
which accounts for 37 percent of bioscience employment.
In 2003, bioscience workers on average were paid at
least $18,600 more than the overall national average
private sector annual wage.
Recent initiatives include Connecticut’s creation
of a $5 million BioSeed Fund, which invests up to $500,000
in early stage companies and Kentucky’s $5 million
Natural Product Fund. North Carolina created a Life
Sciences Industry Revenue Bonding Authority to finance
biomanufacturing equipment and lab fit-outs.
But it is agricultural biotechnology that has raised
the greatest criticism among conservationists, consumer
groups and farmers.
In a statement aimed at the BIO conference, Food First
and the Institute for Food and Development Policy pointed
out that genetically modified crops and new biotechnologies
have been developed "largely at public expense,
but most are now controlled by private corporations."
"With over $40 billion in losses over the past
24 years in pharmaceutical and agricultural biotechnology,
these industries are scrambling for profits, leaving
little incentive to develop crops to help the poor,"
according to Food First.
But according to data released by BIO, commercialized
biotech crops - cotton, soybean, corn and canola - grown
across the country have created $20 billion worth of
value at the farm level.
"Crop biotechnology has not fed anyone but the
biotech industry itself," said Kathleen McAfee,
executive director of Food First. "When commercial
biotech crops were introduced in 1996, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture told Congress that biotech's boon would
come from increased farm productivity and sales of farm
products and inputs by U.S. agribusiness."
According to Food First's research, agricultural biotechnology
has focused on large-scale commercial production. Much
of the research has gone to engineering crops that can
withstand herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup, an
input that costs farmers money but does not increase
"Giant biotech and agrochemical firms profited
immensely from sales of brand name herbicides, the patented
seeds that go with them, and licenses for their use,"
"The only benefit is for the large-scale farmer
who can use herbicides more freely on seeds engineered
to survive spraying. But even this benefit is temporary.
Weeds become resistant to Roundup, like any pesticide,"
she said. "Crop genetic engineering is just another
arm of industrial agriculture, complete with environmental
But BIO says genetic engineering can help beleaguered
farmers, especially in California. Currently, the state's
crop is threatened by Pierce's disease, a bacteria that
has caused an estimated $12 million in damage.
The disease that strangles grape vines has forced the
removal of one-quarter of the vines in one region of
Riverside County, and more than 1,000 acres of premium
wine grapevines in the north coast region have been
killed by the disease.
Biotech varieties with engineered resistance to Pierce's
disease are currently in development, BIO said in a
statement. "Deployment of these biotech protected
vines could eliminate the use of 59 million pounds of
insecticide per year at an annual cost savings of $105
BIO represents more than 1,000 biotechnology companies,
academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and
related organizations in all 50 U.S. states and 33 other
nations. The four day BIO 2004 convention concludes
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All