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Governments should realise that a large percentage of its investment in start-up biotechnology companies will fail as such according to Jim Greenwood.

The president of BIO, the overarching body for 1100 American biotechnology organisations, says most biotechnology companies will fail, as will most projects within those companies.

“It is the willingness of those scientists and entrepreneurs to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and try again that builds a culture,” says Greenwood who was keynote speaker at NZBio’s annual conference in Palmerston North. He is also attending the upcoming AustBio conference, and his trip downunder was paid for by that organisation as well as the state government of Victoria.

“The strategy for government should be that it is OK if most companies get nowhere,” he says. “What it does mean though is that you keep your best students, retain your best scientists. By building intellectual capability, you reach a critical mass of capacity.”

Greenwood said that an American government mandate that two and a half percent of all Federal research funds must be invested in small business start-ups has been an excellent payback for the country. For 2010 alone, this means US$650 million out of the National Institute of Health’s $32 billion budget will be directed to start-up companies.

“Ideally you want to take advantage of the creativity of the entrepreneurial spirit and peoples’ willingness to take risks,” he said.

Venture capitalists need to build investment portfolios that show a healthy rate of return Greenwood said, but governments should have a wider perspective said Greenwood.

He also commented that like New Zealand, America is finding it is difficult to attract young people to research science.

“I wish Hollywood would put more glamour around how to cure diseases,” Greenwood said.
“Because of TV shows such as NCIS, “everyone wants to be a forensic biologist.”

“Surely it’s much more interesting to figure out how people are not dead!”

Government needs to realise that biotech company investments will probably fail

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