Yesterday, the European chemical trade group CEFIC joined forces with biotechnology group EuropaBio to launch a public-private partnership aimed at reversing this trend.
The announcement follows on the heels of a UK initiative reported by In-Pharmatechnologist.com aimed at improving access by biotechnology players to low-cost manufacturing and bioprocessing expertise.
The project, called the Technology Platform on Sustainable Chemistry, plans to increase investment on research and innovation and thereby boost European competitiveness in this sector.
The platform will provide a forum for addressing a number of key issues affecting the industry, including the emergence of industrial biotechnology, reaction and process design, materials technology, and cross-cutting issues including the environment, health and safety, education and skills, research infrastructures and access to risk capital.
The aim is to bring together industry, research centres, the financial world and regulatory authorities to develop a strategic research agenda for the sector.
"Research is the primary source of innovation in the knowledge-intensive chemical industry and is driving the sector forward," said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin at a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to highlight the new programme.
He told the meeting that the European chemical industry has an impressive track record of developing new products and manufacturing processes, but the challenge is to improve the transformation of laboratory ideas into new sustainable products and services to boost EU competitiveness.
"The EU chemical sector only spends 1.9 per cent of its sales on R&D, less than the US (2.5 per cent) and Japan (3 per cent)."
The new platform is expected to increase the creation of public-private partnerships to "address the barriers to innovation and encourage the industry to invest more in research," he added.
Europe's trade in chemicals has grown from €14 billion in 1990 to €42 billion in 2002, with some 25,000 enterprises employing 1.7 million people. But to sustain this growth, it is vital the industry finds a balance between long-term technology driven and short-term market-driven research.
The three strategic technology areas that are considered the most fertile sources of innovation - industrial (white) biotechnology, materials technology and reaction and process design - have the potential for transforming the chemical industry, according to the European Commission, which is supporting the venture.
For example, a recent report referred to by In-Pharmatechnologist.com on industrial biotechnology, showcased at the BIO meeting, revealed how industrial biotechnology is improving the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, as well as other products, by reducing the environmental impact of these processes.