Jane Morris attends BioVision meeting in Lyon, France

The Department of Science and Technology kindly provided funding for Jane Morris’s visit to France to attend the EU-SA dialogue on Knowledge Based Bio-Economy Partnerships for Sustainable Development and the BioVision World Life Sciences Forum, from 11-15th March 2007.

BioVision and the Millennium Development Goals

The theme of the BioVision meeting was “The Contribution of Life Sciences to the Millennium Development Goals”. Accordingly the meeting was attended by a number of prominent international players with a role to play in addressing these important goals, namely:
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the UN Millennium Development Goal programme, stressed that these goals are quantitative, time-bound commitments to be achieved by the year 2015, but so far there have been major delays in progress. The adoption and diffusion of science based technology is at the core of the goals, but technologies do not generally reach the poor because at least a sixth of humanity is too poor to get a foothold in the global economic system. There is a backlog in adoption and diffusion of existing technologies, let alone R&D for new and improved technologies.

Margaret Chan, Director of the World Health Organization, followed this topic by stressing that health system weaknesses are the major constraint to delivery of treatments for malaria, TB and HIV. Public-Private Partnerships are seen as essential for the delivery of existing and new medicines to those in need.

The organization of the meeting provided significant opportunities for discussion forums as well as actual lectures. There was considerable debate on a variety of key issues for the developing world, including

    • the appropriateness of biofuels for the developing world
    • the role of GM technology in agriculture in the developing world
    • strategies to address malnutrition in developing countries
    • health system weaknesses in developing countries
    • IP protection and its relevance or otherwise for the developing world
    • the need for society to drive the research agenda

Nobel Prize laureates

A feature of the BioVision meeting has been presentations by a number of Nobel prize winners. It was not possible to attend all these presentations, but some highlights included a description by Kurt Wüthrich (2002 Chemistry prize) of the analysis of 3D protein structures in solution using NMR; a presentation by Edmund Fischer (1992 Medicine prize) on the role of protein phosphorylation in cell regulation and signalling; and a talk by Bengt Samuelsson (1982 Medicine prize) on the role of prostaglandins and the arachidonic acid cascade in the inflammatory response, leading to the development of anti-inflammatory drugs.

EU-SA dialogue meeting

This meeting was organized as a side event of the BioVision meeting, and was well attended by most South Africans present at the meeting, as well as by some key figures from the European Commission. The meeting was co-chaired by Dr Christian Patermann, Director of Biotechnology Agriculture and Food Research in the European Commission, and Mr Daan du Toit from DST.

At the request of DST Jane Morris gave a presentation on South Africa’s National Biotechnology Strategy, focusing primarily on the Food, Agriculture and Biotechnology domain. She also highlighted South Africa’s successful participation in a number of EU 6th Framework projects with relevance to this area. Dr Antonio Llobell of Plantbio gave a presentation on the implementation of the National Biotechnology Strategy, and explained the various instruments such as the BRICs, National Bioinformatics Network etc.

Following the presentations, Jane acted as a panellist in a round table discussion. During this session, it was agreed that there was an excellent opportunity for South Africa and Europe to build closer ties.

Prior to the dialogue meeting, Daan du Toit kindly hosted a dinner with Line Matthiesson-Guyader, of the Biotechnology, Agriculture and Food Directorate in the European Commission DG Research. This provided an ideal opportunity to further our acquaintance following her attendance of the Bio2Biz meeting in South Africa in 2006.

It is likely that this meeting will open up significant opportunities for future collaboration with Europe in the area of Food, Agriculture and Biotechnology through the EU 7th Framework Programme.