The chairman of EuropaBio explains to Linda Banks how he believes accelerating uptake of biotechnologies can address European and world challenges
It was DSM's strategy of using biotechnology across its pharma, food and industrial activities that drew Stephan Tanda to join the Netherlands-based company in 2007.
His appointment coincided with his immediate accession to the board of the biotech industry organisation, EuropaBio. DSM's CEO had been one of the founding fathers of the organisation back in 1996, thus confirming the company's keen support of biotechnology.
Almost five years on, Tanda is now chairman of the board of EuropaBio and sees a large part of his role as one of guiding the implementation of its strategies.
In 2014, projections suggest that 50 per cent of the top 100 drugs will be biotech medicines. Further, by 2015, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that biotech knowledge will be used in the development of all new pharmaceuticals.
Tanda believes that new growth opportunities in Europe will come from innovation, coupled with the rapid uptake of that innovation: “The pharma industry in particular has the potential to be revolutionised by biotechnology, as a tool in the discovery process, as more and more modern medicines are biotech-based and increasing numbers use biotech diagnostics,” he explains.
However, the route is not straightforward and he is concerned about the great length of time it can take to put new treatments into the hands of patients.
“We have to ask how we can help accelerate patient access to these upcoming drugs and adapt approval processes to bring them in line with the new technology.”
Stephan Tanda was born in Innsbruck, Austria, where he later studied polymer engineering at the University of Leoben.
He moved to the US and attained an MBA at the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania.
He joined DuPont's Geneva office in 1991, holding positions in Europe and the US. In 1998 he was appointed director corporate planning and later vice president strategic planning and new business development agriculture, nutrition and bio-based materials for DuPont in the US.
He was appointed president of Protein Technologies International, Inc. in 2000 and later president and CEO of The Solae Company, an innovative food ingredient joint venture between DuPont and Bunge.
In 2004 Tanda was appointed president and CEO of Freudenberg Nonwovens, a global industrial group, based in Germany and the US.
He moved to Dutch-headquartered DSM in March 2007, becoming a member of the management board in May 2007 with responsibility for the nutrition cluster, plus corporate responsibility for the Americas and Switzerland, as well as sales and marketing. At the same time, he also joined the board of EuropaBio.
He served as treasurer of EuropaBio for two years and was elected chairman in 2011.
Talking about the European Commission's (EC) Clinical Trials Directive, he continues: “There are divergent requirements at the national level creating a lot of red tape for the industry and delaying the access of patients to these new drugs. So EuropaBio is quite involved in discussions around revisions to the Directive for 2012.”
The EC has taken some positive steps to promote a more competitive and socially inclusive EU by 2020. It has introduced the European Innovation Partnership in the field of active and healthy ageing, as well as the 'Process on Corporate Responsibility in the Field of Pharmaceuticals', to improve access to innovative medicines.
Access policies undermined
However, the biotech sector is increasingly concerned that the EC's long-term access policies are being undermined by individual countries taking more short-term actions to contain costs as they weather the financial crisis, to the current and future detriment of the industry. In its Healthcare Manifesto, EuropaBio states the importance of a more coherent approach to policy setting across the EU to ensure that initiatives at one level are not undermined at another.
EuropaBio is active not just in the pharma arena, Tanda states, because biotechnology is applied broadly across other sectors, which is why the organisation has agricultural and industrial arms as well. One way to help all of these industries at once, he asserts, is to promote the dramatic benefits that biotech can achieve for society as a whole, with the aim of winning over regulators and consumers to such an extent that they too join the call for the acceleration of biotech applications.
Importance of biotech
He illustrates the importance of biotech in healthcare by listing some impressive examples: “Today over 350 million patients are benefiting from medicines manufactured from biotechnology. About 20 per cent of all the drugs on the market today are biotech drugs, and currently half of the pipelines being developed by pharma companies are based on biotech drugs, a figure that is increasing year-on-year.”
However, he points out that in pharma biotech, small-medium enterprises and startup ventures play a big role and the funding for these startup ventures, particularly in the current economic climate, is often hard to find.
“When compared with the US, Europe has a lot to do to make venture funding available to the startups that are increasingly helping to fill the pipeline of large pharma, because more and more innovation is done across country boundaries and with academia and small companies. These small companies need to be financed and funded, and there again, EuropaBio is helping to address this issue.”
Often, prospective European backers ask more financially based questions of the biotechs, while in the US, the approach revolves more around science and future societal benefits. Therefore, Tanda believes the most important point is to make clear the pluses of biotechnology to stakeholders, whether they are at European or national level, or in academia. EuropaBio is helping to communicate these benefits directly and indirectly to consumers, patients and patient groups. He sees the support of the general public as crucial.
“Ultimately, politicians and regulators are responsible to their constituency and if the constituency wants something, pressure from people will help to make something happen,” he explains.
Tanda's priorities during his tenure as chairman include: “First, promoting even stronger engagement from the existing members and to recruit additional members.
“Second, to really highlight the benefits of biotechnology, which we do in various ways, using a very, very active communication programme in the different sectors, plus a regular event to promote the benefits of biotech. This year's event will take place in the European Parliament,” he explains, “with the aim of engaging stakeholders through telling real-life stories, with patients there talking about how biotechnology drugs had benefited their lives and their loved ones.
“Then, of course, we have to help to remove roadblocks on the regulatory side at the national and the European level.
“The world is populated by seven billion, going on nine billion, people,” he continues. “Those billions of people are getting older at a rapid pace and they need much better healthcare. They need much better access to basic medication. They need food and they also want higher standards of living. All of this puts tremendous strain on resources and the environment.
“When you look at how all of these challenges can be addressed, biotechnology is an enormous enabler to make it happen in sustainable ways, so that the planet will also be there for our children.
“So my personal aim is nothing less than to help contribute a little bit to ensure that biotechnology is embraced by society at large. In stakeholder discussions I am sometimes amazed by the lack of understanding of the common citizen about how important it is to address these issues in a sustainable and an ecological way without being scared of new technology.”
In previous revolutions, such as the industrial revolution and the IT revolution, new technology was welcomed more rapidly than it has been to date with the biotech revolution, he asserts.
“Yet biotechnology can do so much and basically it uses nature's toolkit. So it should not be scary, nor obscure, but I think we still have a long way to go to get people to fully engage with it.”
As part of a European industry association, he is very conscious of the fact that sometimes the stance across Europe is to hold on to what has been achieved in the past and not embrace the new.
“As a continent, we have to consider how we will compete with the very dynamic, vibrant Asia, or the US, which is still very innovative, particularly in the venture scene,” he notes. “Europe has to be more pro-innovation and set a faster pace of adopting innovation. With that will come well-paying jobs, knowledge-intensive jobs, along with industries and companies that want to remain in Europe.
“So it is vital for Europe to offer fertile ground for companies to do business in biotechnology,” Tanda states.
Positively, he feels that the general environment in Europe is more pro-innovation than it has been for a while. However, as well as putting a lot of emphasis on research and innovation, he says it is important not to forget the market access element at the end.
“Stumbling blocks must be removed so that Europe offers an attractive pathway to companies to come here and research, develop and introduce products on to the market.
“If legislation makes it impossible for companies to predict when their products will be on the market, those areas will be much less attractive, however much money is devoted to the research/innovation side,” he cautions.
However, he is also excited about the tremendous prospects for the industry in Europe: “The time is right; the staff are right and we have the right agenda. Now we need to make it happen.
“Biotech has really stepped in to respond to all of the grand global challenges, whether it's healing or fuelling or feeding or helping the world to grow sustainably.
“So we all feel rather proud to be working in this sector and trying to make a difference. I think biotech really is the key technology for the 21st century.”
Linda Banks is the editor of PME