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Public research centres in Finland are to have their funding reduced by 9 per cent in 2015, to support a new council for research into grand challenges.
On 26 February, the statistics agency Tilastokeskus published a report on the 2015 research budget, revealing that government funding will increase by €47 million overall in 2015. However, national research centres will only receive €256m, a reduction of €22m compared with their 2014 allowance. The national innovation agency Tekes will also receive €25m less than in 2014.
These savings will go towards a funding increase of €93m for the Academy of Finland, the national funding agency, to enable it to oversee the development of a strategic research council.
The council, announced by the government in July 2014, will fund research into societal challenges with the aim of increasing Finland’s international competitiveness. The council will launch its first calls this spring, across three research themes: emerging technologies and changing institutions; a climate-neutral society; and equality.
It is hoped that the research centres could recoup some of their lost income by winning grants from the strategic research council, as the Academy of Finland has previously told Research Europe that it expects research centres to do well from the programmes.
The report also says that the reduction for research centres is partly due to a merger that the government hopes will result in efficiency gains. The centres for agriculture, forest research and fisheries have been combined into a natural resources centre called Luonnonvarakeskus, which will receive €84m in 2015.
According to the figures, universities will have their funding cut by €1m, or 2 per cent, from their 2014 level. University hospitals will have their budgets reduced by a hefty 40 per cent, the report says.
The budget allocations are in line with recommendations published by prime minister Alexander Stubb’s research and innovation council in November, which said that the government should focus on increasing Finland’s competitiveness and economic growth. The council will monitor how well the guidelines have been implemented and do a follow-up analysis in the autumn, the government said.
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On October 29th, Eurostat released a report on the status of research and development (R&D;) funding in the Eurozone. According to the report, combined public and private spending on R&D; has stabilized at around 2 per cent of GDP, based on the latest figures for 2009 to 2011. The EU’s original goal was to have increased R&D; funding to 3% of GDP by 2010. Because of the lack of progress, the EU Council of Ministers have delayed the target date for this goal to 2020, as part of the Europe 2020 strategy. In addition to the overall funding levels, the report also finds a mixed pattern of public sector R&D; spending depending on national governments. Although many member states increased spending after the financial crisis of 2008, there remains a north-south divide in spending, with northern EU countries generally spending more than their southern counterparts.
According to the report, the nordic countries are particularly strong in R&D; funding, with Denmark being the only EU country to have met its R&D; funding target. Finland was not far behind. Although the public and private R&D; spending did not reach the stetted goal of 4% of GDP, the 2011 funding level was 3.78% of GDP. Not only is this number quite close to the 2010 goal, it is also twice the EU average funding level. To improve the R&D; funding situation in Finland even more, the report suggests concrete steps to be taken, including:
  • New tax incentives for promoting investment in R&D; in the private sector
  • Provision of annual funding for a new research and innovation policy action programme
  • Revision of the current university funding model and shift towards more outcome oriented financial targeting
  • Launch of a new research infrastructure policy
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In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that human genes cannot be patented because they are "products of nature." This sets an important precedent for the biotech industry, and especially those organizations engaged in diagnostics based on naturally occuring human gene sequences. For example, Myriad Genetics (the company which developed the groundbreaking genetic testing for BRCA mutations linked to cancer) has had 5 of their patents invalidated as a result of this ruling.

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The state of pharmaceutical protein production is ever changing. After CDR published the review on the use of cell free protein synthesis for the production of pharmaceutical proteins (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378517312003304) sutro biopharma has gone ahead and started to cash in on the promise of these exciting techniques.

Investments by Skyline Ventures, Lilly Ventures, Amgen Ventures, SV Life Sciences and Alta Partners has led to several impressive licensing agreements. A collaboration with Celgene Corporation Sutro will design and develop novel antibody drug conjugates (ADCs) and bispecific antibodies for two undisclosed targets and to manufacture a proprietary Celgene antibody.  If all programs are successful, the deal could be worth over $500 million to Sutro. In addition Sutro biopharma will collaborate with Sanofi Pasteur on a Novel Production Approach for Vaccine Candidates.

Sutro Biopharma uses E. coli cell lysates from strains developed in Stanford university in the James Swartz research group. However, new technologies based on deriving lysate from fermentable protozoan leishmania strains has gained interest for the production of pharmaceutical proteins.

For example at the prestigious centre for cellular and molecular platforms (C-CAMP), bangalore (India), leishmania strains are currently implemented for their high throughput screening platforms. This is the first research group in India who will systematically do research on CFPS, and co-develop valuable research tools.

Collaboration between CDR in Finland and C-CAMP in India has started to produce, screen and further develop biobased drugs by use of cell free protein synthesis. This will bring a novel production and screening tool for pharmaceutical proteins to Europe and we expect it to open up many new projects in the near future.

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