New biotechnology research initiative

Life sciences - finding solutions to social challenges. (Illustration: Jon Solberg)

Life sciences - finding solutions to social challenges. (Illustration: Jon Solberg)

Challenges to society, international focus, quality and national-level cooperation are key considerations for the Research Council and the R&D community in planning Norway’s new biotechnology research initiative.

Research groups are gearing up for the next step in biotechnology research activities as the National Programme for Research in Functional Genomics in Norway (FUGE) comes to a close in 2011. Over the past few months the Research Council has sought the aid of universities, university colleges and the business sector in pinpointing future research priorities.

Addressing major social challenges

“The primary focus of the FUGE programme has been on the technological aspects of the research. In the next phase we will focus more strongly on how technology can address the challenges society is facing,” explains Special Adviser Steinar Bergseth at the Research Council of Norway. He cites climate and environmental issues, health, food and nutrition, and an aging population as examples of relevant areas for research under the new initiative. Mr Bergseth also stresses that Norwegian biotechnology research must address social challenges from a global perspective.

Øystein Rønning, Special Adviser in the Research Council’s Department for Bioproduction, International Cooperation and Commercialisation, emphasises that research must reflect current international focus. In his opinion, the EU’s Lund Declaration of 2009 and the OECD’s view of biotechnology as a key force behind the transition to a knowledge-based bioeconomy towards 2030 can provide good guidelines for further refining Norway’s biotechnology initiative.

High quality essential to international impact

Norway has high ambitions for its participation in international biotechnology research activities.

“Quality is crucial if we are to succeed in competing for international research funding,” states Ole-Jan Iversen, Chair of the FUGE programme board.

Much is pointing in the right direction: eight of the 21 Norwegian Centres of Excellence (SFF) conduct research related to biotechnology, which makes the field one of Norway’s strongest research areas in terms of quality.

From biotechnology to life sciences?

Should the FUGE programme be succeeded by an initiative that focuses more broadly on what in international forums is known as the life sciences? This is a central topic in the current debate on biotechnology research in Norway.

A large number of R&D actors agree that this would be a good direction to follow and believe it would help to shift the focus away from the technology itself towards finding solutions to social challenges and reaping the benefits of the resources already invested in Norwegian biotechnology research. Moreover, there is general consensus in the research community that Norway needs a separate programme for this type of research, that it should not be incorporated into existing thematic programmes such as the Food Programme and the Aquaculture Programme (HAVBRUK).

National strategy underway

Efforts to draw up a national strategy for biotechnology will soon be launched under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and Research. The input received by the Research Council in connection with the development of the new biotechnology initiative will form part of the basis for the strategy as well.

Source: The Research Council of Norway

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