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英国首相布莱尔00系列演讲之Biotechnology: Investing in the future - 17 November

2006-05-26 17:10

  This is to continue the series of speeches about the choices I believe Britain faces if it wants future prosperity for all. One such choice is investment in our future productive base. The vital part of such investment is science. Biotechnology is science's new frontier.

  It is science and moral judgement together that drive human progress. Scientific innovation has been the motor. Judgement the driver. Science has given us the wheel, the printing press, the steam engine; electricity; the computer. It has given us nuclear weapons. But it is left to our judgement as to how to use these discoveries of science, how to direct their application.

  What has history taught us? That science can be used for evil as well as good. And that judgement can be prejudiced as well as measured. Science without judgement can be dangerous. Progress without science is unlikely ever to happen.

  On the edge of each new frontier of scientific discovery, there is usually a body of opinion that sees it as a threat. We are at such a frontier now. The science of biotechnology is likely to be, to the first half of the 21st Century, what the computer was to the second half of the 20th Century. Its implications are profound, its potential benefits massive. And, as always, there are those who say that aspects of that scientific enquiry are innately undesirable and should stop. The response should be to go back to first principles and say: let science discover the facts; let us then make our judgement. But do not put our judgement ahead of the facts. That is so even in areas as difficult as GM crops. I have an open mind on GM. There are legitimate concerns. But to make heroes of people who are preventing basic scientific research taking place, is wrong. It is to substitute aggression for argument.

  Let us get to the facts and then judge their moral consequences. There is a danger, almost without noticing or desiring it, that we become anti-science. The distinction I believe is this: our conviction about what is natural or right should not inhibit the role of science in discovering the truth; rather it should inform our judgement about the implications and consequences of the truth science uncovers.

  We should also recognise there are areas where even in exercising such judgement, there is more than one morally acceptable outcome. Today the House of Commons debates stem cell research. There are strong views on all sides, and it is right that advances in science are debated in a moral context. Some people are opposed in principle to all forms of embryo research on ethical grounds. But we must also recognise that when stem cell research has huge potential to improve the lives of those suffering from disease, there are also strong ethical arguments in favour so long as clear and effective regulation remains in place.

  I would like to see a far more considered, rational dialogue between the scientific community and the public. British science has a proud record. It has a huge part to play in our future. This Government will support science, is in favour of increasing investment in it and will protect the ability of science to pursue its research, grow and prosper in Britain. I want Britain at the forefront of world science.

  The case for biotechnology

  My reason for addressing you today is to place firmly on record my support for science and my determination not to let us slip into any form of anti-science.

  There is as yet little wider public understanding of the revolutionary potential of biotechnology. The mapping of the human genome has revealed the future of a revolution in genetic medicine which can transform our health prospects.

  As populations grow and people's expectations of their health increase, the world will be more and more in need of the kind of solutions that biotechnology can offer. Biotechnology can deliver better, more effective medicines. It can improve food production, including in the developing world. It can help to clean up our environment.

  Biotechnology offers the chance to change medicine forever. To move from diagnose and treat to detect and prevent. While disease and illness will always be with us, we will in future be able to tackle many diseases even before they've had a chance to manifest themselves.

  Thanks to biotechnology, we are now closing in on a vaccine for AIDS. Over the next ten to twenty years, biotechnology will offer us ways of heading off the main killers in societies such as Britain. Cancer. Heart disease. Diabetes. Causes of death as familiar to our generation as pneumonia, diptheria and small pox were to our ancestors. Biotechnology is also a potent new weapon against degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Crippling diseases like cystic fibrosis. So not only can people expect to live longer, they will also lead more fulfilling lives.

  Biotechnology is the next wave of the knowledge economy, and I want Britain to become its European hub.

  This is an industry whose market in Europe alone is expected to be worth over US$ 100 billion by 2005. The number of people employed in biotech and associated companies, as well as those whose work will depend on biotech applications, could be as high as 3 million, as we catch up with the US industry - currently 8 times the size of Europe's.

  With our excellent science base, our sophisticated capital markets and venture capital industry, the large number of skilled scientists and managers in our pharmaceuticals sector, and the investment in research by Wellcome and others, Britain is well placed to keep our lead in Europe.

  Three-quarters of the biotechnology drugs in late stage clinical trials in Europe are produced by British companies. The German biotechnology sector is growing fast. But the giants of British biotechnology, like Celltech, dominate the continent. I want to make it clear: we don't intend to let our leadership fall behind and are prepared to back that commitment with investment.

  Supporting biotechnology

  Under this Government, the Research Councils have spent ??600 million a year on biotechnology and medical R&D. In July, we announced that the science budget would increase in real terms by 7% a year to 2004. Stephen Byers will be setting out the detailed allocations next week. But today I can tell you that genomics will benefit from those increases. All in all this will be the largest investment in science over the next few years in peacetime Britain's history.

  Biotechnology would be impossible without research. Sometimes it is controversial, as with GM crops or animal testing. Such research is rightly strictly regulated. But this Government will not tolerate blackmail, even physical assault by those who oppose it.

  To do so would be to give in to intimidation. To stand by as successful British science once more ends up being manufactured abroad.

  Reaping the commercial benefits of British science also means supporting the entrepreneurs that get new technologies to market.

  The Chancellor's fiscal reforms have focussed on lowering the barriers to entrepreneurship and increasing the rewards. Major reform of Capital Gains tax, with the old 40% rate cut to 10% for business assets held for more than 4 years. Tax relief for corporate venturing, building on successful US experience. A new Management Incentive Scheme to provide much more generous tax breaks for the key individuals running small high-risk ventures. Cuts in corporation tax at all levels. Enhanced first year capital allowances and a new R&D tax credit scheme for Small and Medium sized Enterprises.

  The DTI have also developed measures to promote biotechnology specifically, in terms of clustering, finance and advice, and deal with industry concerns like planning. The Pharmaceutical Industry Competitiveness Task Force is also helping develop better links between biopharmaceutical SMEs and "big pharma", as well as providing support for early stage biotechnology manufacturing.

  Biotechnology, like the rest of the knowledge economy, is uniquely global. European biotechnology will only be able to compete with America if it can operate in a real Single Market. That is why we are working up proposals with Sweden to use their Presidency next year to extend the economic reform agenda agreed at Lisbon last March to biotechnology.

  There is always more we can do. In preparing for this speech, many of you have provided me with proposals. Speeding up schemes that already exist. Ensuring that more start-ups succeed in becoming mature, successful companies. Addressing the issue of long-term financing.

  We will be looking at all of them.

  If biotechnology is to flourish, the public need to have confidence in the safeguards. They need to be reassured that the potential benefits far outweigh the dangers.

  That is why we have strengthened the legal and regulatory framework. Eighteen months ago we reviewed the measures in place, and set up the Human Genetics Commission and the Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Commission to ensure that society has a say. Last year, we decided to strengthen the ban on reproductive cloning through legislation.

  But the implications for public policy do not stop there.

  Biotechnology raises fundamental questions about where the border between intellectual property and the common heritage of mankind lies. Through the Directive on the Legal Protection of Inventions passed in 1998, we have put in place a framework that strikes a balance. The human genome is now freely available on the internet. But the entrepreneurial incentive provided by the patenting system has been preserved.

  There are many who argue that the NHS will simply not be able to afford biotechnology. I reject this. Biotechnology offers the chance to eliminate degenerative diseases that currently cost the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds in long-term care. To cut down waste by allowing us to target drugs more effectively. Moreover, a universal healthcare system may offer a better way of dealing with the privacy and fairness issues that biotechnology healthcare inevitably raises.

  Conclusion

  Britain has the opportunity to lead Europe in pioneering this new technology and setting the standards that govern it. To be the life sciences hub of Europe, and the bridge between the European and US healthcare markets.

  The prize of success in this area is not only commercial.

  We can fight back against continental epidemics like AIDS.

  We can tackle the genetic diseases that blight the lives of so many children.

  We can take on the mass killers in our society - cancer, heart disease - and offer future generations the prospect of an active old age.

  Around the issue of how we keep Britain at the forefront of biotechnology, is a debate about science. We should value our scientists and their work. They can describe the facts of the future. We can then apply them in the interests of progress for our people. That is the right partnership between science and people and to which this Government is committed.

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