Building world class clusters
France has long been a centralized nation. One need only look at the auto routes to see that all roads lead to Paris. In fact,
when you look at the numbers, 29% of France's total GDP comes from the Ile-de-France region, where Paris is located, so it's
no surprise that most multinational companies are based there.
Jean de Szlonok, president for Boringer Ingelheim's Southern Europe's operations, explains that centralization is why the
company decided to move their operation to Paris, after years of operating from Reims, France's Champagne production capital:
"We have acknowledged that the Paris area is indisputably the key region for public private research cooperation with both
institutes and universities. You also have to take into account that most of the job market is in the Paris are."
Nevertheless the government has been active in reshaping the industry's structure to facilitate a better partnership between
public research and private industry. Recognizing the prowess of specialty clusters like Cambridge, Massachusetts where research
between private and public sectors flourishes, France decided in 2005 to implement the Pôles de Compétitivité. While these "competitive clusters¨ apply to multiple sectors of the French economy, the pharmaceutical industry has six established.
Lyonbiopôle is a great example of how these clusters are reshaping the local landscape to consolidate research capabilities
and prepare for the future. Based on the rich traditions of the vaccine business in Lyon, in east-central France, the biopole
has been able to bring big players such as BioMérieux and Sanofi-Pasteur or MSD alongside start-up institutions and public
research to create a worldwide hub for immunology and vaccination development. Philippe Archinard, President of Lyonbiopôle
and Transgene, feels that their success is based on the philosophy of "utilizing innovation for economic development rather
than research for research's sake."
Rethinking Research Organization
"France has a tradition of investigating health problems and developing solutions. I cannot say whether this led to a good
protection system or if the protection system led to this drive to research, but in either way it has brought a strong pharmaceutical
industry and health sector. However, year by year we are losing our range of innovative talent which is a pity. France has
a lot of quality researchers but the governing and financial system is constraining to the point that it restricts the ability
to work together. As a result, rather than being a leader we are going backwards and losing the drive to innovate," regrets
Christian Rodier, president of the FEFIS, an organization grouping together all major actors of the healthcare industry, such
as drug companies, API, and medical devices manufacturers.
Valerie Pécresse, the Minister for Higher Education
But according to Pierre Lesourd, former president of the LEEM and of BristolMyersSquibb France, authorities are now fully
aware of the situation. "We convinced members of parliament that, if France did not choose therapeutic progress, it would
no longer be able to guarantee equality of access to innovation." Lesourd pointed out the fact that until now the "new complexity
in the innovation process, one that not only implies stronger collaboration between public and private research institutions,
between applied and practical research, but also between drug companies and medical devices or technologies," has now been
fully integrated by the highest decisions makers.
Judith Greciet, President of Eisai France
According to Roche France president Sophie Kornowski-Bonnet, France's specificity "lies in the creativity of its researchers
and its history of scientific excellence." Roche believes so strongly that they have over 200 people employed in Phase I-IV
studies in Paris, as well as the group's only translational research center for Phase I applications.
But French excellence in life science research was long overshadowed by the complexity and fragmentation of its public research.
Professor André Syrota, the newly appointed general director of the National Institute of Health & Medical Research (INSERM),
recalls: "There were a plethora of research organizations involved in life sciences and health such as the INSERM, the CNRS,
the Institut Pasteur, the INRIA, the CEA, the INRA, in addition to a number of universities. I was not only asked to manage
INSERM, but also to find a way to simplify and better coordinate research on life sciences and healthcare in France."
As the umbrella association for member groups, the INSERM is now endowed with a new role as a funding agency for life sciences
research. Syrota is optimistic that under this new organization "with the same level of funding, but better coordination with
the different players, we can greatly improve and facilitate research."
Syrota also called for the April 2009 of the AVIESAN (the life-science and health national alliance) that he now presides.
"This is an extremely flexible entity which includes and coordinates the researchers of 9 partners: INSERM, CNRS, CEA, INRAA,
INRIA, IRD, Institut Pasteur, University President Association, and Union of CHU (public hospitals) presidents."
"One of the Alliance's great interests is its flexibility, and that really improves cooperation between institutions. For
example, 24 hours after the outbreak of the H1N1 influenza in Mexico, we managed to organize a meeting with all the experts
in this domain, including both researchers and manufacturers", he explains.
Following the 2009 CSIS meeting, the Alliance has also been appointed as the unique interlocutor for public/private research
cooperation programs. This should not only help reinforce private/public cooperation in a country where there traditionally
is a lot of defiance between different stakeholders (be it researchers, high administrations or private companies), but also
help bring innovations done in the public sphere to market. "We also needed to accelerate the flow of the transfer of knowledge
and skills among private and public research to facilitate the patenting and more rapidly transform discoveries into innovative
therapies." explained Valerie Pécresse, the Minister for Higher Education.