With the world still struggling in the grip of the coronavirus, the very first socially-distanced Metropole Special Event on June 4 was as current as can be: called “Funding a New Future,” CEO and Publisher Margaret Childs spoke to experts about the race for a coronavirus vaccine and the resources needed to complete this arduous task in a highly anticipated online panel discussion.
In attendance were keynote speaker Dr. Birgit Tauber of The Austrian Research Promotion Agency, Zachary Yerushalmi of Oxford Sciences Innovation Plc., Christian Soschner of CS Life Science Invest, Dr. Harold Vladar from Ribbon Biolabs, and Gabriele Tatzberger, CEO of Vienna Region, who sponsored our webinar.
Founded in 2008, Vienna Region helps promote businesses and research institutes in and around the city. By connecting entrepreneurs with research and educational facilities, public institutions, and professional associations, they market and position business locations in Burgenland, Lower Austria and Vienna. Many of Austria’s famous hidden champions have chosen the region as the location for their headquarters.
Private Money for Public Good
Amid the corona crisis, all eyes are on the life science industry to develop a vaccine, attracting both public and private investors to a hitherto oft-overlooked sector. “This situation has been a game-changer from beginning to end,” Dr. Vladar said. “It has put us in contact with a number of potential clients, partners and co-developers.”
As vast sums will be needed to research, create, mass produce and distribute a vaccine, public funding is essential to jumpstart the process, help garner private funds and identify potential buyers. “You wouldn’t invest in the same way as a private company,” Yerushalmi pointed out. “You need massive public investment to tilt the tables to make a private company say that this is worthwhile.”
While the current crisis is a major boost to the sector, our experts believe the hype will be short-lived. Investing in biotechnology does not offer quick returns, and most of the time there is no guarantee that any given project will succeed. “When 100 scientific projects are conducted, maybe one qualifies for further development, and the other 99 are necessary to come to this one point,” Soschner said. “Nobody in the private sector can invest in that.”
Additionally, the life sciences is dominated by only four privately-owned companies, which makes investing even less attractive. Therefore, new investors will most likely move on once the pandemic passes.
Need for Cooperation
“Only the public sector and huge private investors can get access to vaccine development companies,” Soschner said. “Private people can only buy stock, and I don’t think small pockets will make a huge difference on the market.”
Nevertheless, the unitary effort to discover a vaccine will facilitate European cooperation, Tauber and Tatzberger hoped, as the EU largely looks abroad for innovation. The coronavirus has shed light on the importance of strengthening communal life science projects.
“The crisis shows that the EU’s dependency on foreign markets is not the best solution for the future,” Tatzberger said. “We are now seeing a discussion of how we can secure some critical infrastructure within Europe.”
However, some were skeptical regarding the extent of Brussels’ efforts, given the worsening economic situation. “Compared to the US, the European Union has slower systemic growth, higher debt levels, very different debt between states, and much lower stimulus efforts,” Yerushalmi said. “All of those things will fundamentally underpin a European healthcare economy.”
Even so, our experts remained optimistic that a vaccine will be available by the end of 2021.
For more information on the R&D happening in the Vienna Region, check out this overview.