Interview with Claire Skentelbery, Director General, EuropaBio on the 15th Edition of the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology and the Bioeconomy (EFIB)
Europe’s Leading Event on Industrial Biotechnology and the Bioeconomy under the title ‘Next generation economies: Industrial biotechnology for a sustainable society’, will take place 26-27 October 2022 in Vilnius, Lithuania. The Forum is organized by EuropaBio and will be hosted by the Lithuanian Biotechnology Association (LBTA) together with Go Vilnius – the city’s official business and tourism development agency
On this occasion, we sat down with Dr Claire Skentelbery, Director General of EuropaBio to discuss the chosen theme, expectations and destination of the upcoming Forum.
My first question is, why Lithuania? Could you tell us a little bit more about the importance of EFIB 2022?
The aim of industrial biotechnology is to create products and processes using biological production systems. EFIB is the place where the industry, the science and the policy makers come together to discuss how to make this into a reality from a commercial perspective.
Lithuania was an obvious choice because it's a great example of a really ambitious and forward looking economy that wants to use the next generation technologies to build its own international competitiveness.
How would you describe the industrial biotechnology sector for people who don't know what it is about?
Industrial biotechnology is all about products and processes that are achieved using biological production systems. Often these things are being produced through cells rather than through petrochemical processes. And what we see right now across the world is a really big push towards sustainable manufacturing and sustainable industries. Moving to biological production systems allows a reduction in energy, use of hazardous materials, waste of water produced through current chemical processes. It's a wonderful way to transition away from petrochemicals and fossil fuels. We're seeing huge changes globally around this with many companies across all sectors working in this. So the dress I'm wearing today, the food we eat, the medicines we take are produced through industrial biotechnology. Biotechnology impacts across all sectors and it's a transformative power.
The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Next generation economies: Industrial biotechnology for a sustainable society? Could you please elaborate on the choice of the title?
Biotechnology and the bioeconomy has a pivotal role to play in the transition to a more circular, sustainable and resource-efficient society. For example, the food sector is a strong example of where biotechnology is already transforming a very significant sector for Europe and playing a major role towards SDGs. Fermentation products for the animal feed sector contribute to sustainability and animal welfare. For instance, feed additives produced by fermentation are essential components of animal diets, helping to avoid malnutrition and contributing to animal welfare.
As Europe in particular, has a very strong focus on the green transition and movement away from petrochemical-derived products and processes, it means that the role of biotechnology will continue to grow and we will see an increasing number of products on the market that contribute to building a more sustainable European society.
I am confident that this year’s Forum, indeed, will serve as an opportunity for the policymakers and industry to meet again and discuss how the EU could facilitate in unlocking the full potential of biotechnology and the bioeconomy.
Can you assess how much the sector is advanced in Lithuania?
Lithuania has a really strong track record in Industrial biotechnology. We can use a really common example of Fermentas, the company that operated for many years in Lithuania and proved that there is a really strong economic advantage to using biological production systems. Recently, we have seen the same with the biological production of COVID vaccines and other materials. The fact that Thermo Fisher is now taking this over from Fermentas and is expanding further demonstrates what an amazingly powerful economic tool industrial biotechnology is.
The biotechnology sector is now identified as one of the fastest growing sectors in the whole economy. Do you think that when the pandemic is over, it will continue to grow as fast as it did over the past few years?
Definitely. Biotechnology has always been a frontier technology, so it's always looking at the horizons of technology and industry it can improve. The sector has always been fast-growing and you have a boost in growth linked to the production of therapeutic materials like the vaccines. This has unlocked a lot of investment into new technologies, new skills, new infrastructures, which means that it is perfectly placed to continue growing rapidly after COVID.
You mentioned skills. How do you think we can encourage more students to choose STEM studies?
The technologies are emerging really quickly but in order to transform them into products and processes that we use every day, we need a huge number of people with a variety of skills behind them. I believe that we need to show people how science is applied to everyday lives and help them understand that a wide range of skills can be brought in to serve scientific delivery. Laboratory work is only a small part of delivering science, and skills across the spectrum will find a place in a science career.
Please describe EFIB in three words for people who have never been there?
Inspiring, forward-looking and idea-driven. If you are keen on face to face meeting industrial biotechnology leaders, key policymakers, innovators, researchers and academia, EFIB 2022 in Vilnius is a place to be.