Science and Innovation, the Pending Subject of Spain and a Weak Point in the Progress towards Strategic Autonomy
Spain needs a clear regulatory framework and support for the biotechnological industry with long-term investments, support that specifically addresses the needs of biotech companies, and measures to boost research talent.
The World Science Day is celebrated every November 10th with the aim of raising awareness about the importance of scientific knowledge in finding solutions to economic, social, and environmental challenges, with the goal of building a sustainable future where we can age while maintaining our quality of life, all while facing major global challenges such as climate change or the fight against hunger.
Although many fields of study contribute to this cause, the roles that biology and technology play are fundamental, both for the possibilities they offer to improve conditions and the quality of life of individuals, and for their capacity to generate economic growth and social well-being.
Biotechnology, which arises from the combination of both sciences, explains many of the great scientific advances of recent decades in fields such as medicine, agriculture, decarbonization, or new sources of green energy.
For example, the most significant advances in human health are being led by biotechnological research. As an eloquent example, it is enough to note that 68% of drugs in the development phase have a biotechnological origin.
Furthermore, biotechnological innovation is behind the extraordinary boost that precision personalized medicine has experienced in recent years. This allows for advancing diagnosis and adapting treatments to the individual genetic and biomolecular characteristics of each person. This adaptation not only increases the effectiveness of treatments but also reduces side effects and improves the quality of life of the patient.
Other promising areas of innovation in biotechnology include the design of advanced therapies, the fight against antibiotic resistance, research on the microbiome, or the development of vaccines such as those based on RNA, which constitute alternatives to conventional antibiotics.
In addition to serving human health, biotechnology is applicable to many other sectors, such as agriculture, with solutions that enable more sustainable and resilient production against adverse climatic phenomena, opening the door to new possibilities in the fight against hunger; the food industry, which with technological innovations is becoming increasingly healthier and safer; or decarbonization and the promotion of green solutions.
Biotechnology, a Science-Intensive Sector and Key to Strategic Autonomy
Beyond the direct impact of biotechnology on human health and the planet, investment in science and biotechnology has a direct relationship with the competitiveness, sustainability, and economic resilience of countries. The European Commission has classified biotechnology as one of the four areas, along with advanced microchips, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing, considered crucial for the future of Europe to reduce dependence in these fields and advance strategic autonomy. Additionally, the European body has highlighted biotechnology in its 2024 agenda 'due to its high potential for growth and labor productivity.'
In the case of Spain, whose economy has traditionally relied on sectors highly subject to external factors, supporting the biotechnological industry provides a unique opportunity to drive a shift towards a productive model based on R&D+I that generates greater added value, stability, and socioeconomic and labor contribution. The commitment to the biotechnological sector in Spain is key to meeting the demands of the European Commission and advancing the strategic autonomy of both Spain and Europe.
In this new economic paradigm that Spain aims to lead, biotechnology companies can and should play a central role for several reasons. Firstly, due to their significant ability to attract investment, with growth of 50% and 20% in the years 2020 and 2021.
Secondly, because their business strategy revolves around R&D+I, surpassing 1 billion euros in investment in 2021, accounting for 62% of the total R&D investment in Spain that year.
And thirdly, due to their pivotal role in generating and protecting 'made in Spain' innovations internationally, as evidenced by the launch of 109 products and services to the market last year by Spanish biotech companies, which also entered into significant licensing agreements.
Furthermore, the Spanish biotechnological sector ranks ninth globally in the production of scientific knowledge. Currently, it represents 2.6% of the global production of biotechnological solutions and stands out for its excellence: 22.8% of articles in the field produced in our country are among the top 10% most cited globally.
Another noteworthy fact is that the Spanish biotechnological sector leads in inclusivity and diversity through the creation of quality employment and territorial cohesion. Biotech companies are the most intensive in hiring researchers, with 14.62% of their employees, promoting talent development and the generation of scientific knowledge in the country.
In terms of gender equality, the Spanish biotechnological sector has a high representation of women in its workforce. According to figures from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), 59% of individuals working in R&D activities in biotechnology companies are women. It is relevant that this percentage remains virtually the same regardless of the size of the company, indicating that the representation of women is significant in both large and smaller companies. Additionally, one-third of the members of the management teams of these companies are women.
In parallel, the biotech sector contributes to mitigating the depopulation issue faced by many areas of Spain, thanks to the emergence of biotech companies that are adding significant value to more traditional sectors such as agri-food, promoting sustainable development outside traditional economic centers.
In summary, the biotechnological sector is a driver of innovation and economic progress, and therefore, it generates added value and strengthens the competitiveness of the national economy.
The Commitment to Give Life to Biotechnology
There is no doubt that biotechnological innovations will determine the well-being of future generations. However, for this to happen and for Spain to fully harness its potential, it is necessary for there to be political and social will that provides the industry with measures and resources to guarantee its full development.
A firm and explicit commitment, shared by different political forces, administrations, and economic and social agents, is needed to provide our country with a clear regulatory framework and support for the biotechnological industry through long-term investments. This support should specifically address the needs of these companies and include measures to boost research talent, which involves strengthening collaboration with universities and promoting sustainable research projects over time that highlight the role of researchers.
Only by giving #LifeToBiotechnology with a general and long-term commitment will we be able to position Spain on an equal footing with the most advanced economies in our environment.