11 May 1998 00:00 [Source: ICB Americas]Roche warned on May 5 that a referendum in Switzerland on proposed legislation to ban the use of genetically engineered animals and plants could force it and other companies to move their research and development operations out of the country.
"The outcome of this referendum is of crucial importance for the future of research in Switzerland," Fritz Gerber, the company's chairman, told its annual meeting in Basel. "If the bill is accepted, its strict prohibitions will seriously hinder and in certain key areas completely paralyze biomedical research in this country."
The Swiss pharmaceutical and chemical industries are backing compromise legislation that would tighten controls on biotechnology research. It would set up an ethics commission to supervise genetic research on animals and plants.
"The referendum will be close because opinion polls show people are split 50-50 on its proposals," says an official at the Swiss Society of Chemical Industries (SSIC) in Zurich. "A lot of hard work will be needed to prevent the outcome going the wrong way."
The referendum, to be held on June 7, comes at a time when there has been rapid growth in the number of biotechnology companies in Europe, particularly in Switzerland and neighboring Germany.
The management consultancy Ernst & Young estimates there are 1,036 entrepreneurial bioscience companies in Europe, a 45 percent increase since 1997.
"This is a very exciting time for the European biotechnology sector," says Alfred Muller, chairman of Ernst & Young's international life sciences practice. "New companies are being founded in Germany, France, Scandinavia and Switzerland at a rate which far outstrips the US industry, while the UK continues to build on its strong base."
Venture capitalists in the survey intend to focus on Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden this year.
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