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Last update: May 2021

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Launch Event of the Preparatory Phase of EU-IBISBA

Launch Event of the Preparatory Phase of EU-IBISBA
Wednesday 5th February 2020 Centre International de Conferences Sorbonne Université - Paris

The PREP-IBISBA launch event took place on the 5th February 2020 in Paris with around 60 participants from ministries, research organisations and Euro-regions. Three ESFRI recognized infrastructure (IAGOS, ERINHA and EMBRC) were also represented by colleagues who kindly shared their experiences with the audience and two invited speakers, Joanna Dupont from EuropaBio and James Philp from OECD, gave a talks on biotechnology:

This event was followed by the internal Kick-off meeting (on the 6th and 7th February) bringing together members of the PREP-IBISBA project consortium.


Nicolas Dromel, head of department Large Research Infrastructures at the French Ministry of Higher education and Research innovation, Monique Axelos, Scientific Director for Food and Bioeconomy at INRAE and Laure Sabatier, Research Director at CEA together recalled the genesis of IBISBA, up to its inscription on the ESFRI roadmap in 2018. Nicolas Dromel went on to recall the importance of having solid support from research operators. This support was affirmed by Monique Axelos (INRAE), who underlined the important role that IBISBA can play in the transition to the bio economy and by Laure Sabatier (CEA), who highlighted the role played by two CEA research facilities within the French contingent of IBISBA.

Owing to withdrawal of Gabriela Pastori, former Chair of the Health & Food Strategy Working Group, participants were invited to watch a video of Giorgio Rossi, former Chair of ESFRI, presenting the ESFRI roadmap 2018 (watch video below). Mr Rossi’s presentation was completed by Dr. Eric Guittet, (French Ministry of Higher Education and Research Innovation) and former French ESFRI delegate to the Strategic Working group Heal & Food. Dr. Guittet reminded participants that European infrastructures are like pieces in a puzzle: they make up an overall infrastructure landscape without overlap, but rather with strong interactions between them. Dr. Guittet also pointed out that IBISBA’s link to the SWG Health and Food does not exclude interactions with other SWGs, notably Environment. Also, belonging to such a group is recognition of the role that the infrastructure is expected to play, and provides indications regarding the infrastructures with which it should interact.

Dr. Guittet also recalled that, in 2016, IBISBA failed to be included on the ESFRI roadmap. He suggested that with hindsight this was no doubt useful, because it provided IBISBA with clear guidelines for improvement. This setback was thus virtuous, because it allowed the IBISBA community to better appraise what is expected from infrastructures that receive ESFRI recognition. Reciprocally, ESFRI no doubt used the period between 2015 and 2017 to better understand the importance of biotechnology in the wider framework of life sciences.

Finally, Dr. Guittet recalled that although most ESFRIs are geographically distributed, some are centralised. In the case of geographically distributed ESFRIs, it is important to remember that these are not networks of similar objects. Instead, they form coordinated communities, capable of strategic planning and decision-making. A strength of geographically distributed ESFRIs resides in their regional presence. Generally, the different parts of these infrastructures are of interest to the regions that host them and are integrated into regional level science and technology planning.

Giorgio Rossi, ESFRI Chair, presents the new ESFRI Roadmap on Research Infrastructures in Europe.
Questions from participants

Q.: Regarding synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology, regulatory aspects are essential and societal acceptance is crucial step. How does IBISBA account for these aspects?

A.: So far, the specific issue of ethics has been accounted for in IBISBA 1.0. Projects are screened to ensure that they are not questionable from an ethics point of view. In the future governance, social and ethics expertise will be included in an advisory body.

Q.: Ethics is one thing, but social acceptancy will be vital for the translation of innovation into market reality. Can social acceptancy research be offered as a service?

A.: So far this has not emerged as a priority in IBISBA. However, certain IBISBA stakeholders possess this expertise. Therefore, this is a possibility that can be explored.

Q.: Are there any plans to look beyond the countries/regions that are already active as IBISBA stakeholders, for example Central and Eastern European member states?

A.: IBISBA has reached out to BIOEAST, an agency that represents the interests of CEE stakeholders.  Thanks to BIOEAST, Mme Dalia Luksiene (Vilnius University) is present among the participants. This is a first step in an ambition that will seek to raise awareness about IBISBA in the different member states.

Q.: How will IBISBA be affected by the Brexit?

A.: IBISBA is delighted to have the University of Manchester as part of the consortium. UNIMAN is an indispensable component. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the UK is a major player in the field of synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology. Brexit clearly complicates things, but it will be a priority to figure out solutions and maintain IBISBA as open as possible.  In this regard, it is relevant to recall that ESFRI infrastructures can, and should be, international. ELIXIR is a good example.

Carole Goble from the University of Manchester (and an active participant in both IBISBA and ELIXIR) underlined that for the Preparatory Phase, Brexit is not a problem, because PREP-IBISBA is an H2020 project. She recalled that Brexit does not pose a problem for ELIXIR either and postulated that there will be considerable eagerness on both sides to find solutions for the future.

Three presentations from Dr. Michael O’Donohue (INRAE), coordinator of IBISBA 1.0 and PREP-IBISBA, Prof. Merja Penttilä and Dr. Fayza Daboussi first described the IBISBA initiative in general and then illustrated its present activities using examples from the IBISBA 1.0 project. Dr. O’Donohue recalled the key elements of IBISBA’s ambition, notably the creation of an infrastructure that will:

  • operate a RI network driven by cloud technology and cutting edge data science
  • provide single broker access to best in class infrastructure to public and private R&D&I players
  • facilitate access to R&D&I infrastructure across Europe
  • share knowledge assets among its RI operators and among users
  • create the conditions for seamless end-to-end R&D&I pipelines
  • work with public and private stakeholders to add value and optimize use of resources

Dr. Daboussi reported on activities that favour transnational access and demonstrated how these are already delivering access to best-in-class infrastructure to both the public and private sectors across Europe and beyond.

Prof. Penttilä focused on the way in which IBISBA partners are building capability to operate end-to-end bioprocess development workflows, using methods and cloud-based digital technologies to harmonise practices, share (and FAIRise) knowledge and launch workflows that span across spatial boundaries, linking infrastructure services and providing added-value for users.

For the PREP-IBISBA launch, three representatives of other ESFRI-recognized infrastructure kindly accepted to share their experience:

IAGOS was represented by Dr. Hannah Clark (Executive Secretary)

ERINHA was represented by Dr. Hervé Raoul (Director General), and

EMBRC was represented by Dr. Nicolas Pade (Executive Director)

History and Legal status:

IAGOS is a European Research Infrastructure for global observations of atmospheric composition from commercial aircraft. The infrastructure uses commercial aircraft as ‘sherpas’ to carry equipment for the collection of data on climate change and air quality at a global scale that is then processed and made available to the research community and policy makers. Hannah Clark mentioned that IAGOS is an International not for profit Association (AISBL) with its seat in Brussels. IAGOS entered onto the ESFRI roadmap in 2006 and started its Preparation Phase in 2008. This was pursued until 2013. IAGOs is in operation since 2014.

ERINHA is a Pan-European distributed Research Infrastructure dedicated to the study of highly infectious emerging and remerging diseases classified as Risk Group 4. Like IAGOs, ERINHA operates under Belgian law and is an International not for profit Association (Association International Sans But Lucratif) with its seat in Brussels. ERINHA entered onto the ESFRI Roadmap entry in 2008 and was under preparation from 2010 to 2017. It finally became operational in 2018.

EMBRC is a pan-European Research Infrastructure for marine biology and ecology research. It offers a range of services, from biological collection to technology platforms and even services to access marine ecosystems. EMBRC entered onto the ESFRI Roadmap entry in 2008 and was in Preparation Phase from 2011 to 2014, and then in Implementation Phase from 2014 to 2016. EMBRC finally entered in to operation as an ERIC (European Research Infrastructure Consortium) in 2017.

 Q.: What are the key differences between AISBL and ERIC status?

A.: In some respects, an ERIC is similar to an international association. It provides VAT exemption on large equipment infrastructure. It provides the means to participate in the ERIC forum, a body that brings European Research Infrastructure Consortia together.
Importantly, ERIC and AISBL are not the only legal forms that research infrastructures adopt. Other examples include Gmbh (German non-profit company). For example, INFRAFRONTIER (European Research Infrastructure for the generation, phenotyping, archiving and distribution of model mammalian genomes) was a Gmbh. However, it is now an ERIC. Obviously, each type of entity presents pros and cons and it is simply a question of matching the possibilities offered by specific legal forms with the needs of the preferred business model.
ELIXIR is another good example of a highly successful European Research Infrastructure that is not an ERIC. ELIXIR is linked to EMBL and thus benefits from the status of the latter. EMBL is an intergovernmental organisation.

Q.:What were the main problems encountered?

EMBRC-Nicolas Pade: It’s hard to pinpoint one particular problem. However, generally it is easier now to build an ERIC, because there are plenty of examples. This was not the case 10 years ago. One key issue is getting everybody up to the same speed and creating a common mind-set, which is not that of a research project consortium. The best advice is to deal with grey areas as quickly as possible and not wait for the “valley of death” (i.e. the period immediately after preparation phase and before operation).

ERINHA-Hervé Raoul: The main challenge is to reach consensus; it is important to keep in mind that 3 or 4 years is very short. You may only have the opportunity to take important decisions in the presence of key stakeholders once or twice a year.

French Ministry | Eric Guittet: One of the problems encountered is that infrastructure promoters forget that they need to evolve their concept, keeping apace with developments in the field. Research infrastructure needs to evolve all the time and so this is very important when one embarks on long-term ventures, such as the creation of an ERIC. Another challenge is to obtain agreement between member states and scientists regarding the initial project. The statutes of a legal entity cannot be written by individual scientists; this process requires the involvement of member state representatives (government), or at least executive representatives of infrastructure operators. Getting member states involved takes time, because the relevant officials will not have much time to spare and different officials from different countries need to converge towards a consensus and then be brought together to take decisions. As mentioned, there will only be one or two meetings per year!

Questions from the audience:

Q.: Has IAGOS, ERINHA or EMBRC created spin out activities?

A.: So far, none of the infrastructure have envisaged this possibility. IAGOS works with industry, because their partner is the civil aviation industry.

Q.: What steps need to be taken to reach long term commitment from the research institutes?

ERINHA-Hervé Raoul: an infrastructure project needs (minimum) 5 years engagement from institutes. This is mandatory and needs to involve written commitment. Such commitment is essential, because it forms part of the business plan.

IAGOS – Hannah Clark: long term commitment is also important to attract younger people in the infrastructure to provide them with long term employment. It is essential to keep them within the infrastructure.

Q.: Are public-private consortia a possibility to support the infrastructure?

IAGOS-Hannah Clark: Public-private partnerships (PPP) are possible and useful. For IAGOS, obtaining material support from the civil aviation industry is vital.

ERINHA-Hervé Raoul: it is absolutely not a problem, on the contrary it would be a dream.

Other comments:

  • One member of the audience remarked that infrastructure can also involve industry in providing services. Some service provider companies are willing to join forces to offer services and showcase their technology. This would probably be something very interesting for IBISBA.
  • Death Valley is a well-known phenomenon in the infrastructure world. It intervenes after the preparation phase when EC funding has run out and (especially) when no provisions have been made to face this period. To avoid the full backlash of the VoD, it is essential to reach consensus on the business model before the end of the project.
  • It is important to note that from member state perspective, an infrastructure is a success when users are satisfied and when it brings something new.

  • Working with member states - a key role for National Delegates
  • Building a solid working relationship with universities and public research organisations
  • EU-IBISBA and Euro regions - towards a fruitful collaboration?

Working with member states | a key role for National Delegates

What is a national delegate?

The role of National Delegates in IBISBA still needs to be refined and explained. It is important not to confuse ESFRI National Delegates (i.e. people nominated by members states to take part in ESFRI strategic working groups) with IBISBA’s definition. National representative might be a better term.
The question of having a deputy ND was raised when there are complementarities (i.e in Italy). Moreover, it might be useful to investigate the possibility of mobilising the ELIXIR ND.
Other countries could be involved such as Denmark through DTU and Sweden.

Position of IBISBA at the national level:

Biotechnology is a high priority in each of the represented members states, even though IBISBA is not formally on the national roadmaps of each country.

Preferred legal entity:

None of the countries consider that a specific legal entity would prevent them from being part of IBISBA. However, the main tendency seems to be towards an ERIC.

Questions raised:

  • Is it possible to operate an infrastructure under two different legal entities?
  • How should we solve the question of data ownership?

Building a solid working relationship with universities and public research organisations

  • Awareness about IBISBA within the different research organisations and universities appears to be reasonable (basic to medium level)
  • IBISBA meets considerable enthusiasm among some of the participants and indeed, one participant considers that IBISBA is tackling a major issue, which is the democratisation of synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology. Synthetic biology is often perceived as being a pursuit for elite academic Institutions. IBISBA holds the potential to bring this into the real world, delivering it where it is needed.
  • Regarding the idea of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between institutions, most participants approve the idea, considering that it is a good way to get all stakeholders around the same table.
  • Exchanges between participants reveal that in some member states activities that are clearly linked to ESFRI projects are supported.
  • Several participants insist on the fact that IPR and liability are two issues that will be possible show-stoppers for IBISBA. It is thus vital to tackle these issues as early as possible.
  • The need for success stories was underlined. It is important to create hope, but not hype. Therefore, the success stories should be convincing and create better understanding of what IBISBA can achieve. These success stories will be powerful means to convince funding agencies, and attract future scientists and users. IBISBA must be seen as a hotspot for innovation in industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology. The success stories must be tuned to specific stakeholder expectations. One narrative will not be audible to all stakeholder groups.
  • IBISBA needs to raise its visibility by organising regular meetings for stakeholders and by targeting stakeholders with digestible and intelligible information (possibly a newsletter?).
  • Regarding communication, it is important to remember that some stakeholder will prefer information in their own language.

    • EU-IBISBA and Euro regions – towards a fruitful collaboration?

      • Biotechnology (and in particular industrial biotechnology) is not systematically pinpointed in regional Smart Specialization Strategies (S3). For example, in Catalonia, it is embedded in focus areas such as agro-food, health, industrial processes, and energy. In France, it is often identifiable within a bio economy focus area, though at least one region specifically mentions industrial biotechnology. Finally, in Italy regions structure their S3 around six vertical sectors, one of which is biotech, health and agrifood. Flanders (Belgium) clearly focuses sustainable chemistry, agro food, and manufacturing, themes that are underpinned by biotechnology. The Uusimaa region (Finland), also mentions bio economy and biotechnology might become more visible in future revisions of the S3.
      • Most of the regions present at the workshop report economic activities linked to biotech in their regions. Campania clearly hosts biotech companies and encourages public-private consortia, including one in the biotech theme area. 22% of start-ups in Campania are biotech companies. In Belgium, biotech companies are numerous, notably in the medical and pharma sector, but also linked to the food & beverages industry. Finland’s biotech industry is very focused on the greater Helsinki area, with many companies occupying the medical and pharma sectors. Catalonia also boasts some strong healthcare companies and also agro food companies that are suing biotech. Finally, the Pays de la Loire region is witnessing growth in the microalgae sector, while other regions such as Ile de France, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse host biotech companies operating largely in the healthcare sector, but also in other sectors.
      • Generally, regions are interested in IBISBA and see opportunities of mutual interest. The opinion is that regions can play a part as IBISBA stakeholders, especially if IBISBA can help to generate and support economic activities and support SMEs. However, regions will need clear messages from IBISBA regarding its role and vision.
      • Regions already engage in transnational activities, although there is currently no funding to foster this. The participants considered this to be unfortunate, because such funding would strengthen both the Single Market and EU’s competitiveness vis a vis the USA and China models. Also, the lack of human resources to coordinate such activities is often a handicap. Generally-speaking the idea of a biotech network is interesting and regions would be interested to explore further, although the specific focus needs to be discussed.
      • Regarding future interactions, clearly regions prefer to deal with IBISBA in a bilateral relationship, rather engaging in more complex relationships involving member state governance. However, for communicating with regions it will be important to consider supplying material in local languages.

Joanna Dupont and James Philp  presented excellent talks, guiding the audience through the importance of industrial biotechnology and the development of R&D infrastructure at European and global scales.

Joanna Dupont recalled that industrial biotechnology in Europe employs nearly 500,000 people and generates over €30 billion in added-value. Joanna also cited figures that predict that in the future industrial biotechnology will employ as many as 1.5 million Europeans.

Jim Philp provided the audience with a lively talk in which he recalled the societal challenges that are driving the transition to the bio economy. He went on to illustrate how different countries and continents are developing capacity in industrial biotechnology, which is widely considered as a key enabling technology for the bio economy. Among the thoughts that Jim shared with the audience were a warning about avoiding complacency in Europe. Asian countries are moving forward fast and the USA remains the best place to attract massive investment to literally thrust projects forward.

The presentations are downloadable below