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With Big Private Backers, Serbian Biotech Plan Stirs Hopes and Fears

An ambitious plan to harness Serbian scientific expertise and private partners from among the world’s biggest pharma, genetics and healthcare companies has divided expert opinion. Some see it as the future, others as a new avenue for abuse.

Open the website of the Serbian government’s BIO4 project and among the first words you see are those of Steve Jobs, shortly before the visionary Apple founder died: “I think the biggest innovations of the twenty-first century will be the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning, just like the digital one.”

It’s a prediction Serbia is betting 413 million euros on, bringing together scientists and private tech firms on a new campus across 38 acres in a suburb of Belgrade, in the hope of turning the country into what Prime Minister Ana Brnabic says will be a “new bio-economy hub in Europe”.

“When we succeed in this intention, Serbia will be a country that no one will ever be able to stop, fully recognised as a country of new technologies, knowledge, innovations”, Brnabic said in mid-2022.

Her government has already signed memorandums of understanding with pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and AstraZeneca – best known recently for their vaccines against COVID-19 – and Chinese BGI, one of world’s biggest genome research organisations but which is widely seen in the West as a tool of the Chinese government in the harvesting of DNA data.

Some industry players have welcomed the move as an investment in Serbian scientists, many of whom would otherwise seek opportunities abroad, and in the future of the country; others, however, fear it will go the way of other big-money state investments under the ruling Progressive Party – criticised for a lack of transparency, a disregard for privacy, and for cherry-picking the laws it will respect and those it won’t.

Maja Conkic, an expert in business development in the field of pharmaceutical and medical equipment and president of the Association for the Advancement of Clinical Studies, KLINIS, called BIO4 an “ambitious project”.

“This is an infrastructure project that will enable our scientists to work with the best foreign companies and diminish their need to leave the country.”

Source : Balkan Insight